1 Corinthians 10:1-13 — Revisionist History

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We’re all well aware of the revisionist history that comes with the Bible and its long and storied history. But I have to admit that I always giggle just a little bit when we come across revisionist history within the Bible itself.

Somehow, in this letter to the Corinthians, the exodus from Egypt has become a shining example of Right and Wrong, created solely for the purpose of illustrating appropriate behaviors to the fledgling church. The Israelites all “ate and drank spiritual food”, and “were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”.

Now, I may be mis-remembering, but I don’t think the Israelites themselves were thinking much about baptism as they made that dash through the swampy waters of the Reed Sea. And I also seem to recall that their experience of that “spiritual food” was something more like “seriously, quail AGAIN?”.

It’s amazing what a millennium or so of distance can do to a story, isn’t it?

It’s one of the things that I’ve always found most comforting about the Bible- people are people are people. Moses comes down from the mountain, radiant with G-d/ess’ presence, and the people ask him to please cover his face, he’s kind of blinding, thanks. Jesus is transfigured on the mount, and Peter starts laying out plans for little houses he’s going to build. Even when confronted with the absolute presence of divinity, we’re going to get it wrong. We’re people; it’s who we are. And yet… we still keep getting to see it. G-d/ess is still speaking to us. We are loved, regardless. Our fuck-ups are inevitable, and yet we still keep trying.

Isn’t it liberating?

 

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Exodus 2:1-15 — What’s in a Miracle?

Moses and the burning bush- it’s a classic! Whether you revere Moses as the foremost of ancestors, or delight in remembering that he was a murderous stammerer, the story of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush is one of the main tales associated with him.

There he is, a lonely shepherd, wandering the desert hills outside of Egypt, and behold! There is a bush in front of him, and it is not burned! Furthermore, the voice of God speaks to him from within it, telling him to follow a course of events that will change his life.

A miracle!

Or is it? Maybe the bush was a particular kind of plant that, as it burned, gave off fumes that caused poor Moses to, ah, take a little trip. Or perhaps he’d spent too long in the desert sun, and mistook a mirage and a bleating sheep for a flaming shrub and the voice of an ancient tribal deity. Or, who knows? Maybe he made the whole thing up in a simple bid to go home.

There’s a thing we like to do these days, us modern, enlightened, post-Industrial-Revolution folk, where we explain everything away. We have fallen in love with the scientific explanation (except for those of us who passionately hate them), and we want to do away with miracles. The bush eventually burned up, Mary was not a virgin, and Jesus was probably a whole lot closer to shore when he climbed out of that boat than the gospels would have us think.

But… does it matter?

Whether Moses was higher than a kite, or experiencing sun-stroke, or even just really, really homesick, or if what we would truly call a supernatural event occurred and the voice of G-d/ess came issuing forth from an unconsumed bush- does it matter? The actions he took from then on changed our history forever, and countless folks since have found this event and Moses himself to be an inspiration.

Even if we could- do we really need to explain it?

2 Kings 10-12: Murder and Baal

I can’t really figure out how to write about this.

Because it turns my stomach.

Because this — this is genocide, this is mass murder and I can’t understand that it appears sanctioned.

I understand that it happens.

I understand that many who commit such atrocities believe divine mandate.

I do not believe in a God that advocates  mass slaughter.

I think the imagery is what gets to me here, the imagery that echoes into history — a group taken into a place of worship, mercilessly slaughtered. Blood spilled on holy ground.

It happens time again; in temples, in churches, in synagogues. It happens in history as factions and faiths raise war against the other.

I can think of few things more perverse than this. To turn a place of worship and prayer — any worship or prayer, never mind that it isn’t the same as yours — into a killing ground.

If it’s because hate for another’s faith. Or because it’s easy. Or because it’s simply convenient.

I can’t figure out how to wrap my mind around this. To think about the senseless cruelty and loss of life. It is horrible, and it sickens me.

That much I do know.

2 Kings 7-9: Death of Jezebel

This is a short post, I know, but coming back to Jezebel and her death.

I really think women are getting shafted with the interpretations of this story.

