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


Lock 'em up or Give Them a Book?

I’ve been learning more about the Changing Lives through Literature program, in which “criminal offenders with charges ranging from drug violations to assault with a deadly weapon read and discuss literature as a condition of their probation.”  In the program, offenders join judges and others in a democratic discussion of literature.


The group’s website is filled with testimonies of how discussing literature in a group can lead to transformation:

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Changing (?) Definitions of Rape

I just published a new session in my Reading the Bible as an Adult project:  Bathsheba, Tamar, Absalom, Solomon:  David’s Family Curse? The entry deals primarily with the trans-generational dynamics of 2 Samuel 11-18, how the themes of David’s later life spill over into those of his family.  I talk about David’s fukú , the language that Junot Díaz  uses in his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to describe a family curse. But there’s a lot more to discuss  in these stories of David and his children, including the way that different people and different cultures think about rape.

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When Sarah Palin isn't Conservative Enough: Visionary Daughters Headed for a Breakdown?

When you encounter a website that slaps the face of all you believe in, makes your blood pressure rise, and basically ticks you off, should you speak against it or ignore it in hopes that it withers from lack of attention?  That’s the dilemma I face when I view the Visionary Daughters website. Continue reading

Sermon on youtube: Being a Man in the Restroom and Everywhere Else

My web-support friend alerted me to this sermon on youtube.  It’s based on a phrase that appears in the King James Version, though not in other translations (including the New King James):  “the one who pisseth against the wall.”  Watch it for yourself before reading further, so that I don’t spoil the surprise (or not) ending.{readmore}For this preacher, the divine purpose of this phrase is to reinforce gender roles:  men need to be manly, standing up to their responsibilities (so to speak).  Although he doesn’t say it directly, he also suggests that for a man to act like a woman demeans him.

The KJV translation is actually a pretty good one.  In Hebrew, the phrase means “the one who urinates against the wall.”  In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, it’s always used in the context of a curse/threat. For example, in 1 Kings 14:7, God announces that because the king Jeroboam has forsaken God’s ways, God will strike down everyone in the king’s family and/or court who “pisseth against the wall.”  The remnant of the house of Jeroboam, the threat continues, will be thrown out like “dung.”  The preacher is right, I think, that modern English translations of “males” or “men” lack the punch of the original.  In all six contexts (see also 1 Sam 25:22; 25:34; I Kings 16:11; 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8), the language is harsh and exaggerated.

But, strictly on the level of word usage, the pastor is on thin ice when he argues that the phrase dictates the way men should be.  The word for “male/man” (‘sh) shows up far more often than this phrase.  “The one who pisseth against the wall” is used for men only in cases in which men are threatened with extinction.  In fact, in all six instances,  men who urinated sitting down would have lived to see another day.

What fascinates and repels me about this sermon, though, is not its exegesis.  It’s the way that minor phrases, taken out of context, become an opportunity to wield the implied authority of the Bible to reinforce gender stereotypes.  You have to act a certain way because the Bible (= God) said so.  Even more, I hear in this sermon and in other rants about men being men a devaluing of women.  Of course folks could claim that they want men to be like men and women to be like women and that they equally value both, but in my experience there’s always an unequal value placed on offenders: a man acting like a woman demeans him in a way far different than a woman acting like a man.

This is one reason that I find gender scripts so confining.  They come with implied value.  But, even more, they just don’t work.  It’s easy to see how scripts for how to be a man or a woman don’t fit LGBT folks, but I don’t think they serve anyone well.  Human life is too wonderfully messy and complex to have to fit in a gender box, or even to have to use the toilet in a particular way.

It's the (Biblical) Economy, Stupid

It’s easy to read the Bible as if it contained disembodied doctrine, eternal truths about the divine being and the cosmos floating above the mundane concerns of human living. But biblical materials were shaped by the people who wrote them–not only by their beliefs but also by the economies in which they lived.  And as ancient Israel’s economy changed over time, so too did the assumptions and the agendas of the writers of the documents that we now have in the Bible.

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The F-word, the P-word, and bell hooks

In my academic writing, I speak often of feminism and patriarchy.  The terms are charged with emotion, as well as stereotypes.

A lot of people would embrace another f-word a lot faster than they would the label “feminist.”  They associate feminists with angry women who run around burning bras and fanning hatred of men.  In my Women and the Bible class, I’ve often asked students to draw their stereotypes of a feminist.  The pictures are not pretty.

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