Invisible women and the God who sees

Since this morning’s “Biblical Family of the Day” post involved the story of the rape of Dinah from Genesis 34, here’s a bit more on that passage from a recent discussion by Lauren Tuchman at State of Formation, “The Presence and Absence of Women: Reflections Upon the Rape of Dinah“:

Every year as I read this parsha, I am struck by Dinah’s total silence. The narrative surrounding her rape by Shechem is told strictly through the perspective of her father and brothers, Shimon and Levi who, upon receiving word of Dinah’s rape, exact violent revenge against all of the male inhabitants of the city.

… Dinah’s complete absence and lack of human agency in this narrative I find deeply troubling. Far too frequently, women and their experiences are rendered completely invisible in our sacred texts. We hear of Shimon and Levi’s violent anguish, but what of Dinah’s?

… What I find all the more troubling is the fact that if Dinah was indeed raped, as the pshat–or simple meaning of the text clearly conveys, her experience is invisible, and the only thing that seems to matter here is her familial honor. Feminist Biblical commentary has done much to give the voiceless women in our sacred texts a hearing. Although we can never know how Dinah felt, we can, through feminist hermeneutics and Midrash, seek to uncover and recover that lost strand in our tradition, making Torah all the richer.

What Tuchman says here about Dinah, and the title of her post — “The Presence and Absence of Women” — seems to apply to many of the horrifying biblical passages we’ve looked at here in that “Biblical Family” series.

“Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness,” by Gustave Dore

Think of those 10 women shut away after being used in the conflict between Absalom and David. Or of all those other unnamed concubines and female slaves. Or even Vashti. She was a queen when we first meet her in that story, but what became of her after that? Over and over, as Tuchman says of Dinah, their “experience is invisible.”

One partial and strange exception to that is the story of Hagar, the slave of Abraham’s wife, Sarah.

The Registered Runaway has a thoughtful discussion of the story of Hagar in the book of Genesis. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say the stories of Hagar, since those passages in Genesis seem cobbled together from different storytellers with very different views of what Hagar’s story means.

RR writes:

Hagar was an Egyptian. A slave to Sarah while [she and] Abraham stayed in Pharoah’s palace. When the two got the boot out of Egypt, Hagar was packed up like luggage and carted along with them. Away from everyone and everything she ever knew.

She was a minority in every sense of the word. Her gender, race, nationality and social status put her in the bottom of the barrel. Nothing more than a means to an end. Something to be traded, used and discarded. Born to be little so her master could be great, her existence nothing more than a sad roll of the dice.

Hagar is another of the many women in the Bible who is misused, mistreated and disregarded by the righteous heroes of the story. But unlike with Dinah or those many nameless just-a-concubine women in those other stories, Hagar’s experience is not wholly invisible. We get to see her experience and her perspective, even when it makes Abraham and Sarah look bad.

Hagar’s story includes a familiar motif — flight into the wilderness, abandonment and despair, followed by divine visitation and the promise of a blessed future. That same motif is seen in the stories of Abraham, Jacob, David and Elijah, but here it centers on a Gentile slave woman.

You are the God who sees me,” Hagar says. The God who sees me.

Did Dinah ever say that? Or those royal concubines locked up after being used by the king and the prince?

Could they say that? The stories we have of them don’t suggest it’s true. Their experience is invisible in these stories, and if we judge only by these stories without the kind of “feminist hermeneutics and Midrash” Tuchman calls for, then it seems as if their experience was invisible even to God.

RR continues:

What stands out is how this story is told. Or rather not told. … Church history has traditionally trashed Hagar as an example of the sinful. Of the fallen. And within the same breath, they say Sarah is an example of the heavenly. Augustine compares Hagar to the city of the Earth and Sarah the city of Heaven. Aquinas separates the children of Sarah and Hagar into the “redeemed” and the “unredeemed.”

But God saw Hagar, even if we refuse to look.

  • aunursa

    My comment from the Chik-fil-A thread seems appropriate here, too…

    The Red Tent by Anita Diamont is an international bestseller.  This book tells the story from the perspective of Dinah.

