Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tap That Sexy Power

There are other biblical metaphors that have never attained the status or power that this one carries. It conveys the power it does, not only because it taps into the primal human energy of sexuality, but also because it serves certain interests that are closely related to the confusing ambiguity we experience between the desire for connection and the desire to control.
--Carolyn Osiek

It does no good to affirm the full dignity and equality of women with men if our language, our imagery, and our metaphors continue to perpetuate inequality.
--Carolyn Osiek

[N]early all the Hellenistic discussions of household management, beginning with Aristotle, address only one person, the male authority figure (paterfamilias) who must relate differently but always in a superior manner to wife, children, and slaves....  Since Aristotle, the basic types of ... analogies have been simile and metaphor....  Metaphor is a more implicit comparison made by direct statement that one thing is another. As Aristotle puts it, when A is to B as C is to D, it is a metaphor to say A is C, or vice versa (POETICS 21.11-12).
--Carolyn Osiek
The spousal metaphor has been a primary one throughout the development of ecclesiology. I need not and cannot document this development. Like any metaphor, it is sometimes carried too far.... One theologian argues on the basis of a social meaning of the Hebrew word basar (flesh, body) that the reference is not only to one's personal body, but also ancestors, descendants, and particularly, one's spouse. Thus the husband is considered to have two bodies, his own and that of his wife. Likewise, the wife has two heads, her own and that of her husband. This is supposed to reveal the distinction and the union of Christ and his church....  Since Mary is portrayed as mother of Jesus in the Second Testament and in subsequent theology and devotion, she is also portrayed as mother of the church, or perhaps more accurately, she should have been seen as its mother-in-law. But Mary has also been frequently seen as symbol or representative, a sort of first citizen, of the church. This blurs the distinctions. Thus there has been considerable symbolic slippage between her role as mother and her representation of the church in a spousal relationship to Christ.
--Carolyn Osiek

As you read this little blog post, would you do something?  Would you be brave enough to notice your reading strategies and slippages?  One of my mentors has thought about hers.  And so I'd like us let her help us again with ours.  I'm just interested in how our affirmations, on the one hand, may not always keep up with "our language, our imagery, and our metaphors."   Just a couple of more items to go.  This is profound stuff, the relationships between what we think, what we say, and what we do.  If you're a man, a Christian man, a Bible-reading Christian man, then you'll probably have to think harder than everybody else.  We're reading now (as with the four epigraphs above) from "The Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33): a problematic wedding," in Biblical Theology Bulletin 32.1 (Spring 2002), researched and written by Dr. Osiek.  What do you think?:

Male interests predominate in our reading strategies. The implied reader is usually male or represents male interests. This is clear in the case of the history of interpretation of our text from Ephesians. I do not know of any instances in which male readers have deduced from it that as members of the church, which is submissive to Christ, her bridegroom, they should be submissive to their marriage partners. Nor do men generally, on the basis of this metaphor, image themselves as feminine in relation to God, which is the logical conclusion of the marital metaphor. Some older spirituality in English spoke of the soul as "she," more under the influence of feminine words for soul in Latin and French than anything else, but also perhaps influenced by the marriage metaphor. Likewise, Caroline Bynum calls our attention in her essays on Jesus as Mother to the influence of the submission theme in medieval monasticism: becoming symbolically female meant both the humbling of the self and the assumption of a compassionate attitude toward others (Bynum: 110-69). Here the stereotype of the stern father and the compassionate mother strikes again, to the detriment of fatherhood as well as motherhood, and the stereotype of the dominant male taking on female characteristics by becoming humble belittles the dignity of women. 
Both men and women do, however, make the connection that the ecclesial marriage metaphor means that women as members of the church should be submissive, however troublesome that realization may be, and whether they accept or reject it. Men certainly do identify not with the church in this metaphor, as members of it, but with Christ, because such identifications suit male interests. Herein lies the great danger posed by this ecclesiological metaphor: it encourages men to identify with Christ, women with the church. As everyone knows who teaches or ministers, for most people the line between Christ and God is very thin. As long as the marriage metaphor is in play, gender symbolism is fixed. Men will, even unconsciously, identify with Christ and women with the church, and feminine imagery for God or Christ then has no place. Then God is the ultimate male.


Bob MacDonald said...

Kurk - I am glad to see you posting again. As you know or may have guessed, all my blog posts whether comments, or confused or stories or on the psalms, concern this metaphor. As a male, I have no difficulty identifying with the female as spouse to the Hart of the Dawn. (That's a conflation between psalm 22 and the Song.) I know the instruction to the male of the old covenant to identify with the bride in the Song.

My eye in Adam was no longer single, so I sought the light as if by my own power. This is disastrous for the woman and for the man. The light is in Christ through his death. This is the death we must die to know the light. Then being beyond judgment we will no longer seek pleasure through our own power.

