SansBlogue  
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
  Amos, justice and gender
Julia O'Brien has a fine post Reading Amos in Modern Tekoa, it should suggest other neat possibilities for teaching! Though as Julia shows Tekoa today offers richer possibilities than many other sites.

But as they say "the devil is in the details", and in this case I wonder about a couple of related details. Julia "point[s] out how Amos falls short of all-inclusive justice" citing Judith Sanderson in the Women’s Bible Commentary:
  • "the description of Samaria’s women in 4:1-3 unfairly scapegoats women for the nation’s ills" does it? Or does this passage merely suggest that the women who enjoy the "good life" procured by oppression (cf 4:1 they at least enjoyed the drinkies) are condemned along with thoose who procured them these treats?
  • Amos "failed specifically to champion the women among the poor" surely 2:7b does specifically champion a class of (poor) women (servant girls) from male abuse, and states that such abuse profanes the holy reputation of God.
I don't believe that Amos is entirely free of the taint of common social attitudes of his time (though as a male I am less likely to spot examples), doubtless the book reflects the unconscious prejudices of its writers and editors, but please limit mention of this to cases where the failure to transcend time and place are clear and unequivocal.

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Friday, September 25, 2009
  God as Mother
A few people have begun to mention my experiment in "networked publishing" (a fancy name for using sophisticated blogging software to allow readers to discuss, and potentially impact the content of, a book) Not Only a Father: Motherly God-language in the Bible and Christian Tradition those I have noticed are:
But as yet no one has begun to comment or discuss the material on the site :( I hope this weekend to add chapter three which will mean that the following material is available:
  1. Talking Pictures the introductory material
  2. Biblical Talk of the Motherly God:
    1. A Personal God without Icons
    2. Imagery in the Old and New Testaments
    3. God’s Motherly Love
Chapter 3 "Early Theology of God as Mother" which looks at motherly God-talk in the early fathers and through to the middle-ages should be online fairly soon. Other chapters will follow. But for the project to work, I really need people to read and discuss (or argue with) the work... so please do visit, and comment, or ask your friends to do so :)

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Saturday, September 19, 2009
  Motherly God-language: an experimental publication
Julia's Jesus' image so intrigued me partly because for the last few weeks I have been exploring publishing my Not Only a Father: Motherly God-language in the Bible and Christian Tradition material. This short book is an attempt to explore the warrant in Scripture and Christian tradition for talking and picturing God as mother (as well as father). This has been a hugely divisive topic in churches, and on the whole Evangelicals have rejected such talk, largely (it seems to me because "liberals" have welcomed it ;)

Not Only a Father was written and edited with print publication in mind, but increasingly I am frustrated with the model that puts more and more books before fewer and fewer readers, unless you are skillful at tickling the public fancy and create a blockbuster.

Most print books apparently only sell a couple of hundred copies. [I read this statistic on somebody's blog recently, but did not note the source :( so if it might be you, tell me in the comments and I'll add a link!] What's the point, except for a specialist work with a tiny target audience, most blog posts get more readers than that ;) So, put the material online for free and watch the readers roll in... except my "output" gets measured by a committee who value refereed or publisher approved publication... so seek a publisher and lose the audience, but gain brownie points in the academic system :(

Enter Digress.it, the successor to CommentPress (which was a fascinating project from the Institute for the Future of the Book). My bright idea is to publish Not Only a Father online free using Digress.it so that the ideass can be discussed paragraph by paragraph. This form of commenting will encourage (I hope) a deeper and more reflective conversation than the usual forum perhaps even because at paragraph level deeper than for blog posts followed by comments. I will argue to the committee that this is research into new forms of publication (a research area where I have established credibility through the Hypertext Bible Commentary project and associated journal articles). Thus I hope to have my cake and eat it also :)

BUT in this bid to score points, while also allowing maximum accessibility, I need your help. If you (or you know of someone who) are interested in reading about and/or discussing this issue of motherly language for God. Please visit, or point your friend to Not Only a Father I have uploaded two chapters already: Talking Pictures an introduction to using picture language to spesak of God, and Biblical Talk of the Motherly God. Several other chapters will be added over the next weeks, and one is still being researched.

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Friday, May 23, 2008
  Have I been gender blended?
My video sermon (from the college DVD Church Then and Now) is causing me some gender confusion. First there was the thumbnail on the YouTube clip, but now it gets worse, there is a Technorati page devoted to the video, where as well as the feminine image for the clip but below that are a bunch of Mariah Carey videos... who do they think I am Thalia or Mariah?

