A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…


Against Christian Seder Meals during Holy Week

It’s becoming relatively common for Christian churches to observe a seder meal on Maundy Thursday, followed by Holy Communion. Since the gospels describe Jesus’ last meal as held during Passover, these churches attempt to honor the occasion by teaching about Passover.  Some believe they are honoring Jesus’ Jewish roots and seek out Jewish texts and rabbis for help in making the meal feel “authentic.”

But Passover meals don’t belong in the Christian Holy Week.

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100 million Missing Women

The August 23, 2009, issue of The New York Times Magazine was devoted to how women are faring around the world—their political status, economic standing, and health.

The statistics are sobering.  Across the globe, women are not getting the same health care and access to food as men.  They are less likely to be vaccinated and are selectively aborted. They are more likely than men to be sold into slavery and killed by beating.

Experts estimate that there are 100 million missing women: 100 million fewer women in the world than birthrates would project. That’s more women dead than all the men killed on battlefields in the 20th century, more than all persons killed in the genocides of the 20th c.

Contrary to popular assumption, “developed” societies don’t necessarily treat women any better than developing nations. The education level and economic success of a society do not guarantee high status for women.  According to an article by Tina Rosenberg, the sole determinant for  women’s low social status is patriarchy.  No matter how wealthy or educated a society is, if men are privileged women will suffer.

The issue offers some good news.  There is something that helps:  microlending to women.  Women who are loaned small amounts of money (sometimes the equivalent of $20) not only dramatically improve their own lives but also those of their families and their communities.  From a sheer economic standpoint, lending to women is more effective than lending to men:  women feed and educate their children and employ others. Several profiles of women put flesh on those statistics, telling moving stories of how women who are financially empowered are able to radically change their health and the power dynamics within their families. (Want to offer a microloan to a woman?  Go to kiva.org.)

As I read this issue, I was struck by several things.  One is how familiar the statistics sound tto those who know about the status of women in the periods described in the Bible.  As I described in my earlier post Eat Like an Israelite?,  Israelite women received less nutrition than men: skeletal remains from ancient Israel indicate that the average height of an ancient woman was 152 cm (close to 5 ft), while the height of an ancient man was 171 cm (5 ft 7 in).  Reading about high rates of maternal death and early pregnancies in Africa and Asia reminded me of reading Carol Meyers’ description of early Israel in Discovering Eve.

But, mainly, I was struck by how these articles were able to document in detail the detrimental effects of patriarchy—not just the psychological but also the physical, economic, and social. Too often in current political and religious debates, the role of women is treated as a matter of taste, a lifestyle choice.  This issue underscores the old maxim that the personal is the political.  Patriarchy starves people.  Aborts people.  Batters and rapes people.  And 100 million human beings are missing because of it.

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Julie, Julia, and the Contemporary Hero Quest

This weekend, my husband and I saw Julie and Julia (click for a link to the official website). The film is Nora Ephron’s adaptation of two books: Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France; and Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia, which follows Powell’s quest to prepare all 524 recipes in Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days and to blog about her experience.


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Thoughts on Technology as Summer and Sabbatical End

The end of summer is always difficult for me.  My vegetable garden shrinks, in size and in its contribution to my physical and emotional well-being.  At some point, I’ll have to break down and buy a store-bought tomato with the texture of cardboard and scramble to find fresh rosemary.  We won’t roast vegetables or salmon on the grill.  And the spirituality of gardening will need to enter its dormant stage until May.

Summer’s end also initiates Winter Dread, an affliction common to transplanted Southerners.

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Eat Like an Israelite?

This summer has not been kind to my backyard garden.  After a few weeks of prolific production, my squash and cucumber plants succumbed to powdery mildew.  Now, just as they are supposed to ripen in full glory, my tomatoes (the bread and butter of my garden) are waging war with late blight.  It’s been too wet here in south central Pennsylvania.  Not hot enough.

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