God, Gender, and the Bible

God, Gender, and the Bible

God, Gender, and the Bible

God, Gender, and the Bible

Synopsis

Deborah Sawyer discusses this crucial yet unresolved question in the context of contemporary and postmodern ideas about gender and power, based on fresh examination of a number of texts from Hebrew and Christian scripture. Such texts offer striking parallels to contemporary gender theories (particularly those of Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler), which have unravelled given notions of power and constructed identity. Through the study of gender in terms of its application by biblical writers as a theological strategy, we can observe how these writers use female characters to undermine human masculinity, through their 'higher' intention to elevate the biblical God. God Gender and the Bible demonstrates that both maleness and femaleness are constructed in the light of divine omnipotence. Unlike many approaches to the Bible that offer hegemonist interpretations, such as those that are explicitly Christian or Jewish, or liberationist or feminist, this enlightening and readable study sustains and works with the inconsistencies evident in biblical literature.

Excerpt

In her collection of essays on sex and citizenship, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, Lauren Berlant asks this question, 'Are naïve infantile citizenship and paralysed cynical apathy the only positions a normal or moral American can assume?' (1997:29). On reading Berlant's book I was struck by how those two positions could be descriptive of contemporary attitudes to the Bible. Despite being the most prescriptive single text in the formation of western and colonial politics and culture, nowadays it is ignored by the majority who allow it no conscious impact on their lives. But for the minority for whom it remains their constant guide through life, it attracts total commitment in defiance of its primitive world-view and archaic laws. Furthermore, Berlant's term, 'infantile citizenship', resonates with the consistent imperative evident across the many and varied texts of Bible itself, and that is the call for childlike obedience in recognition of the omnipotence of the parent. In contrast to Berlant's study, in my analysis of citizenship within the theocracies of biblical imagination, God replaces George Washington as the benevolent patriarch and the boundaries of the nation are cosmic.

The motivation for this volume is of course a selfish one. Over many years of studying and teaching biblical texts my ambivalence towards them has grown rather than diminished, centring on the tension between a ruthless discourse on divine power and an alternative discourse that suggests a positive notion of human autonomy. This ambivalence has been creative in foregrounding for me the issue, or problem, of omnipotence, and in doing so, paradoxically, has suggested alternative models for resistance and power. The central thesis of this study is twofold: to expose and explore the uncompromising and radical nature of the biblical call to faith; and to uncover the inconsistencies that posit alternative stances that can be explicit, but are consistently inferred as counter-possibilities . . .

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