  • Aiwhelan

    Diamant does tells Dinah’s story, but I think its worth noting that she changes the fundamental detail of it- in her version, there is no rape, but a whirlwind romance, and her brothers’ anger is at that fact that a foreigner has dared to touch their sister. Diamant makes their refusal to acknowledge Dinah’s voice the heart of the massacre.

  • AnonaMiss

    So that’s where I got that idea from. It must have traveled the cultural grapevine.

  • LL

    This may not be Fred’s intent, but these detailed looks at how women are treated in the Bible make me sad. A lot of the people who wrote the Bible hate women even more than I imagined. The unrelenting sexism of Christianity is more understandable now. Still not justifiable, but clearly not something that bad Christians impose on it (as is often claimed), but an integral part of it, how Christians are taught to see the half of the world that  isn’t male. 

    And before anyone gripes, I know that not all Christians (male and female) are like that. Just saying, I can see why so many of them (in America, at least) think it’s OK to treat women as if they are nothing. Because that’s how the Bible treats the great majority of them. It seems that the only one that comes off well at all is Mary. But for everyone else with a uterus who didn’t give birth to the savior of all mankind, well, sucks to be them. 

    Now, most of the men of the Bible don’t come off particularly well either (to people with common sense and decency), but as in the Left Behind books, they’re portrayed as the heroes. Or their appalling behavior is presented as if it is normal, no big deal. Rape, slavery, forced marriage? All in a day’s work. The appeal of Christianity to anybody but men in charge of stuff continues to perplex me. 

  • Ben English

    Well the Bible is not Christianity, especially not Genesis. Christianity’s appeal to the early Christians was strongest FOR the women, the slaves, the poor and downtrodden because it’s so radically transgressive of those norms that scriptures like the story of Dinah. The first will be last, the least will be greatest.

  • LL

    OK, sure, I get that, and am aware of accounts/discussions of very early Christianity. And it was very admirable in that it appealed to and addressed the “downtrodden.” But Christianity hasn’t been that version for a very long time. I suppose you could say it was co-opted by the slaveholders and women haters (most likely for entirely cynical reasons). In that sense, the real Christians are the hateful ones and the women/slaves/poor are the outsider groups that found Jesus’s overall message appealing. Unfortunately, Jesus was rather quickly eliminated and what Christianity was left with was all the same old men making all the rules that Jesus sought to replace. Like I said, sad. Christianity could have been a great liberator of humanity. But it wasn’t and isn’t. 

    And the current incarnation of Christianity is what we have to deal with now. And I don’t hear of many Christians criticizing the Bible and the appalling sexism it contains. And most of the ones who do so have vaginas. And are marginalized as a result. I just gotta wonder why so many people (esp. women) still reference a book full of words that tell them they’re nothing. That glosses over terrible mistreatment at the hands of men they’re supposed to see as great teachers and heroes and wise men. “Here’s this story about something that happened to a woman (that isn’t really worth going into much detail about because who cares what happens to women) and look at how it turned out for the men, yay!”

    And as the Bible is essentially the sacred text of Christianity, it is an important part of Christianity to most of its adherents. Here in America, anyway. To say it’s not Christianity is really pretty disingenuous.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Preach it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WingedWyrm Charles Scott

    It’s also worth noting that, for the early Christians, Christianity was not based on the same set of scriptures or even the same Christ as is referred to today, or the same Christ as each other.

    There were sects that believed Christ entirely human (and not also entirely divine) and there were sects that believed the reverse.  There were sects that would have been offended by the idea that Christ could have incarnated as a human and sects that believe that he wore the human flesh as a suit and, in fact, laughed while the Romans were crucifying what amounted to nothing more than a mortal coil that he was all too happy to shuffle loose from.

    This is not to say the incarnation and man-or-God questions are at the root of the transgressive nature of Christianity at the time, but just to illustrait the differences.

