Women as Property: The Biblical View

My recent post “Here Comes Everybody” at the Open Tabernacle drew a query in the comments thread from a prolific commenter, Mark, who asked for some substantiation of my statement that in the Biblical world, women were seen as property. Responding, I assured Mark that I had a post in preparation in which I would provide this. That post has now been completed in draft, but given the importance of this topic, I thought it would be helpful to discuss it first in its own, dedicated piece.

Even a cursory reading of the Hebrew Bible should make clear the appallingly low status of Hebrew women, and their complete dependence on their men folk. It is this very dependence that makes the story of Ruth and Naomi important: deprived of family and male support, they sustain each other, until at last they can re-establish economic security- by working together to arrange Ruth’s re-marriage.


Ruth and Naomi: William Blake

But to more fully appreciate the extent of women’s subservience, we need the help of writers who have looked more closely at the texts, and reflected on them to show us their significance. William L. Countryman is just one of many who have done this, but his book “Dirt, Greed and Sex”, with a full chapter on women and children as property in the Hebrew Bible, is the one I have at hand, and the one I have drawn on for what follows. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bible and Heterosexuality.

“The Bible contains 6 admonishments to homosexuals and 362 to heterosexuals. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love heterosexuals. It’s just that they need more supervision.”

-Lyne Lavner, US comedienne, quoted in “Living it Out”.

A Reader Responds: MarkF on “Ruth & Naomi”.

A reader, Mark, has provided a lengthy and detailed response in the comments thread to my earlier post on Ruth and Naomi. As I don’t believe that a lengthy analysis is appropriate in the  “comments”, which should be short and to the point, I have moved it here as a guest post.

Thank you Mark, for the obvious time and effort you have put into this post.

“The critical point is that the purchaser of the property is obliged to take the woman with it – women are sold as property along with the land.”

Um, no. It was a package deal, the land and the women, but the women are still not bought.

The man in the story was the closest relative of the late Elimelech. Now Elimelech had died childless. His name would die with him unless he somehow manages to have a child. But how can a dead man have a child? The Law provided for a work-around for this problem. The dead man’s brother was given an opportunity to marry his late brother’s wife. However, there’s a catch. If the woman bears a son, that son will not be that man’s son; he’ll be the son of the dead man. So if I die, my brother gets a chance to marry my widow. And any son who is born will get my name, not my brother’s name. It will be exactly as if he were my son, and won’t be considered to be my brother’s son at all. And here’s the real catch as pertaining to the book of Ruth. This child, fathered by my brother by my widow will also inherit all of my brother’s land. And he won’t have my brother’s name, he’ll have my name. So…if a man is rich and wants to pass down his name and his land to his own sons, he’d lose all of that if he married his late brother’s wife. All of that will go to the son born by his brother’s widow. This is what has happened in Ruth 4:5. The man realizes that all of his wealth will pass out of his own line and over to the line of his late relative. So he declines the offer and Boaz gets the opportunity to marry Ruth. Read the rest of this entry »

Queering Scripture: Galatians 1.*

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Scripture Discussion in Kalamazoo

There is an instructive story at Box Turtle Bulletin (which has become my favourite site for general LGBT news and comment) on a Kalamazoo discussion of the Bible and homosexuality.

With a city council anti-discrimination ordinance facing a test at the ballot box, a public meeting was arranged to hear a public discussion on just what Scripture has to say.  But this was a discussion, not an anti-gay tirade.

So the Wenkes sponsored a forum with ministers discussing scripture. But you probably have made some false assumptions about Wenke’s motivation. (Mlive.com)

“The more that you talk about this issue and the more you get to know families struggling with this issue, the more you know the Bible doesn’t condemn them,” Wenke said.

So Wenke’s forum was not limited to anti-gay messages. Rather, he presented three ministers who find scripture to condemn homosexuality and three that do not.

“It’s only .002 percent of the entire Bible, an incredibly small slice,” Laney said. “Sexual orientation is not a choice; it’s not a disorder. It’s part of God’s diverse creation.”

The Rev. Dr. Douglas Vernon, senior pastor of Kalamazoo’s First United Methodist Church, agreed, saying the Bible may be taken “very seriously” but not always literally.

“We believe there is no one right way to interpret Scripture,” Vernon said.

The Rev. John Byl, pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church, and the Rev. Dr. Paul Naumann, of St. Michael Lutheran Church, disagreed, saying the literal words are relevant and timeless.

