Saturday, March 6, 2010

If Your Body's Sexed Female, Which Bible Must You Read?

My post today is getting away from what I've wanted to do this month at this blog by remembering:  women's history as it bumps up against (y)our present situation(s).  You judge whether today's post is so tangential, or puts the brake on history:

Jay Seidler in comments this month has pressed me to answer for depressing him. (Before you join us in conversation, I urge you to find out for yourself where Jay is coming from. His blogger profile is here, and his blog Roots and Leaves gives flickering glimpses into the very important, extremely hopeful work he does).

Jay's comments follow, and below them my responding starts:
This is really a depressing list. Can you not give any hope for the situation around 50 AD.
Since you seem to have more hope than I in the writings of these messengers of the early church, could you share some reasons you find to have this hope. I am afraid I have pushed the interpretation of some of these writings too far in effort to support my egalitarian view. I have no apology for my view, but I am a bit concerned about my integrity concerning the interpretation of these writings.
Thanks again. Perhaps if we can truly see a redemptive hermeneutic as W. Webb proposes there is hope. The question remain in my mind, is Paul taking steps forward when he refers to women as his co-workers or is he sliding back when he advises that a woman submit to their head as the church submits to Christ. At least Paul had female co-workers. Jesus certainly broke some barriers in his actions towards women, but he didn't select a women to be one of his twelve. If Peter wrote the letters attributed to him that instructs wives to refer to their husband as lord, had he gone forward from his Pentecost message or was his view just inconsistent like so many complementarians who claim that women can prophecy in the church but must still be retained under one who has the right kind of organ. I just would like to see that if we can find evidence to be hopeful in the Christian scriptures that the Church would be a leader in this campaign rather than a brake.
(now the start of my responding to Jay's third comment above:)

Or, Jay, what if Jesus had not had that "right kind of organ"? What if the body of the Christian Christ had been sexed female? Or even if, not being female but male as the scriptures record, he had nonetheless called God "Mother"? Could there have been better representation of the 12 tribes of Isra-El, of the sons of Jacob (i.e., the boy babies of Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah), by Jesus in his group of the dozen "men" only? Might not the family (and the Jewish scriptures themselves) better have represented their daughterS, namely Dinah? What if the Bible had mentioned Dinah's sisterS and half sisterS, for surely (hopefully) there are other girl babies to name?? Then, so then, what if Jesus had named one of "his" inner circle a female? Yes, what if there were clearer, louder, more certain "evidence to be hopeful in the Christian scriptures that the Church would be a leader in this campaign rather than a brake"?

Jay, I'm now depressed with you, losing hope again. Until I look at the Greek text of matthew, mark, luke, and john even saying things perhaps that Christians, as we have had the Church, rarely or never say. Jesus was not a Christian nor a member of any Christ-ian Church. To call him Christ is a good bit different -- says the Jew Willis Barnstone -- than to call him what the "New Covenant" calls him, even in Greek. I'm playing with words, and wordplay again.

So we might critique the historical record, the historiography. Jesus won't even listen to some women, uses their race (calls them Jewish names "dogs" and insinuates they're illegitimate or not God's children, not even children). Mark's history (7:27) and Matthew's historiography (15:27) make this fairly clear. And the twelve sons of David, the boys of Isra-El whom Jesus had chosen, they got it too (in both texts). So there's not just "a brake" but the whole vehicle gets shifted into reverse by its central character (i.e., Jesus). Where is the hope in that?!

Fortunately, with some hope, the texts let "her" speak, give voice to females. The two women (Mark's and also Matthew's) find faith, find hope, find love. They have agency and participation in that hope that none of the twelve boys of Jesus's race and in his class so easily had. I'm not saying the disciples of Jesus with circumcised penises didn't ever resist Jesus or cry out to him for what they felt (quite apart from Jesus and his own project) was what they themselves individually wanted. The texts do suggest these men were as whiny as we might stereotype any Syrophonician Greek woman or any Canaanite "bitch" to be.  (Yes, I know, Jesus didn't say "bitch."  The Jesus Seminar, of course, think that Jesus didn't say κυνάρια [koon-aria] and didn't throw the phrase τοῖς κυναρίοις βαλεῖν [tois koon-ariois balein] at the women at all.  The Jesus Seminar vote the bold sayings black, saying "Matthew has reproduced this story from Mark and has revised it slightly in the process.  However, the dialogue attributed to Jesus was probably the storyteller's creation."  However, The Jesus Seminar, and the rest of us reading and listening, do hear the voices of two different individuals with bodies sexed female.  And they own the racist, sexist words.  The move forward.  They won't, even though doubtful men are telling this history, these females won't let Jesus or the scriptures put the brake on them.

We might read Jesus's (alleged, doubted, doubtful?) responses.  We might read that the females, by their rhetoric in Mark's and Matthew's Greek perhaps in their own Greek mother tongue, have hope and get exactly what they want.

And today, we might read women reading the scriptures.  Okay, let's call them, like you do, "the Christian scriptures."  We might read the hope Wil Gafney gives them:
      The only reproductive organ that God possesses in the text is a womb (Job 38:29).  God's womb is also present in the text through the tender love and nurture that emanates from the divine womb.  The verb r-ch-m, unfortunately regularly translated "compassion," is the emotion that emanates from the recham, or womb.  This is the love that God has for God's people throughout the scriptures of Israel:
Or if we see them as historically "the scriptures of Israel," we might read the hope Rachel Barenblat gives them (and how God represents Himself in them):
Part of what I love here is that while it may seem transgressive to consider God in these terms, it's actually not. Granted, kabbalah goes some pretty interesting places when it comes to conceptualizing the multifaceted nature of the divine, but even in mainstream Jewish tradition there's a connection between God and the womb. One of our most common names for God is ha-rachaman, "The Merciful" or "The Compassionate" -- and rachaman shares a root with rechem, "womb." When we speak of el maleh rachamim ("God, filled with compassion") we're talking about a God whose mercy flows forth from the divine womb. We may be using masculine language, but the implications of that language are strongly female. I see this as a kind of gender-bending consciousness-raiser which is so built-in to our liturgy that most of the time we forget it's even there. God (masculine word) is the One in whose womb (feminine concept) all creation is nurtured.
As I enter my third trimester of pregnancy, this language amazes me. If God is the wombful One, then I with my womb and its inhabitant am somehow partaking in a flicker of God's experience as the nurturer of humanity.


G said...

There is a method in your madness that I so like Kurk. The hope is found in the specks of light sparkling from the dark mess of the sad human condition. If we focus on these specks of light, we don't need to be too distracted from the ugliness of the real life situation in which these lights were found. In being servant of the "word", we need not be slaves to the context from which they arose, but servants to the sparks of light therein found.

G said...

Here is an amusing youtube animation I thought to share with you. It doesn't pertain to this particular blog entry, but here it is.

J. K. Gayle said...

Jay, Doesn't language seem to work, metaphorically, in very generative, gendered ways? The womb is where birth is sparked.

The youtube vid? LOL