    And, one big difference is that, Christianity as it played out in centuries to follow and as it most often plays out today (to my albeit limited comprehension) is precisely not transgressive.  Oh, sure, it says that a rich man should tend to the needs of the poor or he might not find himself in Heaven (whether that means Hell or not is up to debate), but for the poor that aren’t getting their needs met, they aren’t given a means of adressing that wrong save waiting and hoping that someone more powerful will do so for them.

    So, the appeal of today’s Christianity could still be perplexing to someone who sees the decidely power-friendly face that is most commonly shown (whether such is true to Christ’s teachings or not).

    That said, the appeal back then, even of a religion that said that the least will be the greatest after you die, is in comparison to what was there before.  The Greko-Roman gods were very pro-wealth, particularly in that the wealthy could afford to spend more on sacrifices to the gods, literally having forgiveness against sins as a casual luxory that the poor could not afford.

    As critical as I often am of Christianity, it was an improvement over what had come before.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Good points about the pre-Christian religion(s) of the Roman world. Any religion tied to the State is going to be pro-wealth and pro-power (because that’s who created and maintains the institutions of State) with only a passing nod to the poor and powerless who are little more than props for the wealthy and powerful to display their generosity and virtue.

  • stardreamer42

    Yes — and that message was cynically adopted by the powerful as a tool to keep the downtrodden securely in their place. Tribulation on Earth will be rewarded in Heaven, if you are only patient and obedient now (when it really makes a difference to our convenience). Ptui on that, says I.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

     And, of course, it didn’t take long for Christianity to follow exactly the same model as those earlier religions, tying itself to the State, turning pro-wealth, allowing the wealthy to buy forgiveness from sins, etc.

  • LL

    Agreed. It was. Which is still pretty sad. 

    “We’re better than that horrible, abusive belief system the Romans are forcing on you!”

    Kinda like when Americans today compare us to the most horrible countries on earth and imply that we’ve all got it good because we don’t have it as bad as the North Koreans or the Saudis or the Somalians. 

    We do have it pretty good, but … it could be better for a lot of people.

  • christopher_y

    Augustine compares Hagar to the city of the Earth and Sarah the city of Heaven. Aquinas separates the children of Sarah and Hagar into the “redeemed” and the “unredeemed.”

    Islam, of course, reveres Hagar as a matriarch and Ishmael as a prophet. Take your pick.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “the pshat–or simple meaning of the text clearly conveys, her experience is invisible, and the only thing that seems to matter here is her familial honor… We can, through feminist hermeneutics and Midrash, seek to uncover and recover that lost strand in our tradition, making Torah all the richer.”

    …This all sounds like a lot of work. At what point does one just admit that these are texts written by people in the 5th century BC with 5th century BC worldviews and there are basic problems with using anything they said as moral instruction? My assumption is the reason a surface-level reading of the text suggests that Dinah’s experience is irrelevant and what matters is familial honor, is that this is because this is exactly what the authors believed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WingedWyrm Charles Scott

    It’s recently occurred to me that George Orwell’s novels, Animal Farm and 1984, have little to nothing to do with communism, as they have nothing to say about the economic philosophy.  But, as stories of power, one if the ascention thereof and the other of the structure and maintainance thereof, they’re great analogies for any story of power you might think of.

    And, yeah, that counts for Christianity, as a faith, itself.

  • Darkrose

    This. 

    I’m happy that people are re-reading these texts, but I also feel that if I have to do this much work to make the religion into something that doesn’t make me feel awful, perhaps I need a different religion. That’s the fundamental reason why no matter how much I miss the music and ritual of the Episcopal Church, and I want to support their efforts to continue expanding “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”. I can’t get past the fact that the deity of the Abrahamic religions is presented in all three foundational texts as considering half of his creation less valuable than the other half. As someone in the less-valuable half, I haven’t been able to convince myself that I should worship this guy.

  • Lliira

     The appeal of Christianity to anybody but men in charge of stuff continues to perplex me.

    You’re looking at the Old Testament. Look instead to Jesus’ treatment of women. They’re everywhere in his story, at the center, seen by and blessed by him. He even showed himself to women after his resurrection, and not to men.

