Young Men in the Burning Fiery Furnace: Dec 17th

Last week the church marked the feast of three young men, Shadrack, Mesach and Abednego, the companions of Daniel the prophet.  I missed the opportunity to comment on the due date, which was unfortunate: they are important for highlighting a much neglected group in the church – the transgendered.

We are probably all familiar with the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, and of his three companions in the burning fiery furnace. What they don’t tell us in Sunday School, is that as slaves captured and taken to service in the king’s court in Babylon they were almost certainly eunuchs – castrated males. This was the standard fate of slaves in the royal court, as Kathryn Ringrose has shown, and as anticipated by Isaiah:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

-Isaiah 39:7

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“Third Gender” to Get Legal Recognition in Pakistan

Last month Indian authorities agreed to list eunuchs and transgender people by using the term “others”, on official documents. I would have liked to draw attention to it then, but did not. Now, having missed the opportunity once, I get a second chance to take note of a major legal breakthrough for trans and other gendered people in Asia, as Pakistan is now headed in a similar direction, this time by court decision. In both India and Pakistan, the “Hijras” represent a distinct social group, but this will have significance and run-on effects beyond just these two countries.

 

 

Hijra Protest, Islamabad

From BBC News:

Pakistani eunuchs to have distinct gender

Pakistan’s Supreme Court says eunuchs must be allowed to identify themselves as a distinct gender in order to ensure their rights.

The eunuchs, known as “hijras” in Pakistan, are men castrated at an early age for medical or social reasons. The court said they should be issued with national identity cards showing their distinct gender. The government has also been ordered to take steps to ensure they are entitled to inherit property.

‘Respect and identity’

There are estimated to be about 300,000 hijras in Pakistan and they are generally shunned by the largely Muslim conservative society. They tend to live together in slum communities, surviving through begging and by dancing at weddings and carnivals. A hijra association has welcomed the order, saying it is “a major step giving respect and identity in society”. Indian authorities last month agreed to list eunuchs and transgender people by using the term “others”, distinct from males and females, on electoral rolls and voter identity cards, after a long-running campaign by the members of the community.

Three Young Men, Dec 17th

The “Three Young Men” are the companions of Daniel in the lions’ den during the Babylonian captivity. Like Daniel himself, their significance for us as gay men, lesbians or transsexuals, is that it is likely they were eunuchs, and so at minimum were members of a notable sexual minority. (For a fascinating discussion of the relationship between Daniel and the chief eunuch/jailer, see the comments thread following the post “Is the Bible Anti-Gay?”)

Paul Halsall at the Calendar of LGBT Saints writes:

Byzantine commentators were quite aware, as Kathryn Ringrose has recently shown, that Daniel and the three young men would have been take to Babylon as court eunuchs. Eunuchs are by far the most discussed sexual minorities in both the Jewish Scriptures and the New Testament. It is interesting to note that while eunuchs were excluded from the community of Israel by Deuteronomy, Third Isaiah and Wisdom both specifically include them in God’s blessing. The Bible talks to itself! Isaiah rejects then provision of the law which reject the eunuch. He expands the definition of God’s people beyond the patriarchal family that characterized the early history of Israel. The following passages affirms that the lord offers salvation to all, not just those in conventional heterosexual family life.

Isaiah 56:1-8
Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.

Wisdom 3:13-14
Blessed the barren women…Her fruitfulness will be seen at the scrutiny of souls. Blessed too the eunuch…For his loyalty special favour will be granted him, a most desirable portion in the temple of the Lord.

Select bibliography
Helminiak, Daniel, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, (San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1994)
Ringrose, Kathryn, “Living in the Shadows: Eunuchs and Gender in Byzantium”, in Gilbert Herdt, ed., Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History , (New York: Zone, 1994), 85-110

Swidler, Leonard, Biblical Affirmations of Women, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979), 121-123