SansBlogue  
Thursday, February 04, 2010
  Brick walls and motherly God-talk
I've run into a brick wall working on my Amos land and territory material, a belated [well the oral paper was supposed to be only that, thoughts of publication followed the colloquium, and last year was so busy] literature search has thrown up a highly relevant article that could impact hugely on what I write, but the journal may not be available in NZ :( So, if anyone has access to
S. D. Snyman, "The Land as a Leitmotiv in the Book of Amos." Verbum et Ecclesia, 2005, 26(2) 527-542
and could scan and email me a copy, I'd be delighted :)

In the meanwhile I need to change mental gears and work on the Day of YHWH and the structure of Amos. To help me with the transition [at least that's my excuse] I have been doing the mindless but necessary job of converting more of Not Just a Father, my book on the use of motherly language and imagery to speak about God in the Christian tradition into the format that will allow readers to comment on, ask questions about and argue with my thinking paragraph by paragraph.

I am now doing chapter 5 "Theology of God as Both Father and Mother" though I have cheated a bit as chapter 3 is not yet written ;)

All I need now are people to make comments, so once again (now that I am back at work after the summer) if you know someone who might be interested in this topic please point them to the site and suggest that they really say what they think :)

But before you do that do please email the Thai prime Minister...

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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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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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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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Friday, March 02, 2007
  God gives birth (Isaiah 42:14)
For a long time I have held my peace,
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
  now I will cry out like a woman in labour,
    I will gasp and pant.
Isaiah 42:14
Stephen Cook has a couple of interesting posts responding to a paper given recently at VTS. ("The presenter was Dr. Juliana Claassens and the paper looked at the image of God in Isaiah 42.")

Stephen concludes his first post, God "Like a Woman in Labor" (Isaiah 42)
A woman's helplessness and frailty during labor is nothing less than power, the power to bring about new life--something a "powerful" male cannot do! This theological theme that vulnerability and frailty is a source of true, marvelous power is a big one throughout Isaiah 40-66. I think Juliana is really on to something here.
Which captures one of the ways in which this passage fits so well with traditional Christian theology and preaching, though using an image that did not become a major part of the tradition - at least since the Middle Ages, I've argued that various sorts of mother imagery for God was more common earlier than 1450AD!

In his second post Whence Comes God's Pain in Labor (Isaiah 42)? Stephen says:
Dr. Claassens in her paper interpreted God's pain in labor as God's work of entering into the trials and trauma of the people, who have been exiled to Babylonia as prisoners of war. In my response to her paper, I suggested another possibility that to me seems more in keeping with the overall theology and thinking of 2 Isaiah.
Stephen locates God's pain in this passage in the idea that "In 2 Isaiah God is seen to put aside God's right to justice, to put aside what's fair and deserved." His discussion provides a good theological entry point into the passage in Isaiah 42. It is one that fits well with the description of the "servant" at the start of the chapter.

However, it seems to me that this discussion rather misses the immediate cotext of verse 14. The preceding verse presents God as a (male?) warrior:
The LORD goes forth like a soldier,
    like a warrior he stirs up his fury;
  he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.
Isaiah 42:13
and in the following God declares:
I will lay waste mountains and hills,
    and dry up all their herbage;
  I will turn the rivers into islands,
    and dry up the pools.
Isaiah 42:15
The verse about pregnancy, labour and birth is thus set in a context that is surprising, at least in a world of sanitised congratulations cards and Baby's First Blog's! Fury, destruction and war seem out of place in such a world. But these images are not so strange in a delivery room. Mothers can speak for themselves, but to a husband and lover standing, almost helplessly, by these images fit the event. So, in my reading of this passage vv.13 and 15 need to be heard. The terror, cries and anguish you are seeing - says YHWH - are the birth pangs of something new, to which I am giving birth!

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006
 

Apology to atheist readers ::

A commentor below (anon) drew my attention to a really good response to Eagleton's review of Dawkins' The God Delusion. This review of a review, "The God Conundrum", reminds me of how when we debate we often descend to each other's level, but that when we discuss we can sometimes rise to each other's best.

In my trite and gloating quoting of Eagleton's review I made this error. I am sorry. I should have resisted the temptation to enter such a débat de sourds (debate among the [mutually] deaf). Because, I am sure that Eagleton does not hear the real points that Dawkins makes, since he is so busy hearing Dawkins' failure to understand what "God" means.

And now I've lost the opportunity for a real conversation. :-(

Anyway Sean, the poster of The God Conundrum, writes well and clearly, and thinks clearly too. I particularly liked this paragraph:
The problematic nature of this transition — from God as ineffable, essentially static and completely harmless abstract concept, to God as a kind of being that, in some sense that is perpetually up for grabs, cares about us down here on Earth — is not just a minor bump in the otherwise smooth road to a fully plausible conception of the divine. It is the profound unsolvable dilemma of “sophisticated theology.” It’s a millenia-old problem, inherited from the very earliest attempts to reconcile two fundamentally distinct notions of monotheism: the Unmoved Mover of ancient Greek philosophy, and the personal/tribal God of Biblical Judaism. Attempts to fit this square peg into a manifestly round hole lead us smack into all of the classical theological dilemmas: “Can God microwave a burrito so hot that He Himself cannot eat it?” The reason why problems such as this are so vexing is not because our limited human capacities fail to measure up when confronted with the divine; it’s because they are legitimately unanswerable questions, arising from a set of mutually inconsistent assumptions.
Naturally, since we take very different stances with respect to the existence of God, I don't always agree with Sean. Sometimes I tend to agree, but still seem to arrive at a different conclusion. (Because I am agreeing with most of the words, rather than all that was intended by them. So when Sean writes:
But the crucial point is that the emergence of One God was an essentially political transformation.
I agree, except for the innocuous looking "essentially". The claim of monotheism is indeed political, as well as everything else. As a political claim it subverts the claims to divine sanction of David's descendants. Though less directly than it does those of an Egyptian Pharaoh. Basically it seems to me the claim is relational, rather than merely political. (Sean sets the "political" Hebrews against the "philosophical" Greeks. I am happy to distinguish the two approaches, but suspect that Greek thinkers also had political consequences.)

This analysis (and I quite accept Sean's neat dissecting of the problem of two inconsistent approaches) leads to this (partial) conclusion:
For the past two thousand years, theology has struggled to reconcile these two apparently-conflicting conceptions of the divine, without much success. We are left with fundamentally incoherent descriptions of what God is, which deny that he “exists” in the same sense that hummingbirds and saxophones do, but nevertheless attribute to him qualities of “love” and “creativity” that conventionally belong to conscious individual beings. One might argue that it’s simply a hard problem...
The trouble is, it seems to me, that the "problem" is not merely "hard", it is impossible. Attempts to "eff the ineffable and unscrut the inscrutable" are inevitably reduced to analogy and metaphor. And once we talk that language we are again reduced to talk of hummingbirds or saxophones. That's why:
...for the most part, theologians have basically abandoned the project of “proving” God’s existence, which is probably a good move.

But they haven’t given up on believing in God’s existence (suitably defined), which is what drives atheists like Dawkins (and me) a little crazy. Two thousand years ago, believing in God made perfect sense; there was so much that we didn’t understand about the world, and an appeal to the divine seemed to help explain the otherwise inexplicable.
And that in a nutshell describes the fundamental gulf between Sean and me. Sean wants to understand and reason everything. I claim that at its heart the answer to life the universe and everything is not a neat 42, but a relationship. This relationship is nowhere near as simple, or as compelling, as many religionists make out, but it is there deep in my being, in a way that no neat simple argument could ever be.

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