    That has been the appeal of Christianity to billions of women throughout history. The change from Abraham — and Jupiter — to Jesus. The change from “you are a thing, less valuable than a cow, existing in order for men to use how they please” to “you have a soul that is as valuable as any man’s soul”. The Church fathers debated this for a long time, but it’s right there in the Bible: there is no longer any male or female.

    Christianity has female saints and martyrs, hugely influential female mystics (disappeared by masculist history), hugely influential nuns. If a woman said “I heard the voice of Jesus”, men had to stop and listen. (There was also a lot of sex appeal to Jesus — when nuns called themselves the “brides of Jesus”, they meant that in every single way.) Christianity’s place for women was brand new. While Christianity these days mostly seems to be used to smash women down, it used to be the exact opposite. It was the thing that made women no longer chattel throughout the former Roman Empire.

  • Carstonio

     And it’s revealing that the men who use Christianity to smash women down focus more on the Old Testament rather than the New. In another thread I questioned the wisdom of Christianity treating the OT as an authority with the NT instead of as a supporting artifact.

  • Lliira

    Pre-Malleus Maleficarum and the gynocide it spawned, there were a lot of scholars, both male and female, who made excellent arguments for the New Testament proving that women were less sinful than men and at least as valuable to God and Jesus. They didn’t go quite so far as to say God loved women more than men, but they came very, very close. And they had some quite excellent arguments. Pre-Reformation, people prayed to Mary far more than to anyone else.

    In the first part of the 20th century, masculist historians harrumphed about how Christianity, being a religion of women and slaves, had destroyed the mighty phallic Roman Empire. Then those historians proceeded to bury everything relating to women’s power in the Church, simply by pretending it wasn’t there. We’re still doing the work of resurrecting it, and it’s more than even the most optimist feminist historian thought.

    The message of the New Testament does not work for the powerful, so they grabbed on to the Old Testament — parts of it — and claimed it was all of Christianity. When it’s the exact opposite of Christianity. The Old Testament is for the people in power, mostly. The New Testament is not. Why do you think people in power were so eager to keep people from being able to read the Bible?

  • LL

    That last sentence is highly debatable. And I remain unconvinced. The Old Testament is still in the Bible. It’s still “official.” 

    Women are free to see whatever they want in any religion they want, that’s fine. Just because I think it’s silly doesn’t mean they have to.

  • http://xulonjam.wordpress.com/ Xulon

    According to what I have read (always a less than fully sound basis, I know) Hagar is the only woman in the Bible or any of the ancient mythologies who is talked to by name by a deity.  Mary was called by name by an Angel.

  • Darkrose

     If a woman said “I heard the voice of Jesus”, men had to stop and listen.

    And yet, in the foundational text of Christianity, when the women told the disciples that they’d seen the risen Christ, the (male) disciples dismissed them as a bunch of silly women.

  • Darkrose

    The Old Testament is for the people in power, mostly. The New Testament is not. 

    Sorry, but I can’t buy that. The whole concept of the Bible consisting of an “old” and “new” testament is because the people in power at the time decided that it would be so. They chose to include Paul’s letters and to raise them to the status of Gospel truth, and while I’ve learned that Paul’s a lot more nuanced than I gave him credit for, his words have been consistently used to comfort the comfortable and tell the afflicted to sit down and shut up.

    The even more fundamental problem, for me, is that while the New Testament is primarily focused on Jesus, the guy with the radical ideas about women, even he still worshipped and gave primacy to the god who seemed to be big on rewarding rapists and punishing women.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Hagar is another of the many women in the Bible who is misused, mistreated and disregarded by the righteous heroes of the story.

    Ah, so that is where L&J get that from.  

  • Marcion

    And yet Jesus was a man, Jesus’ disciples are all men, Jesus’ god, god the father, the ultimate authority, is unambiguously male and Jesus himself never even takes ten seconds to say “Women are equal to men.” Christian theology also evolved so that Jesus is the same entity as the god handing down misogynistic commandments in the old testament. And that doesn’t even begin to cover Paul, the man who took christianity overseas and gave us such gems as

    “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

    A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

    Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.”
    1 Corinthians 11:2-15

    Sexism really does run deep in the christian worldview, way beyond the obvious sexist bible passages

  • Marcion

    Who says the new testament doesn’t work for the powerful?

    ” Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

    This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then ho

    Romans 13, 1-7

  • Austinkitty

    It is very important to note that Classical paganism and philosophy were thoroughly misogynist. The Bible is usually the only writing for that period of antiquity that anyone knows well, and most of it doesn’t comport well with contemporary sensibilities. Reading Aristotle and Seneca made me really appreciate St. Paul.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomstone Thomas Stone

    Obviously the worldview of the writings does reflect the worldview of the writers. It seems absurd to conclude, though, that this should mean trying to recover the worldview and lives and voices of those elided by that worldview is ‘too much work’- it’s giving the past to patriarchy, and if your argument here is that the Bible should be regarded solely as a work of historical culture and ethnography, that is if anything all the more reason to try to recover those views that aren’t included in it. 

    It’s very easy just to let the whole of the past go as being intolerably misogynistic, but doing so is burying millenia of women and women’s stories and women’s voices still further, and implicitly agreeing with the assumption that they were powerless and weak and unable to make a place for themselves, that the male dominated and related world is the only one. Uncovering the lost strands of tradition is an incredibly vital project, as much for women as for Native Americans or for those descended from slaves or for anyone else whose names and faces were assiduously scrubbed from the record.

  • Michael Pullmann

     And those men are proven to be 100% wrong.

  • Darkrose

    And does anyone call them on it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    He even showed himself to women after his resurrection, and not to men.

    Off on a tangent, granted that I don’t know the resurrection story very well, but I’d swear I remembered something about Thomas poking at Jesus’ spear wound?  So how’s that again?

  • Michael Pullmann

    “Christianity could have been a great liberator of humanity. But it wasn’t and isn’t.”

    In the words of the Reverend Brother Mightily Oats: “Then let’s make it so.”

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    That has been the appeal of Christianity to billions of women throughout
    history. The change from Abraham — and Jupiter — to Jesus. The change
    from “you are a thing, less valuable than a cow, existing in order for
    men to use how they please” to “you have a soul that is as valuable as
    any man’s soul”. The Church fathers debated this for a long time, but
    it’s right there in the Bible: there is no longer any male or female.

    And
    lest anyone take that as having unfair implications for folks who don’t
    include the NT in their canon, Judaism has its own tradition of scholarship, interpretation and commentary on the OT texts which make many similar movements to build a framework that isn’t based around patriarchal oppression, some of which is contemporary to the NT.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    That last sentence is highly debatable. And I remain unconvinced. The
    Old Testament is still in the Bible. It’s still “official.”

    I think “These statements mean this thing because the words are still in there, even though that interpretation is radically at odds with the overwhelming and prevailing message of the entire work as a whole” is the literal definition of “taking things out of context.”

    Also, “Because there is this bad thing back in the OT, we should dismiss the entire religion that evolved out of it over thousands of years and which is different in every way” seems awfully close to “All of mankind is tainted by the stain of original sin and is therefore utterly depraved” for someone who is trying to _reject_ christianity.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    And yet, in the foundational text of Christianity, when the women told
    the disciples that they’d seen the risen Christ, the (male) disciples
    dismissed them as a bunch of silly women.

    And as we well know, the bible takes the position that the male disciples were entirely correct in doing so, and were not, in fact, making asses of themselves. I mean, Jesus *rising from the dead*. C’mon.

  • Darkrose

    It’s not “there’s this one bad thing back in the OT”. It’s “throughout the text, women are systematically devalued, both explicitly and implicitly, and the texts that were specifically chosen as canon include said devaluation without any real counter.”

    It’s also not just, “this says this therefore let’s throw the whole thing out”. It’s reading along in your Bible and over and over again, feeling the gut punch as you read about women being raped and abused and treated like their sole value is their uterus, and realizing that the people doing this are presented as the good guys. Abraham raped Hagar…and God rewards him and his descendants for it?

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    In the words of the Reverend Brother Mightily Oats: “Then let’s make it so.”

