Sabbath was equal rest.

Sabbath was equal rest.

We often think that Christianity ushered in a new era of equality for races, genders and cultural roles with Paul’s declaration that in Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). But God emphasized equality of persons thousands of years earlier when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11 NIV

Setting aside the seventh day each week was how God desired to be worshiped. God wanted people to connect with Him in rest. The Sabbath commandment leveled the social constructs that humans feel compelled to enforce around the worship of God. On the six days of work, society was split along gender, race, age lines and roles; but on Sabbath, all human distinctions ceased.

Children rested along with parents. Slaves had recess from all their duties. The immigrant must stop their work as well. Women and girls relaxed. Servants had the day off. Ox, horses and donkeys were set to graze.  It had to be rest for all. Sabbath was not for Jewish men only.

The holy day was a day of equality. Week after week, God emphasized His impartiality to gender, race, age, and even species! In this idle space of Sabbath, the One Creator God was worshiped in unity. In Christ and in Sabbath rest, we are all one.

Women in the Text: Hagar Names God

Women in the Text: Hagar Names God

Hagar’s remarkable experience of God is comparable to any of the Patriarch’s, yet it is often overlooked.

Hagar’s History

Hagar was Egyptian. She was most likely given to Sarah by Pharaoh as redress for his bride-napping. She was a stranger in Canaan, different from  the others, marginalized, living in an alien and backward land compared to the grand courts of Egypt. Her accent was different. Her looks set her apart. She most likely faced racial and class prejudice. She was a slave.

Her master  was Sarah. It was Sarah who determined the course of Hagar’s life when she offered her – as a possession – to her husband Abraham. In today’s terms, we call this sex trafficking. In ancient terms, it was an acceptable legal transaction. The Code of Hammurabi gives us some insight into the everyday ethics that determined family life in this era. An infertile wife could offer her slave to her husband. If a child was born as a result, it was against the law (or custom) for the husband to remarry. This saved a barren woman from sharing her husband with another wife, yet still provided an heir.

144. If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/ham/ham06.htm

Sarah, acting in accordance with the customs of her time, says to Abraham: “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her. (Genesis 16:2) ” Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham, not as wife or concubine but as a womb. If Hagar conceived and bore a child, Sarah’s position as the sole wife of Abraham was secure.

Hagar’s grasp for honor

But Hagar had different ideas. And, who can blame her? Her status changed from slave to the mother of the new heir of Abraham. It is easy to empathize with her desire to take any advantage she could! There was also the dynamic of motherhood at play. Hagar, feeling the overwhelming protection of maternity, felt the need to establish a place of honor for her child. Yet, any behavior on her part that was not fitting as a slave, was actually considered unlawful. See Hammurabi again.

146. If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants.

Hagar claimed an honor that did not belong to her, perhaps as a wife or mistress of Abraham, and in the process shamed her owner, Sarah. Genesis 16:4 says, “her mistress was dishonorable in her eyes.” Hagar made a power-play to take advantage of her circumstance and reverse her fortunes and confirm the status of her child, but she was out of line. Sarah’s reaction was more than jealousy, it was justice. Hagar had no right to shame Sarah and claim any worth, for her or her child, above that of slave.

Our modern sense of Western justice has a hard time accepting the clout of this honor/shame dynamic that dominated the Eastern world. Even though Hagar was the one behaving badly, we sympathize with her suffering. When Sarah disciplined her harshly, as just punishment for Hagar’s transgressions, we sense a deeper injustice that was ignored. Hagar never asked to be put in this position! She was forced into sexual relations, and required to birth a baby at great personal risk (childbirth has always been a dangerous enterprise). Surely, her arrogance could be overlooked? Right? Give her a break, Sarah!

When Sarah applied harsh judgement on her, Hagar had few choices. Stay in an abusive situation where she had no voice and little value, or attempt escape. She chose to run away; a courageous, if not foolhardy, option.

Hagar runs away…

…most likely headed back to Egypt (Genesis 16:7). Her flight indicates how desperate and alone she must have felt in Sarah’s house. The journey from Canaan to Egypt is like walking from Seattle to Spokane. Pregnant.

Hagar had serious problems. She was a runaway slave, carrying the property of her mistress. She was a fugitive. She was breaking the law. But, she was an abused and terrified woman.

In the middle of this terror of flight, God came to Hagar.

