Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The first post can be found here.

In response to the question, What do you make of the triangular relationship between Abraham (Abram), Sarah (Sarai), and Hagar?
When reading Genesis 16, I think it is important to note two key facts before making any analysis.  First, the reason behind Sarai and Abram’s behavior is that they had been promised a son by God.  They were not acting this way simply because they wanted a son, although that was very important in their society, but because Abram was around 86 (Genesis 16:16) and we can assume that Sarai was at least beyond the years of childbearing (as well as medically infertile [Genesis 16:2]).  The second note is that this behavior was acceptable during that time (and still is in some societies today).  Given that an heir was so valuable in that society, and the fact that many men had multiple wives, it was not uncommon for a man to have a son by a woman other than his first wife.  With those two notes in mind, I will continue onto my reaction to this passage.
        The first thing that jumped out at me was how close of a relationship Abram and Sarai seem to have, as well as how unimportant Hagar seems to be.  I would assume that both Sarai and Abram wanted a son, not to mention other children, and it appears that they came to the conclusion they would need outside help (the same way a couple might go to a fertility doctor or consider adoption in modern times).  It is also surprising that it seems to be Sarai’s idea that Abram impregnate her servant (although I’m sure they either talked about it or at least knew it was the only option before she made the final decision), indicating that she was more concerned with his interest (having a son) than her own comfort.  This is just another indication of how strong their relationship must have been.  Of course, once Hagar did become pregnant, Sarai naturally became jealous.
        While it was perfectly natural for Sarai to become jealous that another woman was carrying “her” son, Hagar didn’t help remove any tension as she “looked with contempt on [Sarai]” (Genesis 16:4).  This of course caused Sarai to be infuriated and she went to Abram with her anger saying, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” (Genesis 16:5).  Obviously she regretted her decision and wanted Abram to find a solution.  However, Abram seems dismissive and his response is simply to allow Sarai to do with Hagar as she pleases (Genesis 16:6).
        Abram’s reaction doesn’t seem to make much sense.  First, he doesn’t seem to care about the reason all of this started in the first place, his heir.  By allow Sarai to scare off Hagar, he removes the chance (or so it appears) that Hagar will provide him an heir.  Second, he shows a lack of care for Sarai (although given his track record we wouldn’t expect anything else) by not comforting her and by allowing this to happen in the first place.  Third, Abram shows no regard for Hagar who is not only carrying his child (and would-be heir) but who he is openly using simply as a surrogate mother.  It’s as if he is just going to let things play out and then find another servant to impregnate once things die down.  This certainly doesn’t seem like the type of behavior a man of God should be exhibiting (although elsewhere in the Bible, Abram displays just as much cowardice and lack of faith in God).
        On the surface, it seems that this is just another case of the people of God, in this case Abram, ignoring God’s promises.  In spite of this, God still appears to correct their wrong by sending Hagar back to them (Genesis 16:9).  Beneath the surface, we see a relationship between an apathetic man, a desperate woman, and a helpless servant.  While the initial intentions may have been good, ultimately we see that by taking matters into their own hands, all three people (although primarily Hagar and Sarai) suffer unintended consequences.  While it may seem odd to us that this behavior would even be taking place (much less agreed upon), I feel that this is no different (and maybe even less offensive) than a spouse seeking fulfillment through an affair or “open marriage.”

Note: In light of the Adam and Eve story, I find it interesting (although completely irrelevant) that both women (Eve and Sarai) are the first to suggest or take part in sin—Eve with the fruit and Sarai with suggesting Abram’s infidelity.  While I certainly think this is irrelevant to each story (especially this one) I am sure that feminists will point to this fact as an example of androcentrism (which it very well may be).  However, I think there is a much more logical and fitting reason behind both cases.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Adam and Eve

The first post in this series can be found here.  