    Simple question: Why?

    Christianity had a chance.  It’s had two thousand years of chances.  And has done nothing to prove itself necessary for any kind of liberation.  At this point, why bother trying to drag it along on the path of liberation, when it will just kick and scream all the way?

  • Luke A

    This is an interesting question of hermeneutics. The text doesn’t necessarily grace us with the female perspective, but I’m not sure we can honestly say it morally supports the male perspectives represented either. It seems to be fairly morally neutral.

    What it seems you’re doing here, Fred, is reading with a hermeneutic of trust over and against one of suspicion. And that is a valuable thing indeed.

  • vsm

    Because there have been Christians for the past two thousand years and they probably aren’t going away anytime soon. Thus, it’s better to encourage emancipatory tendencies within it instead of writing the whole thing off.

    And while it certainly isn’t necessary for liberation, it has occasionally played such a role in history. See the Christian abolitionists, Tolstoyism and its influence on Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Liberation theology…

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     I’m reminded of being asked why I, as a queer man, wanted to be associated with such a historically heteronormative tradition as marriage.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Christian abolitionists are always brought up in discussions such as these.  Less frequently brought up are: their Christian brothers who showed exactly why the Bible supports slavery, and the fact that there are plenty of anti-slavery arguments that do not require Christianity in the least.  Sure, there were some Christian abolitionists, but that hardly shows that Christianity is necessary to end slavery and, indeed, the Bible itself argues against that idea.

  • LL

    To clarify, I’m not trying to reject Christianity, I absolutely do reject it, and all other religion. There’s no “original sin,” that concept is just silly. The “sin” part, anyway. I don’t think of it as sin, I think of it as human nature. 

    When a book is filled with passages that gloss over terrible mistreatment of people, those parts aren’t negated by the parts that say, “Oh by the way, love everybody as you love yourself and stuff like that.”

    I realize the books of the Bible were  written, compiled and signed off on by mostly ignorant men. And its contents reflect that. Which is why it’s silly to look at it as a book of instructions. But many people do see it as exactly that. They don’t see it as a piece of  history, they see it as something that should govern our lives right now. 

    I don’t dismiss Christianity the religion as a part of history. If the parts of Christianity that aren’t appalling have inspired people to actually be decent, that’s cool. But that doesn’t really take away the parts that have inspired people to be terrible. When we point this out, people tell us the bad parts are taken out of context, or clearly aren’t meant to be taken seriously. But how does that not apply to the admirable parts? More and more, it’s kinda looking like the admirable parts are the ones that don’t belong, like a brand-new Lamborghini parked in front of a ramshackle house. Like the people who put it together read the awful bits, thought to themselves, “Holy shit, this makes us sound like a bunch of assholes” and threw in the Jesus part at the end to make it more palatable to people who might not take kindly to being told they’re inferior. 

    The appalling parts of the Bible that Fred has discussed here aren’t taken out of context. They’re very clear: women are below men. Always. Men are in charge. Women are to do what they’re told. They’re the means to an end. 

    To many people, the prevailing message of the entire work as a whole isn’t: Hey, everybody, all are welcome, everybody’s cool, let’s all love each other! Yeah, the wimpy, Jesusy parts say that, but the prevailing message of the entire work as a whole looks to me like: Do things our way and if you don’t like it, tough titties. And if you have a vagina instead of a penis, why am I even listening to you, your opinion doesn’t count.

    If present-day Christians don’t like the way this reflects on them, they’re free to change it and excise the horrible bits, but I’m guessing this process would not go over too well with those who don’t see anything wrong with the horrible bits. 

    It would be interesting to watch, though. 

  • vsm

    I never said there weren’t good Christians opposing them, or the other groups I mentioned. Still, I think it’s rather nice that they existed, and would like to see similar groups emerge as long as there are Christians.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her
    head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a
    man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long
    hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If
    anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other
    practice—nor do the churches of God.

    This kind of thing reads like some kind of word-chopping sophistry Paul used to try and talk out of both sides of his mouth at the same time.

