‘Biblical families,’ an index

‘Biblical families,’ an index April 19, 2021

I realized last week that the “Chick-fil-A” tag for all those “biblical families” posts was still inconvenient to navigate, so here’s all of them in one place, from Abijah to Zimri.

This exercise — a running gag beaten to death, then flogged for several months after death — was in response to a very strange remark from fast-food magnate Dan Cathy, citing his support for “biblical families.”

Neither of those two words is obscure, but Cathy’s use of them, in combination, was almost incomprehensible. What on earth did he mean by “biblical families”? He seemed to be employing both terms in some normative sense — one that even he recognized would be very much at odds with any descriptive meaning that might be gleaned from looking at actual families and/or the actual Bible.

Hence our months-long running gag here involving the “Chick-fil-A Biblical Family of the Day,” spotlighting dozens of examples of actual families from the Bible as well as actually “biblical” — chapter-and-verse from the Bible — rules and precepts and commandments for families.

Almost none of these actual “biblical families” fit the mold of what Cathy intended to mean as the Platonic ideal of a model “biblical family.” His preferred norm of “one man and one woman in a lifelong monogamous commitment” turns out to be vanishingly rare in the actual Bible. The most prominent families in the oldest books of our Bibles were polygamous, even without getting into all of the slaves and concubines. (There are a lot more concubines in the Bible than you probably remember.)

To be fair, I never included Ahab and Jezebel as a BFotD, even though they’re one of the few biblical examples of “one man and one woman” etc. But then again every biblical mention of Ahab and Jezebel makes it quite clear that we’re not to view them as normative role models.

The Greek scriptures, written centuries later, don’t have as much polygamy and concubinage as the texts from the Bronze Age, but it’s scarcely easier to find many New Testament examples of the kind of “one man and one woman” marriage that would support Cathy’s breezy presumption that this ought to be normative. Ananias and Sapphira aren’t introduced as role models, while couples like Priscilla and Aquila are too radically egalitarian (or, in the case of all the matriarchs in Romans, too female-dominant) to support a claim of normative patriarchy. The model of a family we’re more likely to encounter in the New Testament involves someone like Peter, whose marriage we can infer from the mention of his mother-in-law, but who seems to have gone for years at a time without ever seeing his wife. (See also Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, etc.) You can make a strong case, based on Peter and Paul and on Jesus’ explicit sayings in the Gospels, that the New Testament is not at all “pro-family.”

Which is the other deeply weird aspect of Cathy’s “biblical families” rhetoric — the chronic white religious right business of being pro-“The Family” in a way that proves to be anti-actual families.

“Love is never abstract,” Wendell Berry wrote. The abstract imaginary of “pro-family” almost always involves advocating for policies that cause actual, concrete harm to actual, concrete families. Supporting that real-world harm with appeals to a weaponized, abstract Bible that cannot be reconciled with the actual, particular Bible does not strengthen the case for such hatefully abstract “love.”


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