You are on to something here - but it will not be expressed through explanation. How will you train your metaphors? Even if you do, will you be known? Not without finding the way to submit to that will of God that is shown in his pleasure in allowing the Anointed Jesus to die for us.

When the expression is in you as it is in Jesus and as I believe he has allowed knowledge in us, us in him and he in us, then we will search for words to express what it is we know and are known in and we will know - intellectually (in this case only) - why it is impossible for the rule bound old man to understand or to obey. It is impossible!!!!! for the old man to obey. So how does salvation happen at all?

Somehow we hear and somehow the spirit in us without our knowledge prays and somehow God looks 'down' and says "Oh it's you" - Tov.

And by the way - the rule-bound old man IS NOT identical with the Torah-loving man of the Old Covenant - which is still in force by Election. (why else would R Akiva know so much about the Song)

I used 'man' everywhere here because it is in the male that the falseness of reason resides so strongly. Every bit of my reasoning applies to the female too - if only on the basis of the Galatian teaching - no more male and female.

The zeal of my response may indicate that I too am subject to false reasoning. I am no judge of that. I know what I have been given and I strive to express its seemingly impossible loveliness without explanation.

J. K. Gayle said...

Bob, I hope you'll take time to find and read Dr. Osiek's entire essay. The excerpts here are intended to show how carefully she attends to Pauline metaphors (but she also makes a plea to show how different from Aristotle's they were and how much more different they could, and need, to be). You've obviously focused in on one of her key statements: "I do not know of any instances in which male readers have deduced from it that as members of the church, which is submissive to Christ, her bridegroom, they should be submissive to their marriage partners. Nor do men generally, on the basis of this metaphor, image themselves as feminine in relation to God, which is the logical conclusion of the marital metaphor." I don't know if you're married; we aren't surprised to find that women, not men, tend to view what God requires, even commands, in so much different terms. For example, Rachel Held Evans rather satirical list of "The Biblical Woman's Ten Commandments." She says, since Oct 2010, she's started a year of living biblically by these, as an experiment in "Biblical Womanhood." One of the frequently asked questions is "How does Dan [your husband] feel about it?" because, of course, he cannot feel the same way she does.

I saw that you left a comment over at Doug Chaplin's blog, where he reviewed Carolyn Osiek's published review of Richard Pervo’s Making of Paul. Doug, as you know, was quick to pick up on the implications of one of Osiek's own metaphors: "this book is something of a trip down memory lane." That one little statement helps us readers of her review understand more sharply what she'd said earlier (including not only her astute look at Pervo's humor in similes - "Marcion’s creator god is an 'underachiever' like the god of Woody Allen" but also her own rhetorical question to challenge one of Pervo's syllogistic conclusions - "Surprisingly, here we find Matthew, with his sharp differences of approach from that of Paul — but must this mean anti-Paul?" as well as her questioning of his rather direct line of reasoning to would-be certain conclusions - "[For Pervo to] assert that Paul is by this time portrayed as Gentile and polytheist as well as redeemed sinner, based on such passages as
1 Tim 1:12–17, is pushing it too far, however." I'm hoping to show what Osiek is teaching: how argument construction has consequences and how reading strategies must be questioned, since we tend to share this "experience between the desire for connection and the desire to control." How else will we reconcile the need "to affirm the full dignity and equality of women with men" with the use of language "to perpetuate inequality"?

(Thanks for commenting. Bob, What I haven't said publicly about my blogging this month is that it's mainly to highlight what and how we all might learn to read the Bible from learned women. Can't say how long I'm going to continue blogging after March.)

Bob MacDonald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob MacDonald said...

Hi Kurk - I have been married for 43 or so years to the same woman. I am male. Our daughter is the first female Director of Music in Chapel in history at Oxbridge. We have three boys as well, two adopted, an African and a Plains Cree, himself disabled by FAS from birth. It's a complex journey.

I have read some Osiek - Christianity in Jewish Terms, (I blogged on it in 2008 at Sufficiency) but I will never be a scholar - not enough time and too many distractions.

You've pointed out a lot about the limits of taxonomies and brittle binaries. Thanks - be blessed in your gifts as you bless others.

March 16, 2011 9:02 AM

J. K. Gayle said...

Hi Bob, Thank you for sharing with us how rich you are in relationships. Sounds like you have been very blessed to travel your "complex journey."

Yes, I remember now your enumerating "females from whose writing or speeches I have learned:

* Susannah Ticciati - full marks for her delightful 'Job and the Disruption of Identity'.

* Tikva Frymer-Kensky, leading contributor to 'Christianity in Jewish Terms'.