I looked at some commentary on this, beyond the brief footnotes in my Bible, and as far as I can see, Jezebel’s whole reputation as a harlot rests on one thing. The fact that, knowing her death at the hands of conquering parties was at hand, she put on her make up, fixed her hair and dressed herself in a manner befitting a queen. The logic goes, that by doing so, she wished to seduce her enemies so they would not harm her.

I call bullshit.

So here’s the thing about this, it’s the same old story that’s been going on since, well, Biblical times and still happens today. Women are reduced to their perception in the male gaze, and everything they do is reasoned through the lens of how it will appeal (or not) to men.

Jezebel puts on makeup, her hair is done, her dress is regal. Of course the only possible reason for her to do this is to appeal to a man. Surely it can’t have anything to do with her.

Like her dignity.

Like dying as a queen, the way she lived.

Like holding her head up high and adoring herself with emblems of her strength and power.

Dress and makeup can hold sex appeal. They can hold beauty. They can also hold status and dignity. A king wearing his crown to the end would be called dignified and noble, so why not a queen?

Because women are more than objects, more than the male gaze. Because sometimes what one wears is about comfort or strength or dignity. For what it brings to the self, not others. To die as one lived, to not bow down or give up her emblems of power.

For that, she is called a harlot through the ages.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure anything has changed.

2 Kings 4-6: Elisha and miracles

Holy foreshadowing, Batman.

(Pun somewhat intended.)

Somewhere along the line things went from please-prop-my-eyes-open-with-toothpicks (I’ve mentioned I don’t like dry histories, yes?) to packing a ton of things in a very short section.

I can’t read through this and see a foreshadowing for the New Testament. Elisha restores a dead child to life. Elisha feeds the multitudes from a seemingly small portion. Elisha cures Naaman of his leprosy.

What’s interesting to me is that I always recall from Sunday school is the idea that Jesus’ miracles were wholly unique. Which…clearly is not entirely accurate. Even if the methods aren’t all necessarily the same, the idea of these sorts of miracles is clearly already established here. Fascinating.

Naaman is particularly interesting. He is so offended that the solution to his problems might be simple. But then, aren’t we all? Maybe it’s just me, but it is so infuriatingly frustrating to be angsting and agonizing over something and then to have someone look at you and say ‘well, why don’t you do x?’ like it’s the simplest thing in the world. It’s this strange combination of feeling belittled, stupid and not taken seriously all at once. With a side dose of disgruntled if you happen to be avoiding the simple solution because it isn’t one you want to do. So I can kind of sympathize with Naaman here.

I also find it amusing that this section may provide the most practical advice I’ve read thus far. I’m not generally one who believes that one can have every decision guided by the Bible (it’s not really a comprehensive instruction manual) but I do think there is some wisdom to this: if you’re out foraging for food and you don’t recognize something? Don’t eat it. It might kill you.

I’m pretty sure that advice is never bad.

2 Kings 1-3: Elijah and Elisha

I was delighted to find here that I was actually already familiar with this reading (and not just the vague idea of it) when it came up. Granted, it was because it happened to be the reading some time back when I was serving as reader at church, but still.

I was kind of hoping it would make more sense the second time I read it.

It didn’t.

Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind of fire. Elisha sees it and inherits his master’s prophecy. But…Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind of fire.

I really can’t get past this.

I don’t know what it is about this particular bit that throws me, I can believe in the incarnation with no problem. The resurrection gets slightly more tricky but I’m perfectly willing to accept the actual resurrection concept with a fair amount of ease, even if I struggle with the meaning of it. Jacob wresting with an angel? I can work with that; wrestling with faith and God.

But Elijah getting taken up in a whirlwind of fire.

I don’t get it.

I understand the idea that Elijah is taken directly into Heaven, that much I grasp but..still. Whirlwind of fire. That just…really? A whirlwind of fire? It’s just so random. Impressive, to be sure, but also just completely out of nowhere.

Things to take on faith? Maybe. But I am still really puzzled by this one.

1 Kings 19-22: Meeting Jezebel

Jezebel is one of those names I knew from the Bible without really knowing the story. There’s a cultural baggage to the name — a deceitful woman, a whore, a temptress. That’s what springs to mind when I hear this. (Well, and now, a snarky feminist blog, but that’s another kettle of fish entirely.)