The organisers say they were encouraged by the turnout.  Expecting 300, they had 800. This is encouraging, but not surprising. It is easy to demonstrate that, as noted, the supposedly anti-gay texts are only a very tiny slice of the entire Scripture. Those who have gone into it more carefully have observed (i)that this in itself is surprising, in a Graeco-Roman cultural context where homoerotic relationships where commonplace; (ii) that the supposedly hostile texts have misinterpreted, mistranslated, or misapplied; (iii)and there are far more supportive texts than hostile ones.

Wherever the churches have approached the issue with careful reflection and study, there have been movements at least towards greater acceptance.The recent proceedings of the ECLA are a great example. Following an extended process of careful study and prayerful reflection on Scripture, the assembly passed a series of notable resolutions that recognise that differing interpretations are possible and equally valid, that approve the recognition of gay and lesbian pastors in committed, monogamous relationships that need no longer be celibate, on exactly the same terms as those of heterosexual  pastors, and that are likely to lead to the recognition of same sex marriage or blessing ceremonies in church.  This process towards rational debate and greater acceptance will continue.

We as queer Catholics and other people of faith need to say this to our non-religious friends, and point out that if they could just set aside their anti-religious bigotry, and try to understand the supportive side of the religious argument, they can assist the moderates in the churches in this move towards LGBT acceptance

Out in Scripture Gospel Reflections: Insiders & Outsiders

Out in Scripture” is a project of the Religion and Faith  Programme of the Human Rights Campaign, which I found when reading about it on Fr Geoff Farrow’s blog.  It is the culmination of extensive discussion between 100 different scholars and pastors from 11 different denominations, based on the Revised Common Lectionary.  A particularly innovative feature that I have not seen elsewhere, is a parallel set of reflections specifically from the Trans perspective.

This is the main Gospel conversation for today, the 26th Sunday in ordinary time:

Mark 9:38-50 revolves around the theme of unexpected alliances. Jesus’ disciples, seeing someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, wanted to stop him because he was not a part of their group (Mark 9:38). But Jesus’ rebukes the disciples: “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). Earlier (Mark 9:33-37), Jesus challenged the disciples’ understanding of what it means to be “great,” reminding them, “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” It seems the disciples focused on power and control. They assumed a position of privilege. They wanted to regulate who was in and who was out. This is much the same as when Christian communities attempt to regulate “who is in and who is out” by restricting the access and roles of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in their congregations and denominations. Charles Allen observes that if one takes this passage seriously, blocking ministry of outsiders is a grave offense.

What gifts are churches missing out on by the exclusion of LGBT people from their communities?

Jesus’ admonition, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42), can be heard differently. Michael Miller proposes that people who are not creating stumbling blocks, but are contributing to the welfare of the community, are acceptable. They are acceptable whether they describe themselves in relation to the reign of God or not.

Holly Hearon hears this verse as a caution to the disciples not to exclude — that is, place a stumbling block before — those who are casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The text reminds us that the “in group” may be far larger than we can imagine. Allies may arise from unexpected places.

Who has proved to be an “unexpected ally” to you or your community in your efforts to work for the inclusion of LGBT people in church and society?

Also read some reflections on a range of additional readings here.

The Trans reflection

The Queer Bible: Beyond Family Values

Under the heading,  “A Way Back Behind Christian Homophobia”, Adam Kotsko writes at the blog “An und fur sich” about a trilogy of books by Ted Jennings: Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel, The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives in the New Testament, and the third in the set, Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Homophobia:

“The strategy here is clear, aggressive, and absolutely necessary: he absolutely abandons the defensive stance -of “explaining away” the supposedly “obvious” homophobic elements in the Bible that “everyone knows” about and instead presents us with a scriptural account that is deeply homophilic, even to the point of presenting us with a possible male lover for Christ himself.”

Setting aside the weapons of hate

Even discounting the possibility that Jesus had a male lover (there are at least two candidates:  John, the “apostle Jesus loved”, and Lazarus), this is an approach I love.  Given the way in which queers have for centuries experienced Scripture as a weapon of hate, it is understandable that after one has overcome a natural antipathy to dealing with Scripture at all, the first enquiry from lesbigay people is to  find ways to respond to the infamous clobber texts, to learn to set aside the weapons of hate.  This is technically relatively easy – the actual texts are few, out of 30 000 verse in a Bible written against a cultural background where homoeroticism was commonplace, and many scholars have shown how they have either been misinterpreted, or are of limited relevance to modern gay relationships.

Read the rest of this entry »