Baker Academic

Friday, August 30, 2013

More on Loving my Ancient Alien Brothers (gender-specific language intended) - Le Donne

If you missed my interreligious exchange on "problem texts", you can catch up here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And I think that Larry might have one or two more posts in him. I'll be sure to link them when they surface over at his blog: Jewish Christian Intersections.

At present, I'd like to reply to Barbara a bit more about my reading of Deut 21:10-15. Barbara writes:
As a captive of war, the woman was probably going to end up as a slave or concubine; isn't that right? This seems a far better outcome, to me; the man is being constrained and the woman has a chance at a better life - no better or worse than any other woman.
Barbara, I think that I understand your point. In a world where misogyny is the norm, any step toward humanization should be seen as good news. I wouldn't want to dispute this.

But as I hint in my post, I'm not only wrestling with this text as a window into an ancient culture. For me, this text is sacred. And if sacred, then very troubling. This text has shaped my culture, my religion, and will continue to shape my faith community.

I wrestle with it not because I want to, but because I need to. And if what Larry says is true, that "God is good" - and I really want to believe this despite my doubts - then I cannot help but be repulsed by a representation of the voice of God that grants misogynistic and warlike premises.

Do you hear my concern? I'm not trying to write the definitive word on this... I wouldn't want to give the impression that an adversarial posture is the only viable posture. I'm just working out this messy relationship as best I can.



  1. But as I hint in my post, I'm not only wrestling with this text as a window into an ancient culture. For me, this text is sacred.

    Don't look now, but what you're saying here is that people who read this text in a different way than you do cannot by definition consider it sacred.


    My point is this: the Bible isn't just one thing. It's theology, history, genealogy, culture, literature, philosophy, reportage, mysticism, and all kinds of other things. The redactors sometimes included multiple - often even contradictory - accounts of the same event. This to me is a clear indication that the Bible includes multiple (and different) sources.

    It's the history of a people, as well as a long-term report about their relationship with God. I think we have to take these things into account to come away with a faithful reading; Judaism and Christianity are historical religions, not philosophical ones. God acts in the world, which means God acts through people - and cultures by definition are at particular "stages of development." This isn't to say one is better than another; it's simply define a word. But if we don't try to understand the subject in its fullness, how can we ever understand what's being said, or what's really at issue? To me one of the most interesting things about reading these ancient stories is precisely their incomprehensibility; they are clearly coming from a worldview I'm completely unfamiliar with - and I find it totally fascinating to try to understand more about that.

    I do understand the problem I think you're trying to get at here, I should add; that is, how can we be sure that the conclusions we draw aren't colored - sometimes entirely - by our own wishful thinking? And I think that's certainly a reasonable concern - but then that's why we have these discussions. That's why the sages quoted in the paper I linked had these discussions, too - and those discussions are available to us. But God isn't, mostly, available to us directly; we need to talk with other people about what we see and understand. It's a process - and we're always going to have to work at this, I'd say. Anyway, Hillel apparently came away from a lifelong study of the Torah with this: "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it." Jesus said something awfully similar to this; I'm taking them at their word, that's all.

    The Bible certainly does what it set out to do, I'd say. I mean, here we are, here thousands of years later, still discussing these issues. The Bible reports the first instance of people putting aside "the gods" and starting to get to know "God" - something that's entirely changed the world. Wasn't that the idea, in fact?

  2. It may well have been a good solution in its context. It isn't now, and that just shows just how contextual scripture can be!