God visited Hagar! An Egyptian. A woman. A slave. An abuse survivor. At that point in recorded history, God had only come to Noah and Abraham. Hagar’s experience with God is thought provoking. When we consider the times God intervened in Person, what was required of the recipient was usually terrifying. Noah had to build an ark for decades to survive a holocaust. Abraham had to mutilate his very private flesh, and the flesh of 300+ of his men. And, God’s visit to Hagar followed suit. God required Hagar to return to her life as the slave of Sarah. Gulp. That is hard to accept, isn’t it? God was sending Hagar back to slavery, back into the toxic situation with Sarah. We could speculate that there were few options for Hagar, and that was the most merciful one, but I find it hard to swallow, regardless. Experiencing a visit from God was alarming and the task was never easy.

God requires hard things. But, God is full of promise.

God gave Hagar a fertile hope.

“I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” (Genesis 16:10) Sound familiar? God promised this woman great fertility, just as God promised Abraham (Genesis 15:5). God gave Hagar a prophesy of hope concerning her child that spoke to a mother’s greatest fear.

  • Her son would be born, alive and healthy.
  • She should name him God Hears: Ishmael, because of her personal experience with God.
  • He would be free, not a slave. He would be a warrior. He would have brothers and family and would not be alone as she was.
  • God promised Hagar a future for her son.

Hagar named God.

“You are El Roi, for I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13-14) Inspired by her personal encounter with God and her own experience of being marginalized, Hagar teaches others about God’s perception. Perhaps this was comforting to her, because she knew God was aware of all things done to her hidden from the sight of others. As Jesus confirmed thousands of years later, “God who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)”

Because Hagar knew God saw her and promised her son’s future was secure, Hagar had the courage to return to her unfortunate situation. Once at home, she instructs Abraham to name their son Ishmael, and her extraordinary talk with God was immortalized as a place-name in the ancient world. Beer Lahai Roi: the well of the Living One who sees me.

Hagar’s story continues.

VIDEO Theology Bits: Circumcision

VIDEO Theology Bits: Circumcision

What’s been mulling around in my head lately? Circumcision. Why did God put foreskins on if they were meant to come off? What about women? Are women excluded from something because they aren’t included in the cutting of parts? How does this effect Christians? I have some answers, but I’m not really satisfied with them. Do you have anything to add?

(Posting a video was a huge accomplishment for me. I’ve been wanting to start posting short videos for a while, but am fighting vanity and fear of getting information wrong. That’s why I love writing. I can edit, and edit to my heart’s content. I probably sound and look ridiculous, but oh well. I need more humility.)

Sources:

Rochel Holzkenner: Why Women Don’t Need Circumcision

Pini Dunner: Why Circumcision Is an Essential Part of Jewish identity

Note after the fact: Found a book written on this topic. Ordered it. Will let you know how my thoughts progress!

Teshuqa Turnings – Rabbinical Roots of Desire

Teshuqa Turnings – Rabbinical Roots of Desire

In all English translations, Genesis 3:16 says that “…Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The word that is  translated as “desire” in today’s English Bible is the Hebrew noun teshuqa. It’s meaning underwent a transformation over the centuries from “turning” in the Greek Septuagint to “desire” in today’s English translations. (Read more) This change of teshuqa can be traced to the Jewish Talmud by following the influence of Jewish scholars on Bible translators, notably Jerome.

From Rabbi to Latin (app. 4th century CE)

The Rabbinical teaching  found in the Talmud and other Midrash was being formed and compiled only after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Originally, the Rabbis passed their teaching along orally . This oral tradition became the foundation of Jewish religious law, called the Mishnah. Rabbis continued to debate and make legal judgement from the Mishnah, and this commentary formed the Gemara. Together, the Mishnah and the Gemara form a Talmud. The most influential Talmud was the Babylonian Talmud. Scholars point to 200 CE as being the earliest  date for the first completed Talmud, but most point to a later date in the 4th century.

Many of our Christian “traditions” regarding the creation of humans are first found in the Talmud or the extended teachings on the Talmud (Midrash). It is in the Talmud that we first hear of Adam’s “rib” as opposed to his “side,” and we are taught that Eve was a temptress. Here we find much imaginative and explicit exposition about the sexuality between Adam and Eve…and yes, even the serpent. It is also here that we find that teshuqa has been re-defined as “urge,” and the battle of the sexes is born. The all-male Jewish rabbis filled volumes with their ideas about women and women’s behavior.

The depiction of the woman’s creation leads the Rabbis to inquire into gender differences and the nature of the female sex, all through the eyes of the male Rabbis. They discuss woman’s different temperament, her mental maturity, her habits, the physical shape of her body, her behavior, and other aspects of female existence. Tamar Kadari

It is only after the compilation of the Talmud that we see a different definition for teshuqa than “turning” in translations from the Hebrew. Jerome, arguably the most influential Bible translator on early English translators, spent 35 years studying alongside Jewish scholars, and his Bible , the Latin Vulgate, is known to display rabbinical influence in its translation. And we see it pop up in his translation of Genesis 3:16. “Thou shalt be under the power of a husband.” Centuries later, English translators followed course and the original meaning of teshuqa was lost.