* Jody Magness from whom I learned a bit about the Dead Sea Scrolls

* Carolyn Osiek - in 'Families in the New Testament World'.

* Mary Coloe whose books on John are very helpful and well written.

* Morna Hooker, who addressed us at Hebrew 2006 and I have read and enjoyed some of her work.

* and Elizabeth Schlussle Fiorenza whose book on Revelation I read some years ago....

Of course I must mention April who I met briefly in San Diego, and Suzanne who lives across the straits from me and Macrina (now alas offline) and Rachel, the Velveteen Rabbi and the Everyday Thomist and Irshad Manji (whom I have not heard from for a while) and Julia M Obrien."

Thanks again!

Bob MacDonald said...

and thank you for correcting my memory !! Osiek and Frymer Kensky mixed up in me.

John Radcliffe said...

Kurk, it’s good to see you back blogging again (even if only for a limited time). As always, of course, much of what you write still goes clean over my head (and that’s still not a complaint). But I thought I’d give you the “benefit” of my thoughts anyway.

I think the passage in Ephesians 5 is problematic for a number of reasons. Let me draw out a few of those I see:

(1) Although it initially seems that Paul is using the relationship between Christ and the Church to elucidate that between a husband and a wife, after finishing reading one is left wondering whether he’s actually doing the opposite – elucidating the Christ-and-the-Church relationship from the husband-and-wife one, or perhaps a bit of each, letting each shed light on the other.

(2) Paul refers to the relationship of Christ and the Church as being “a great mystery” (verse 32). Now in the NT generally a “mystery” is an “open secret”, in other words, it’s something we either wouldn’t have known about (or have understood) at all without divine revelation, that doesn’t mean that “once the secret is out” we automatically understand everything that there is to know about it – and I’m sure we don’t in the case of “Christ and the Church”. As I read it, Paul is speaking “into” that mystery, but doesn’t think for a moment that his insights (whether divinely supplied or not) will make it all as clear as day.

Now normally, when using comparisons as a way of explaining something, we use something we expect the other person to be already familiar with. So, if Paul is using how Christ-and-the-Church “works” to explain how husband-and-wife should, he can only be using aspects of Christ’s relationship to the Church that his readers already understood – things like the fact that Christ loved and gave his life for the people it consists of, and not all the “bride” stuff that John gets into in Revelation.

From the other perspective, if we can only use “known things” as illustrations, Paul could only use marriage as his first readers knew it to give them an insight into “Christ and the Church”. It would have been pointless, for example, to illustrate anything by reference to a “marriage of equal partners”. Although I suspect that such marriages weren’t unknown at the time (I’d put that of Priscilla and Aquila high on my list of suspects), they weren’t the norm.

(3) It is frequently assumed that the concept of marriage that Paul is addressing is his (and/or God’s) “ideal” for marriage at all times. I sincerely doubt that, and I think his reference to how in Genesis the two were “to become one flesh” hints at something else – something other (and better) than a hierarchical relationship. Now (as I’ve said before elsewhere) Paul was nothing if not a pragmatist, and so (as I see it), he is telling his readers how to live as Christ-followers in the world they were actually living in, not some idealistic world that they were powerless to create. He also had to take into account that in many cases his readers’ marriage partners weren’t believers, and so wouldn’t take any notice of what Paul said.

(to be continued)

John Radcliffe said...


So while I agree with Carolyn Osiek when she says:

It does no good to affirm the full dignity and equality of women with men if our language, our imagery, and our metaphors continue to perpetuate inequality. It does no good to affirm the full dignity and equality of women with men if our language, our imagery, and our metaphors continue to perpetuate inequality

I don’t think the appropriate response is to excise such sections from out Bibles (baby with bathwater style). (Not that I’m saying that she says we should.)

As I see it, to make use of this passage (and the same principle applies elsewhere) we have to understand that Paul was talking to, and illustrating from, the typical “marriage scenario” of his time that his readers were familiar with. That means we shouldn’t (on the one hand) insist that such a marriage is necessarily appropriate now (or ever was “the ideal”); nor (on the other hand) that we should seek to understand Christ’s relationship to the Church on the basis of a different marriage scenario (such as that which many people reading Paul today might enjoy). Paul, I think, was bound by his time – but I don’t think we can blame him for that. It would be unreasonable to expect Paul to have been able to frame his teaching in a way that is appropriate to our time (as it was completely unknown to him) – so as to let us apply it “straight out of the box” – but it is not unreasonable, I think, for us to be expected to do the “reframing” for him (as his time isn’t completely unknown to us).

We just have to be aware of and carefully avoid the dangers of misapplication, as though his images are talking about a 21st century bride or marriage, and make the appropriate cultural adjustments in applying what he says. Unfortunately, in some circles that seems to be asking too much, and many insist that a “ready meal” approach is the only way to do justice to Paul.