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Thursday, February 28, 2008
  Gender in the classroom

Teaching Ruth is always interesting. Not having taught the book for several years, I had forgotten just how revealing watching a class study this little book could be. The class at CTS reminded me. I have now taught Ruth in three very different cultural contexts, Congo, NZ and now Sri Lanka.

In each case it served, alongside Jonah, as an example to illustrate various elements of biblical narrative technique. In each case, for the teacher, watching the male and female students reading Ruth was illuminating. I'd need to teach Ruth with other students, or learn a lot more about Sri Lankan cultures before I can draw any conclusions from this last experience. But in both NZ and Africa this book has served to provoke strikingly different responses from male and female students, and to reveal the extent to which men in those two settings do not "understand" the issues that concern women.

More than any other topics I teach (with the possible exception of some sessions deliberately focused on gender issues) Ruth provokes responses from both men and women that their classmates of the other gender find either incomprehensible or frustrating. Teaching Ruth is a good way to remind oneself, of the extent to which one's culture still has significant issues to address of equality and justice between men and women in the realm of marriage and home. Ever culture does, and probably always will, given the interplay of social expectations with individual or familial understandings that such domestic contexts produce, however well or badly the issues have been "resolved" in the public sphere!

PS for other reflections on teaching at CTS and later (soon) in another place see this blog.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008
  Peer pressure and "Imaging the Invisible God"
There is nothing like a little gentle peer-pressure to make a human act! I have been reminded recently of my enthusiastic welcome for the suggestion that January 2008 be the inaugural International Biblical Studies Writing Month, by AKMA in Transitions and Tasks, by Charles in My Goals for the International Biblical Studies Writing Month, and by Chris and Chris in International Biblical Studies Writing Month and in International Biblical Studies Writing Month (great Chris-es title alike ;)
so now I must start to list what I'm doing:
  • I have completed polishing my paper from the God and Gender Colloquium, it was due in December, so is only a few days overdue, and the other participants have not submitted theirs yet as far as I know, so I'll link to my draft and invite comments and criticism: The image of the invisible God: (an)iconic knowing, God
    and gender
  • I doubt it counts for the "IBSW Month" but I am finishing two sets of course notes (well one is a revision but the other is new)
  • I am planning and hope to finalise a proposal for SBL International
  • I want to finalise a book proposal for Not Just a Father

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Thursday, July 05, 2007
  Women in Ministry
A conversation I had yesterday, with a woman in ministry, allows me to compensate for the title of the post which shall not be named (lower down). Since Hannah (not her real name) is not an NZ Baptist, she should be unidentifiable - sadly if she were an NZ Baptist minister she would be instantly recognisable as they are SO few in number :(

Before training as a pastor, Hannah was a leader in another profession. There, her talents, ideas and guidance were welcomed. Now she is a pastor, and in the one place where "who you are" should not matter - "in Christ" - she finds that being a woman matters more than the qualities she can offer. She finds the ministry to which God called her an uphill struggle, because of the attitudes of others.

People say that this issue, of the roles of women and men in church, will "take a generation or two" (just as slavery did). They may well be right.

However, when would you date the beginnings of a movement to allow women free and full exercise of any ministry in the church to which God calls them? Among British Baptists the issue was a live one in the early 60s. We are more than a generation on from there. From when would you date the beginnings of a movement to ensure that our image of God is not distorted through exclusive or excessive use of male imagery and language? I know it was a live issue when I began a PhD on The Image of God and Parental Images in 1977. At 30 years that makes about "a generation".

But Hannah's experience shows, like that of the (all too few) other women who have followed God's call to ministry in Evangelical contexts, that the issues are far from resolved. Our colloquium on God and Gender (at Carey in Auckland from 12-13th July) and the public evening dialogue that accompanies it still have a role to play. Most of the draft papers for the colloquium were in on time, I hope to finish my draft today... If you live near Auckland do come to Carey Baptist College at 7pm on 12th to listen and share in this dialogue on women, men, God, and the Church.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007
  Chicks in Church
No, don't blame me for the title, I was not at the meeting what agreed the title!