From Hebrew to Greek (app. 2nd century BCE)

Let’s back up a bit further.

During the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, seventy-two Jewish scholars convened in Alexandria to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Koine Greek for the Alexandrian library. They translated teshuqa as “turning.” Jesus, his disciples, 1st century Rabbis, even Paul, all used the Septuagint as evidenced by its quotations throughout the New Testament. Genesis 3:16 said that “Eve’s turning was to her husband” in every Greek Scriptures, and other notable translations from that time.

Now understand, the Rabbis, called Sages at that time, were teaching all during the five hundred years from the translation of the Septuagint (132 BCE) until the Talmud was compiled in approximately the 3rd century CE. So, I’m sure their ideas of Eve’s teshuqa as desire was commonly taught in synagogues and academies. When they pulled out their Hebrew Torah, they could have expounded on teshuqa as desire. But, if they pulled out the most widely accepted Greek Scriptures, they would have read “turning.”

teshuqa-illustration Where did the substitution with desire occur?

The Ten Curses of Eve

The Talmud tells us of Eve’s Ten Curses. (Babylonian Talmud, p 2684,  Eiruvin, 100b)

“R. Yitzchak bar Avodimi [Rabbi Isaac Abdimi] taught that Chavah [Eve] received 10 curses.”

  1. “Greatly multiply” (blood of mensuration and virginity)
  2. “thy sorrow/pangs” (pain in child rearing)
  3. “thy conception” (pain of impregnation)
  4. “in sorrow shalt thous bring forth children” (childbirth pain)
  5. “thy desire/urge shall be unto thy husband” (the heartache felt by a woman when her husband sets out on a journey)
  6. “and he shall rule over you” (the distress of woman, who desires intercourse only in her heart, while the man can explicitly demand it )
    [In Eruvin ,there is a break here as the student declares: “But that’s only seven!” I guess ancient Jewish disciples can’t count. I can’t seem to make sense of the numbering. This is my best guess.]
  7. “the woman is garbed like a mourner”
  8. “she must cover her head”
  9. “she is banished from the company of all men” (She may not be married to two men. She is forbidden to all men other than her husband, whereas a man can have two wives.)
  10. “and she is imprisoned” (since she is always at home)

Additional points: “She grows hair like a Shed [Lilith]. She sits while urinating, like a mule. She is a pillow to her husband [she is underneath during relations].”

Adapted from PROPER CONDUCT REGARDING RELATIONS, ERUVIN 100, prepared by Rabbi Pesach Feldman

Inbar Raveh, in  Feminist Rereading of Rabbinic Literature (p 42-46), explains this midrash-teaching on the punishment of Eve as having two parts: biological and social. The social curses were designed to do the very thing God prophesied in Genesis 3:16: control  women. Eve’s teshuqa was recast as sexual desire and then harnessed with the words of Curse #6: “and he shall rule over you.” A woman will feel desire, but may not act on it. She is cursed to repressing her sexual desire to the man’s. To a man’s mind, there is nothing so punishing as resisting a sexual urge, right? The Curses of Eve were designed to control the most important aspect of women from a man’s point of view: her sexuality. And since Rabbis were all men, they had no correcting female voice to balance the veracity of their ideas of what Eve’s teshuqa really was.

Ironically, Raveh points out that there are many cracks in the Rabbi’s reasoning which might reveal the true motive behind the redefining of teshuqa to sexual lust; mainly, that “a woman’s desire for her husband is not, in fact, self-evident…Thus, in between the cracks of the midrash there seeps a pervasive anxiety concerning feminine ambivalence toward the heterosexual monogamous institution of marriage whose ultimate aim is childbirth.”(p. 46)  Could the transformation of teshuqa from “turning” to “desire” be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the all-male Jewish Rabbis?

Perhaps the Rabbis connected the dots back from childbirth to intercourse, and then assumed this was the intent of the word teshuqa? We get that impression from another midrash found in Genesis Rabbah, which is a verse by verse Jewish commentary on Genesis. In this portion on Genesis 3:16, a glimpse at teshuqa‘s original meaning is seen, indicating the original meaning of “turning” was not lost on the Jewish Rabbis. Notice too, the connection the woman in labor makes with the act that put her in such agony, and the Rabbi’s commentary taking the authority of God’s Voice in insisting her “desire” will “return.”