So which women writers have had an impact on how I read the Bible?

Well, off the top of my head I can’t think of any. Mary Grosvenor (whose Analysis I’ve mentioned before) certainly has done, in the sense that it allowed me to make some sense of the Greek of the NT in places that otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to, but I doubt that’s what you’re talking about. The truth is, though, that I can name very few writers of either sex who have changed the way I read the Bible, although I’m sure many have had an influence along the way. In my defence I’ll just say that (1) I have a very bad memory for names (ask me to name my favourite female singers, for example, and I’ll really struggle – I may be able to picture them from the CD covers, but as for their names …), and (2) the sex of an author has never been a matter of great importance to me (perhaps it should be), whereas an ability to make sense is (and I don’t think either sex has a monopoly on that).

J. K. Gayle said...

Welcome back here, and thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. Seems none of what Osiek's written that I've posted here has gone over your head, I must say. And if ever it does, then I'm glad you think it goes over "clean." :)

I'm going to start my reply with how you end your comment, with your mention again of how Mary Grosvenor has had, as you put it, "an impact" on how you read the Bible. You go on to say that "the sex" of anyone never has been of great importance or should it be perhaps to you.

Well, that's right. However, if the Bible is written by men, for men, to men, privileging males through and through, then what? And conversely, how must men read what Saint Teresa of Ávila (aka Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada) has written to her sisters? Never mind that her writings were, for the most part, commissioned by a man over her, the one to whom she had to confess her sins: Fr. Pedro Ibáñez. Now, very clearly, she addresses women only in Spanish only when writing her El Castillo Interior. We get it in English today from a man, translator Fr. Benedict Zimmerman. So what, we might ask. Well, he does let her readers understand that she is addressing her "sisters," her "hermanas." But he has her saying, "If we reflect, sisters, we shall see that the soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight." In fact, she says to her own womankind: "Que si bien lo consideramos, hermanas, no es otra cosa el alma del justo sino un paraíso adonde dice El tiene sus deleites." If a woman had translated this from Spanish to English, reading it as not addressed to men, nor about men, nor ever universally for every man, but to women - then how might she do it?

So here we're getting back to Osiek's point. A man can make her points too, mind you. However, it's that she has lived unlike men when reading a man's text, the Bible. She looks at the metaphors therein as by men. She's not about to throw out the baby if manliness must be the bathwater. But it's not just the content of the Bible but it's the linguistic constructs of the text that is also the very core issue. (to be continued)

J. K. Gayle said...

(continued)  To Bob in a comment above I noted very generally that Osiek does see a little progress in the metaphorizing in the second testament. Is Paul, then, a merely a product of his time, or has he been influenced positively by women, such as Junia and Phoebe and Lois and Eunice and Priscilla and Lydia and others unnamed? Osiek doesn't speculate that in her article. Rather, she does specifically say: "What I do want to argue ... is that the author of Ephesians has read Paul well, and has combined several Pauline themes into a new configuration under the guiding theme of the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage." She moves from what Aristotle has outlined as "the patriarchally "ideal" family, one headed by a strong male leader."

And then Osiek comes to other arrangements, and how the writer of Ephesians (and other similar texts allow for them):

We know from other evidence that there were many households headed by women. How authority functioned in households headed by women is something about which we know very little, precisely because it was considered outside the norm, and therefore largely ignored in the literature (but see Osiek & Balch: 58, 243-44 n. 46). Here we have something very different. The Second Testament codes address all categories of persons concerned: wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and masters. The pattern of submission in the case of wife to husband and of obedience in the case of children to fathers and slaves to masters remains, but no longer is the husband-father-master the only socially visible and significant person. Now wives, children, and slaves are given social visibility and therefore personal dignity by being addressed as well. What is more, in each dyad they are addressed first: wives then husbands, children then fathers, slaves then masters. It is as if the authors of these texts, while keeping the subordinate order, want to reverse the usual custom of granting central attention to the male authority figure.

There are other things that Osiek points out as different about the NT family descriptions. But if I told you these, then I'd probably verge on violating copyright laws and would rob you of finding and enjoying the essay yourself. The main issue raised is that male metaphors privilege males, and that the modifications in Ephesians "do not completely exonerate the author." It is worthwhile to give you the ending of Osiek's essay, as her suggestion for what we can, and perhaps must, do:

In the Second Testament, 1 Peter 2:18-25 does something very similar to Ephesians 5:21-33 in that it holds up the unjust suffering of slaves as a mirror of the suffering of Christ, and enjoins slaves therefore to submit even to cruel masters. We have long ago rejected that comparison as illegitimate. It is time to acknowledge the same dangers in the wedding of the bride of Christ.