But that’s not what I see when I read this. I realize that this isn’t yet the entire story, but here I see something else.

Yes, Jezebel worshiped other gods, the gods of her people. And as the writers of the Bible were struggling to survive as a people, as a faith in the midst of culture that was polytheistic rather than monotheistic and I can see how they would be inclined to look unfavorably upon her beliefs.

But I also think of her. Jezebel is a woman away from her home and her people. She’s in a new culture that is very closed, with different rules and different faith and different systems.  We don’t hear anything about how Jezebel came to be taken as wife to a King, but let’s assume that it may not have been entirely of her own free will, as marriage has often been used as a political tool.

If you were taken away — away from your family, your friends, the familiar rules you learned to live by, how would it be? Could you give up faith as well? Conversion is hard enough when it’s entered into willingly, how can it ever be forced?

Then we have Jezebel’s actions to help her husband gain wealth and power. They go against the cultural and religious norms of her time, but they aren’t anything that could be seen as deceitful to her family. In fact, they strike me very much as a wife wielding what power she has for love of her husband.

So I read this and I think, how do we get from here to there? I know, of course, the story is not over. But I can’t help but think as I read this that Jezebel, contrary to the image that has been built up of her, must have indeed been a woman of incredible strength and courage.

Wisdom of Solomon?

Another catch up post, and for this I apologize once again. I’m having a tough time with these books — 1 and 2 Samuel and now 1 Kings; I assume 2 Kings will be no easier.

I struggle here, not so much on a theological level as a narrative one. This reads as the kind of dry boring history that turns me off the subject. Now, I generally like history — when it comes alive, it’s an amazing thing.

But so often it is reduced to dry facts, to places and dates, battles and leaders. It doesn’t hold my attention well, no matter how hard I try. I understand the importance of such information, but it is so much less engaging to me as the details of how people lived. The stories, the little bits and pieces.

At any rate, we come to Solomon. Solomon and his wisdom, wisdom which is praised greatly. Yet, to be honest, I’m not feeling it.

Sure, we have the famous parable of the women and the baby, but I’m not altogether sure that really qualifies as wise. I mean, sure, it worked out fine in the end but that’s a pretty big bluff to call. What if nobody stepped forward and said stop? Would you cut the baby in half just to save face? (Given what else I’ve seen of the brutal world of the society in the Old Testament, I’m going to go with probably yes.)

There’s also a bit of cognitive dissonance for me; the praising of Solomon’s wisdom, yet at the end he turns away and angers the Lord and punishment is set.

I understand the context and history, a bit. At least as far as the Bible’s evolution as a sacred text for a people in exile. A scattered people with no home, searching for an explanation as to how, as to why. If they obeyed the commandments, if they faithfully kept God’s law, why were they in exile? Why were they persecuted?

From this comes a search for explanation, and we get the angry, vengeful God. Which is something that persists even today — and I don’t think for the best. If what is bad is the result of an angry God, then it means that whoever suffers must have done something. It’s a pervasive idea that underlies so much of what’s going on, and it completely ignores larger societal factors.

Maybe it’s easier that way. We feel equally powerless before the system and before God, but at least nobody expects us to try to change God.

The system, however, it seems to be our responsibility to fight — those who are trapped, not those who are pulling the strings.

But that is neither here nor there. So, Solomon. He is wise, yet he stumbles and thus the wrath of God. I don’t know how to reconcile this, what to take from it. That even the wise can stumble? That one must be ever diligent lest one slip?  I don’t know, and I wish I did.

Saul and David

I find myself very confused.

This may be because I am having a dumb moment, and it may also be because I have been up since five this morning and am very tired.

At any rate, I read my way through this, catching up and feeling perplexed.

The only bit of David’s story I was familiar with was the story of David and Goliath. As a cultural myth it has taken on much larger proportions (pun intended) and I was surprised to see how short it was in the grand scheme of things.

But I don’t really understand why Saul wants to kill David so badly. I see that David is a political threat; that Michel and Jonathan declare their loyalty to him over Saul. I see that David’s success and victory cast Saul in a lesser light.

But I still don’t fully grasp why that leads to a desire to kill him.