After reading an article by Jerome Gellman found here, contesting various interpretations of Genesis 2 and 3 by a multitude of feminists, I have come to the conclusion (although I must admit that this is the conclusion I held before being introduced to any feminist literature) that the story of Adam and Eve was never intended to be used as defense of feminism.  (On a side note, I have also found that rarely, if ever, the Bible can or should be used as a “proof text” for one’s opinions.  It is my opinion that if the Bible cannot be taken as truth, then it should not be used as a tool in argument.  It was written to be the complete truth and using bits and pieces will undoubtedly cause the passages to be taken out of context).  Despite the fact that I find the story of Adam and Eve to be unsporting of feminism, I will attempt to address the issues raised by feminists regard this passage.
        The various arguments I have come across can be condensed into 3: the meaning of the curse of Eve, the meaning of Eve being Adam’s “helper”, and the focus of the story being on men/women relations rather than sin.  It is important to note that the majority of the opinions I have read have attempted to argue that the Bible is both true* and in defense of feminism.  It is from their position that an obvious flaw arises.  By both accepting the Bible as factual and arguing that it is pro-feminism, one would be forced to choose which ideal is more important, and as a feminist, they usually choose the latter.  Regardless, I will examine each argument, show why it is incorrect, and then provide what I believe to be the appropriate way to answer their questions.  Also, I will not attempt to repeat their arguments (go ahead, read the article).

*By true I mean that they would argue that the stories in the Bible have been viewed as factual to its readers throughout history and therefore should be analyzed as such to understand the impact they have had.

The Curse of Eve
        To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you." (Genesis 3:16 NRSV)
        This passage has two main parts: the first in regards to childbearing, and the second regarding how Eve will now relate to Adam.  It is also important to note that these statements do not apply specifically to Eve, but to all women.  In regards to childbearing, few feminists have an objection.  They either view this as a punishment for sin, or as a condition of living in a fallen world.  Also, given the fact that this has nothing to do with Adam (although many contend that his punishment was far less severe) they have little reason to address it.  The primary argument comes from the last two lines, primarily the phrase “he shall rule over you.”  This statement is typically explained away using a bunch of Hebrew language semantics, or it is used as proof that life wasn’t meant to be this way (meaning men ruling over women).  I will first address the language side of the argument.
The first point to note is the fact than many portions of the Hebrew Bible (OT) are written in a form of poetry called “parallelism.”  In these sections, such as Genesis 3:16, the lines are grouped into pairs where the second line reflects upon, restates, or reinforces the idea in the first line.  Of the various feminist arguments I have read, many neglect this fact entirely.  They instead claim that the line “and he shall rule over you” is connected to Eve’s “desire” for her husband because Eve’s desire for him will be crushed by his dominance.  This seems like a much more “modern” way of reading these lines, without regard to the Hebrew writing style.  A much more fitting, and more accurate, way of understanding these lines is to interpret the word “desire” as not a sexual or relational desire, but as the same way it is translated in Genesis 4:7, which is a desire to rule over, to subvert, and to manipulate.  Obviously this interpretation causes problems for feminists in that it implies that Adam has the right to have power (since Eve will try to take it from him) and also that Eve will naturally attempt to harm or disrespect Adam in doing so.  Both assumptions are relatively anti-feminist.
The second argument feminists make using this text is that given the fact that Eve is being given a new set of standards in this statement, the old standards must have been different.  Or, as they argue, if Eve is now being put under the rule of her husband, then before the fall she must have been equal.  Much of this argument is largely dependent on conjecture rather than fact.  There is very little explanation about the relationship between Adam and Eve before the fall and while we would assume they were perfect (or, without sin), that doesn’t imply that a feminist’s idea of perfection (women being men’s equal in every regard) is the correct one.  We know that Adam was given control over the animals and the land, and that he and Eve were charged with subduing it.  While there is no explicit command for Adam to rule over or control Eve, her role as “helper” does give us a great deal of insight into what their relationship was like.  Given that this is the next problem feminists have in explaining the story of Adam and Eve, I will move on to that debate.

Eve the Helper
Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ (Genesis 2:18 NRSV)
The word helper does not carry lofty connotations; especially when someone is created to be a “helper” as was the case for Eve.  While many feminists have tried to interpret this verse so that Eve does not appear to be created simply to “help” or “serve” Adam, I think that it is much better to accept the word “helper” rather than attempt to interpret differently.  I will, however, concede that there is an argument to be made regarding this word, one that David Freedman argues quite well by replacing “helper” with “strength or power equal to.”  Regardless, I think that referring to Genesis 1 (the creation story) provides overwhelming evidence that God created men and women not only equal, but also with distinguishable qualities that allow for a relationship to be much more fulfilling and glorifying to God than a “friendship” (between two completely equal people).
        The verse behind my argument (Genesis 1:27) describes the fact that God created both men and women in His own image.  What this means is that God imputed his own qualities into both men and women (and I think it is fairly obvious that he gave different qualities to each).  That is not to say that the differences between men and women indicate that he gave “better” qualities to one and  “worse” qualities to the other, but rather that both received qualities that, when properly complemented by the other, provide a picture of God himself (the image of God).  This is why we find marriage as a tool used throughout the Bible to describe God.  Viewed in this light, what was once an argument about male-domination is now focused on the importance God placed on humanity, by giving us some of his traits.  While both men and women will and have rejected or abused some, if not all, of these characteristics, to make the argument that one or the other is more valuable or powerful is illogical.  When viewing God’s creation of Eve for Adam the way He intended it to be viewed, I think it is obvious that seeking perfect “equality” for men and women is far less important than seeking perfect “union” between the two.