That disclaimer out of the way, the evening intends to provide an opportunity to really get some discussion going in NZ Evangelical circles about the roles of Women and Men in church. Chris Grantham should be a lively and entertaining chair and the panel is chosen to represent a range of views. The dialogue (it is not a debate, the goal is to talk sensibly and listen respectfully) is associated with a two day colloquium of "God and Gender" that a number of us are participating in along with US visitor Craig Blomberg.

Here is a flyer, and a link to a PDF if you can send it to possibly interested parties (in or near Auckland on 12th).

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Saturday, April 28, 2007
  Genesis 1:27 prose or poetry? And other issues.
Genesis 1 is highly polished and condensed language. Although full of repetitions each has its place and purpose. What's more the words carry huge theological weight (as the preface to the Bible) as von Rad put it: "These sentences cannot easily be overinterpreted theologically."

Today I'll focus on 1:27, the heart of the account of the creation of humanity (1:26ff.) Although there has been debate it seems to me clear that the chapter is prose not poetry.1 However, the arguments are much less clear for 1:27.

I won't repeat (except particularly good phrases ;-) John's fine presentation, just summarise it:
  • 1:27 is formed of three lines each of 2+2 word units
  • these elements are not co-ordinated, mere juxtaposed
  • "each part repeats and at the same time builds on the preceding part" (I am less careful than John, so I'll call it parallelism!)
This gives the verse a very strongly poetic "feel". But:
  • the sign of the accusative is repeated three times in one verse!2
  • the vayyiqtol form of verb is rare in poetry
  • the rest of the chapter is highly repetitive too
  • John sees (if I understood right) the four beat lines as atypical of poetry - here I disagree with him, I think four beat (I'd prefer to say word unit) lines are commoner in more recent poetry, perhaps especially of the 2+2 sort we have here.
So, is it prose or poetry?

Yes!

By which I mean that a hard and fast distinction between prose and poetry is no more appropriate in Hebrew than in English. And this verse stands somewhere near the centre of the blurry boundary zone between them. (As does much prophetic speech.) I'll acknowledge that I have oversimplified in the past, simply calling this verse "poetry". [I am about to start yet a second sentence with a conjunction, grammarians beware ;-) - why is English so pernickety about unnecessary detail?] But, I would have erred equally (if oppositely) if I had called it "prose". It is both and neither.

Which means, I think, that we are to take its "parallelism" quite seriously:

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים | אֶת־הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ
בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים | בָּרָא אֹתוֹ
זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה | בָּרָא אֹתָם

and he created | God || the human | in his image
in the image | of God || he created | him
male | and female || he created | them

The repetition of different forms meaning "he created" (or perhaps - see John's post - "formed") the common subject ("God", repeated by the verbs "he created") as well as the rhythm give a strongly parallelistic feel already.

So, in what does the image of God consist in humanity? Evidently not appearance or any other such surface and changeable quality - for it is in humanity as "male-and-female", as the puzzling change from singular to plural ("him" to "them") signals. It can only be in this very unity in diversity. Sexuality is both the "image of God", and as Jerome reminds Christian theologians: "Sexual categories do not apply to the Godhead." [* to another post ]



1. On this and other scholarly and technical matters do see John's article/posts "Is Gen 1:27 Poetry?" and the more recent "Genesis 1:26-28 - Exegetical Odds and Ends", Wayne's post "translating the poetry of Gen. 1:27" and the fine discussion it elicited in the comments and David Clines (1968) classic "The Image of God in Man". [RETURN]

2. See my posts: The new magical imperial toolkit: percentages, prose and poetry and The new magical imperial toolkit: part 2 [RETURN]

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Friday, April 13, 2007
  God and Gender colloquium: my abstract
As I currently plan it my paper for the colloquium, with the title:

The image of the invisible God: (an)iconic knowing, God and gender

Will comprise two main sections, the first:

Aniconic knowing: God beyond gender

Beginning from evidence that the Christian theologians of the formative period (the “fathers of the church”) understood that God was beyond gender categories. Will then argue that the gods of polytheism are commonly gendered, and that this is almost inevitable, because these gods are often imaged in human form, and anthropomorphic images can - indeed almost must - suggest gender. By contrast the Hebrew Bible insisted that God is aniconic (not to be imaged – unimaginable?) and therefore resisted any simple gendering of God.