Another interpretation of “And thy desire shall be to thy husband”:

When a woman sits on the birthstool, she declares, ‘I will henceforth never fulfil my marital duties/ whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, says to her : ‘ Thou wilt return to thy desire, thou wilt return to the desire for thy husband.’

Genesis Rabbah 20, 7-8 (p 166) [emphasis mine]

Who knows? This might be the passage that teshuqa‘s meaning crossed over once and for all into the land of desire?

Rabbi says!

The rabbinical understanding of women and the role of women is disturbing in parts of the Talmud. Their attitude is summed up in the notorious prayer of Jewish men thanking God for not making them a woman. Equally so, is Jerome’s outright scorn of anything female, which highly influenced the medieval church’s position on women. How heartbreaking that these men have defiled Eve’s teshuqa, transforming women into sexual effigies and creating centuries of misunderstanding and stigma and justification for male domination.

We cannot allow them the last word on Eve and her daughters. Instead, let us turn to the Great Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. When faced with the chance to scorn and judge woman’s sin, to exaggerate or berate her wrong choices, to expound upon the weakness of women and justify male dominance…  he simply says,

“I do not condemn you.”

The Tri-une God and Motherhood Part 3

The Tri-une God and Motherhood Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Why is it important that we start the discussion of God’s mother-love with an understanding of the Trinity? Because God IS love only in the community of His person. This love births a family to participate in His communal love. Mothers know a little something about loving others.

Metaphors of God

Jesus uses parables to describe his intimate knowledge of the invisible God. His parable of the “prodigal son” introduces one of the most important metaphors of God. God as Father is so pivotal to Jesus that he uses it to title the person of God that remains mysterious and unseen to His creation. The most important information about God as Father is that He is UNLIKE ANY FATHER this world has ever known. Jesus breaks all stereotypes of fathers in the ancient world by portraying a father who acts more like a mother than a father.  In what way? Social norms of that time required fathers  to be the disciplinarian, firm and aloof.  Yet Jesus describes his father as tender, compassionate, heartfelt, quick to overlook wrongs, not concerned with discipline but with hugs and kisses (Luke 15:20).

Father is a strong metaphor for God, but there are many others. Rock, bread, water, fire, baby sheep, bird. Jesus likened himself to a mother hen in Luke 13:34. His imagery mirrors an Old Testament metaphor of God in Deut 32:11 as a mother bird guarding and feeding her young.

God has no gender.

If you are unused to hearing God described in feminine imagery, it might startle you. Remember, God is Spirit, not gendered (John 4:24). In Hosea and Numbers, God says specifically that he is God and not a man (Num 23:19, Hos 11:9). So we mustn’t take any gendered imagery or metaphor too far. The Father title is modified as Heavenly to distinguish it from a too literal a meaning. We must be careful and on guard not to make God after our own image as male or female.

God is three persons, not one person acting in three different roles; such as the role of begetter or begotten. God is three persons, not one person acting in different capacities; such as judge or advocate or helper. God is three persons, one of whom took the form of a male human, but in whom all the fullness of diety dwelled. God is three persons who are more than unified  – they are perfect oneness. Yet, because He is three persons, He can interact with each other – they glorify each other, they praise each other, they LOVE each other.

It is this Love amongst the godhead that birthed a family…something we understand as a uniquely mother experience.

Next up: Part 4 explains the motherly metaphors of God.

 

References: Wade Burleson. Missing Metaphors Makes Men Mad.  http://www.wadeburleson.org/2012/12/missing-metaphors-makes-men-mad.html

Here I lay my Ebenezer

We sang “Come Thou Fount” this morning in church. They skipped the Ebenezer verse. Boo. So, because I’m plagued with a condition called Earworms, I’ve been humming that vacant verse all morning.

Here I raise my ebenezer,
Hither by thy help I’ve come.

Eben-ezer

Before Ebenezer was Scrooge, it was a place. Eben, in Hebrew, means Rock or Stone. Ezer means help. The history behind the location of this helpful rock is found in 1 Samuel 7.

When the Phillistines gathered to attack Israel at Mizpah, Samuel asked the Lord for help in defeating them.  This wasn’t a case of needing an extra hand to finish the job. The Israelites were facing death without help. They didn’t just need assitance in winning the battle. They needed rescuing.

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

To bear witness to God’s help, Samuel erected a standing stone. Standing stones were common in the ancient world. They marked a place to be remembered. They said to the locals, “Something happened here.” The what would either be remembered through oral tradition, or in the case of Samuel, eventually written down and preserved long after the stone’s spot eroded away.