What does Sin have to do with it?
“Various attempts have been made to argue that the plain meaning of the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3 supports a feminist, or at least a woman-friendly, understanding of the gender and sexual relationships between Adam and Eve.” (Gellman 1).
        Of the various feminist opinions on Genesis 2 and 3 that I have read, few of them mention sin as its overall meaning.  Typically, they claim that the story of Adam and Eve was the way the Hebrews explained their androcentric tendencies and patriarchal society.  By making this claim, it is relatively easy for them to then show that God created Adam and Eve “equal” and that men should not dominate women.  While many of these arguments make sense given their context, I believe that the story of Adam and Eve was never meant to be read in a feminist context and ultimately has very little to do with male/female relationships.  While it’s true that we can infer about the relationship Adam and Eve were intended to have, the second and third chapters in Genesis are primarily to explain humanity’s current condition—a sinful condition.
        Genesis 3 is the explanation of how sin entered the world.  Furthermore, the idea that this passage is primarily describing the foundation of sin in the world is referenced multiple times throughout the Bible (see Romans 5:12, 14, 18, 19, and 1 Corinthians 15:21 & 22).  I think that given the fact that both a cursory reading of Genesis 3, as well as a study of the one of the overall themes of the Bible (man’s sinful nature), leads one to view this passage as talking primarily about sin, we should be slow to read it in any other light, specifically a man-made agenda.  While it is certainly important to view the Bible as a complex text (in which almost every passage can support various viewpoints), it’s also important to keep ourselves from reading it searching for evidence to support our own opinions.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gender, Race, and the Bible

          This semester I am taking a class titled “Gender and Race in Biblical Literature.”  While the “biblical literature” implies that the course will include some apocryphal writings, I am excited to take a class where the Bible will be used as a textbook.  Another exciting aspect of the class is that at various times during the semester, I will be required to read a passage from scripture, along with an article critiquing a various aspect of the selected verses, and then write my own response.  While I have found religious classes in a secular school to be enjoyable in the past, I am excited to gain a deeper knowledge of the Biblical text while being challenged to form a view on gender and race with regards to the Bible.
            While gender and race issues still cause problems for the church, I feel that race issues are not nearly as prevalent in the churches I have grown up in.  I definitely don’t want to diminish or ignore the ways the church has abused minority races throughout history, but taking into account my personal experiences, the focus of the course, and the current church I attend, I will primarily be focusing my writing on the topic of gender.  
As I am already learning words like androcentrism, I find myself forced to face the cruel reality that male domination over women has existed throughout history both inside and outside the church.  Suddenly I am pressured to understand why the church holds its current views on the roles of women and men (and why there is so much variation throughout); and more importantly, to understand what I actually believe.  While it is true that my attention has been drawn to this issue primarily by this class, I cannot ignore the radical changes taking place throughout the churches in our country regarding women.  Nor can I deny the likelihood that sometime in the next 5-15 years, my church (or at least denomination) will be forced to reexamine its stance on women.  
While I don’t fear that there will be an upheaval throughout the church (although it’s certainly a possibility), I must acknowledge that as these issues are raised they will ultimately cause some to leave the church.  I go on this tangent not to create an unwarranted emotional response or to garner your attention, but rather to stress the importance of addressing these issues and finding a biblically sound (rather than culturally acceptable) answer to the relationship between men, women, and the church.
Given the phrasing in the above paragraphs (and if you have ever talked to me for more than 30 seconds) you’ve probably concluded that I am writing this shortly after reading an academic article.  Due to my excitement about this class and its subject matter, I want to start writing immediately.  The article I just read can be found here, the scripture passage (Genesis 1-3 although primarily focusing on chapters 2 and 3) can be found here, and my response to these texts can be found here.

Adam and Eve