Iconic knowing: Jesus and the Father

However, the New Testament presents Jesus (a male human) as “the image of the invisible God” and he talked of God as “Father”. This double imaging of the invisible God has resulted in a tendency to imagine God as male. I will suggest that a closer look at Jesus' use of father language shows that it does not simply gender God. Indeed such male imagining of God distorts theology, and also therefore distorts the sayings of Jesus on which it is based.

At least, that's the idea. I will try to blog parts of the argument here, for comment and discussion. In the meanwhile I would appreciate any comments on the abstract!

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Thursday, April 12, 2007
  El Shaddai as the breasted god
In preparation for the colloquium on "God and Gender"1 I have been corresponding with another participant (she's a psychologist and spiritual director - not a biblical scholar) and in the course of the conversation the claim that the name אֵל שַׁדַּי ('el shadday often rendered "God Almighty") might mean "the breasted god", because of the association of שַׁדַּי shadday with שָׁדַיִם shadayim "breasts".

The proposal rests on two false assumptions:
  • that שַׁדַּי shadday is somehow etymologically or morphologically related to שָׁדַיִם shadayim (it is not notice the doubled ד d)
  • that such a morphological connection of itself implies a connection of meaning, Barr laid into that one long long ago ;-)
However, there is at least one interesting passage where the verbal echo functions powerfully. In Gen 49:22ff. where dying Jacob blesses Joseph using a string of divine names and epithets:
... by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd,

the Rock of Israel,
25 by the God of your father, who will help you,
by the Almighty (shadday) who will bless you
with blessings of heaven above,

blessings of the deep that lies beneath,

blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 The blessings of your father
are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains,

the bounties of the everlasting hills;

may they be on the head of Joseph,

on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
Here the echoes of שַׁדַּי shadday "Almighty" with שָׁדַיִם shadayim "breasts" resonates strongly, and perhaps is echoed more weakly (in sense if not by sound) with the "eternal mountains" and "everlasting hills" of the next verse. The effect is perhaps to mitigate the exclusively male patriarchal feel of the blessing - especially since שָׁדַיִם shadayim is paired with that most female of words רָחַם racham "womb".

So, not a "breasted god", but a God who consistently and persistently fulfils the ideas of this blessing in the gift of childbirth and motherhood. (For YHWH is persistently described as the giver of birth, even as the midwife of human life, and even or most poignantly when fertility of the womb is withheld.)
__________________________________

1. Organised by the new Centre for the Theology of Gender and hosted by Tyndale-Carey Graduate School in July. [RETURN]

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  El Shaddai as the breasted god
In preparation for the colloquium on "God and Gender"1 I have been corresponding with another participant (she's a psychologist and spiritual director - not a biblical scholar) and in the course of the conversation the claim that the name אֵל שַׁדַּי ('el shadday often rendered "God Almighty") might mean "the breasted god", because of the association of שַׁדַּי shadday with שָׁדַיִם shadayim "breasts".

The proposal rests on two false assumptions:
  • that שַׁדַּי shadday is somehow etymologically or morphologically related to שָׁדַיִם shadayim (it is not notice the doubled ד d)
  • that such a morphological connection of itself implies a connection of meaning, Barr laid into that one long long ago ;-)
However, there is at least one interesting passage where the verbal echo functions powerfully. In Gen 49:22ff. where dying Jacob blesses Joseph using a string of divine names and epithets:
... by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd,

the Rock of Israel,
25 by the God of your father, who will help you,
by the Almighty (shadday) who will bless you
with blessings of heaven above,

blessings of the deep that lies beneath,

blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 The blessings of your father
are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains,

the bounties of the everlasting hills;

may they be on the head of Joseph,

on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
Here the echoes of שַׁדַּי shadday "Almighty" with שָׁדַיִם shadayim "breasts" resonates strongly, and perhaps is echoed more weakly (in sense if not by sound) with the "eternal mountains" and "everlasting hills" of the next verse. The effect is perhaps to mitigate the exclusively male patriarchal feel of the blessing - especially since שָׁדַיִם shadayim is paired with that most female of words רָחַם racham "womb".

So, not a "breasted god", but a God who consistently and persistently fulfils the ideas of this blessing in the gift of childbirth and motherhood. (For YHWH is persistently described as the giver of birth, even as the midwife of human life, and even or most poignantly when fertility of the womb is withheld.)
__________________________________

1. Organised by the new Centre for the Theology of Gender and hosted by Tyndale-Carey Graduate School in July. [RETURN]

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