Stone of help. Here is the place where God rescued us.

Ezer me, please!

It seems when we are in need, we are receptive to God’s presence. The Israelites were terrified of dying at the hand of the Phillistines, and they cried out for Ezer! They recognized they could not go it alone against the foe. They needed rescue.

So did Adam. Although created good, he was not. He was alone. He needed help. Not an assistant. Not a personal aide to prop him up. He needed something more than that. He was in severe danger. Without help, he would fail. He needed ezer: rescuing help.

Genesis 2:20 says, “adam matsa ezer.” The man found not help. Maybe he could find that missing something somewhere in God’s creation? But, among all the animals the man called, the man found not help. Because God had not formed her yet.

For Samuel, God brought ezer in the form of a storm. For man,  ezer was his own form, but stood face-to-face to him (the Hebrew word kenegdo found in verse 18). It was wo-man, God’s rescuing help for man.

 

Why Twelve Men?

I don’t accept that because Jesus picked twelve men, he was excluding women from church leadership. So, why twelve men? Honestly, I don’t know for sure. My tendency is to look to history for answers. Here’s my guess.

The significance of  Twelve Jewish Men

There is more to the Twelve than their role as foundation pillars of the church.  (Notice, I do not call them apostles because I don’t wish to confuse the fact that there were more than twelve that were called apostles. So I will distinguish Jesus’ chosen twelve apostles as the Twelve.) To teach that the Twelve were only the founding leaders of the church is to miss their prophesied purpose to Israel.

Although they hold much responsibility in birthing the church, the significance of their number and gender is found looking back to the Old Covenant, not forward to birth of the Church. These men were chosen to mark the END of Israel’s time, and to be an eyewitness to the finale of God’s promise to Israel: the fulfillment of Messiah who will bless the entire world. Hence, there is a gender and numerical  symbolism at play. As twelve Jewish males, they were symbolic for the twelve tribes and their patriarchal heads. In this role, their number and gender is not an example for the new church to follow, but indicative of the closure of the Old Covenant.

Twelve men will judge the twelve sons of Israel.

These chosen Twelve men fulfill Isaiah 1:26.

“I will restore your judges as at first.”

Jesus confirms this purpose in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30.

“Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

“…you may…sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

What did they judge about Israel?

Acting as “justice” for Israel involved the transitioning of covenants from the nation of Israel to a global priesthood of believers. As judges, they passed sentence on Israel by initiating the transfer of the Holy Spirit to all nationalities. Their ministry ended Israel’s unique connection to God. Their preaching also warned of coming catastrophes. They watched the signs of the time as Jesus instructed and warned the Jewish people “Judgement was near!”(Matthew 24) For Israel, the final judgement or “the end of the age” was the Roman dispersion of the Jewish people, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

The Twelve may also have a future role in passing sentence on Israel at the final judgement… but I’m not sure what that looks like.

The Twelve are linked to Israel and the fulfillment of the patriarchal Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was designed around promises to men, the service and sacrifices of males, and would be fulfilled by a future coming male Messiah. This is why there were twelve; why they were Jewish and why they were male. This is also why Judas Iscariot was replaced quickly after his suicide. Because twelve was important symbolically to Israel. Yet, when James died 10-15 years later, he was not replaced. It was the end of “times.” The chosen Twelve and their message, “Judgement is near, but Salvation has come for everyone!” concluded the Old Covenant in the transitional period preceding the destruction of the temple in 70 AC and the explosion of Christianity to the Gentiles thereafter.

Twelve was no longer an important symbolic number to the Gentiles, neither were the patriarchal promises to the sons of Israel.

What counts is the new creation. (Galatians 6:15)

The Chosen Twelve condemned/judged/ended the old era of Israel, but their teaching also built the foundation of the Global Church. But in this role, their number, nationality or gender is no longer significant. How can I say this beyond a shadow of a doubt? Because the old was gone, and the new has come. Jesus insists we don’t pour our new wine back into the old wineskins. (Matthew 9) The church is new wine, folks! Patriarchy and male-based religion based on circumcision and exclusion is an old wineskin, and we must burst those weak constraints.

The Chosen Twelve men were tasked with judging Israel. But, “Do you not know,” Paul says, “that the saints will judge the world? Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:2-3). All believers will fulfill this role as judge at the end of our “age.” Our covenant is not only with a chosen few, but with all who will believe. Our sphere of justice is not one nation, but the whole globe. Our temple is a personal and intimate indwelling of the same Spirit, and our priesthood knows no restriction to heritage, nationality or gender.

The example of Twelve Jewish Males is not for the new Church, but a dying symbol of Old Israel.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17