    On the one hand he seems to be arguing that women are inferior, but on the other he seems to be trying a clever bit of “women don’t need head-covers because HEY LONG HAIR, see? WHICH TOTES MEANS THEY ARE EQUAL.”

    Frankly, I hate that kind of double-talkery.

    Plain language has much to recommend to it – among it the advantage of not being misinterpreted by people trying to read you in a language that didn’t even exist when you were setting down your words.

    (it is far easier to translate “open the door”, than “cause the entranceway to this room to be opened”.)

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “It seems absurd to conclude, though, that this should mean trying to recover the worldview and lives and voices of those elided by that worldview is ‘too much work’”

    Well… I don’t know. The thing I’d point out here is that in all probability Dinah did not exist. You cannot recover her life any more than you can recover that of, say, Marion Ravenwood. You can probably at most hope to write fan fiction.

    Basically somewhere about this point we have to ask why we are doing this. Let’s say the point is to recover historical perspective about the people who wrote the bible and the people who they were writing about. In this sense it becomes useful to look at the Dinah story and say: Here were some people writing in the fifth century BC, their writing encodes their norms and expectations about the world, we have here the one data point that when they write this story about this (real, imagined, fictionalized) person named Dinah they write her in a certain way. We can then try to fill in that data point by looking at other sources or types of information to work out what the lives of people like Dinah would be like, but… but that doesn’t tell us anything about “Dinah”? It tells us about “people like Dinah”. No? And even that much, we don’t get that *from* the story. At that point the important thing is a class of people, about which the Dinah story is one data point, not that the information about this class of real people is informing us about Dinah…

    But looking at the blog, it doesn’t seem like the author is interested in learning more about life in the fifth century BC. She says interested in the Torah. Which does she want? She wants to “recover” the inner life of a probably fictional person. Why? Maybe these are questions I should be asking on her blog and not Fred’s.

  • Baby_Raptor

    The entire passage gives off an air of Paul thinking “Dude, I don’t care if they cover their heads or not.” and just trying to come up with something that would allow both sides of the argument to feel as though they were equally supported.

    Like he saw it as a minor quibble, and just wanted to get it dealt with so he could make them focus on something he thought mattered. 

    His attitude about it all says lots of horrible things concerning his treatment of women, though. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    Christianity had a chance.  It’s had two thousand years of chances. 
    And has done nothing to prove itself necessary for any kind of
    liberation.  At this point, why bother trying to drag it along on the
    path of liberation, when it will just kick and scream all the way?

    Well, given that nothing else did either, why not just conclude that liberation is impossible and give up?

    I mean, really, you could just as well say “Christianity and every other human institution had its chance. Every human institution of the last two thousand years had two thousand years of chances. And none of them have done anthing to prove themselves necessary for any kind of liberation. At this point, why bother? Just nuke it from orbit and start again from scratch.”

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    The appalling parts of the Bible that Fred has discussed here aren’t
    taken out of context. They’re very clear: women are below men. Always.
    Men are in charge. Women are to do what they’re told. They’re the means
    to an end.

    If like Fred, you believe that the message of the bible, the entire message, is a message of love, then *any time you pull something out of the bible so that it is no longer about love, then you have taken it out of context*. No, you haven’t ripped a single line out of a page and divorced it utterly from what’s going on. But you have still taken it out of context.

  • vsm

    I’m starting to feel some sympathy for Paul. There he is, convinced the world is ending any day now, and these argumentative dumbasses keep bugging him with things that seem utterly trivial to him. Day after day, it’s nothing but “Dear Paul, how do you feel about foreskins? I think everyone who has one goes straight to Hell”. It’s no wonder some of his replies are kind of half-assed.

    Then it turns out the dumbasses were right to focus on everyday life as the world didn’t end, and some of those questions were pretty important.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I don’t think that humanity becoming better…liberating itself, if you will…is an impossibility, and I do think that certain things/ideas, like empathy and beliefs in equality and freedom for all, are probably necessary for that to happen.

    The things that are not necessary are beliefs in supernatural entities or an afterlife or a “purpose” to the universe.


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