Maybe it’s my modern sensibilities speaking — we don’t kill our political foes, we vote them out of office or leak scandals to the press. Maybe it’s my hippie nature. Maybe I’m just not reading carefully enough.

But as a narrative, it leaves me unsatisfied. I don’t grasp the depth of feeling that would lead to a desire to murder. I’m not sure I can, living as I do, in the world I do. Maybe I’d have to be living in a king-based, tribal society to truly grasp it. It feels, though, that assumptions are made and left unsaid, about what things mean and the weight they carry, that it would really be helpful to know.

In the meantime, I remain perplexed.

Deborah, Jael, Jephthah’s daughter, Delilah, the Concubine, Ruth, Naomi, and Hannah

Warning- adult language.

Maybe it’s the politics right now, but all I can see is women.

We are hip-deep in the bits of the Bible that remind me why I so often feel the need to apologize for my Christian faith, and all I can see this time through are the women. Deborah, the judge- Jael, who kills a murdering general in a very hands-on way. Jephthah’s daughter, who goes sadly, but willingly, to the pyre. Delilah, Philistine temptress, the Concubine who is raped, then dismembered. Ruth and Naomi, gamely tempting death and rape to make the best of a very bad lot.

Hannah, my namesake, who knows that her worth as a woman is predicated upon the viability of her womb.

You know, growing up, I kind of thought that pretty much the only woman in the Bible was Mary, Mother of Jesus. And then maybe if I thought about it, I could have come up with Mary and Martha, the New Testament odd couple that act as a Goofus and Gallant illustration of How to Love Jesus. But Deborah? Never heard of her. Delilah? Isn’t she like Jezebel? Hannah? …maybe someone’s mom? Everyone knows the only people in the Bible who are important are men. Just like everyone knows God is an old man with a white beard, and Jesus was ruddy cheeked with dark auburn-blond hair.

Right?

When I was in seminary, I took a course from an absolutely world-class professor, Gina Hens-Piazza, who is not only brilliant and feminist, but also Catholic which (sorry Gina) takes more spiritual and intellectual contortionism than I can make happen. I deeply respect her beliefs, all the more because I completely don’t understand them, but I know that she doesn’t hold them lightly. In any case, she taught a deeply powerful class on interpreting and using narratives of Hebrew Bible women in modern society. The class was amazing and heart-breaking- about 25 women, only four of us Protestant, and four Catholic men. Very diverse ethnic, cultural, economic backgrounds. All talking about the treatment of women in the Bible (beatings, rapes, dismemberments, societal scapegoats, forced marriages) and the treatment of women today (beatings, rapes, honor killings, forced marriages, polygamy, etc).

It was a hard class. A very hard class. And through it all, I remember us saying over and over again variations on “you know, at least there has been some improvement”.

Which was, and is, true. I can vote. I can be educated in the same room as men. I can be educated, period. I serve communion at my church. I could be ordained, or run for political office if I wanted to.

I can also be beaten by my male relatives. I can be sexually harassed. I can be denied employment or health care because of my gender.

I can be raped by a large plastic wand if I consider for any reason terminating a mutating blob of tissue adhering itself to my organs and using my oxygen, blood supply, and metabolism.

The song of Deborah, like the song of Mirriam, is one of the oldest, if not the oldest piece of the Bible. So tell me- if the oldest pieces of Judeo-Christianity are the works of women, when did we turn on them? Why have we made the bravery of Jael and Ruth, the willingness to act of Delilah and the Concubine and Jephthah’s daughter, the pride of Naomi and Hannah, footnotes in a male-dominated society?

I want to rub ash on my face, clothe myself in sackcloth, and run in the streets crying “What happened? For the Love that is G-d/ess, what the fuck happened?”

Wisdom stands in the street crying out, and we cannot hear her. We are all equal and beloved in the eyes of the divine, and yet we insist on perpetuating cycle upon cycle of violence against ourselves. Sisters, brothers, unstop your ears- take up your plowshare and beat it into a sword.

I highly recommend these two pieces of writing by one of my priests, Jay Johnson, on why being a gay white man obligates him to care about the rights of women and minorities. I also highly recommend Gina Hens-Piazza’s book Nameless, Blameless, and Without Shame.