Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Archive for October, 2008

The Radical Feminism of Deuteronomy?

Posted by NT Wrong on October 23, 2008

Have a look at the two versions of the “Do Not Covet” Commandment, which Exodus and Deuteronomy claim Yahweh gave to Moses and all Israel, at Mt. Sinai:

Exodus 20.17:

לֹא-תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָלֹא-תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ
You shall not covet your friend’s house. You shall not covet your friend’s wife, or his slave, or his maidservant, his cattle, or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your friend.”

Deuteronomy 5.21:

וְלֹא תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ  {ס}  וְלֹא תִתְאַוֶּה בֵּית רֵעֶךָ שָׂדֵהוּ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ שׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ
“And you shall not covet your friend’s wife. And you shall not desire your friend’s house, his field, or his slave, or his maidservant, his cattle, or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your friend.”

In a recent blog post, Claude Mariottini makes much of the change in order of the first two coveted items. The result of the change is that women are separated out from the property of their husbands. He rightly notes that Deuteronomy uses a different verb to describe the proscribed desire of a woman (hāmad חמד; cf. for the following property: ’āwāh אוה). This, claims Mariottini, constitutes “an important change of attitude toward the status of women in Israelite society.” He explains:

“The book of Deuteronomy’s revision of the Tenth Commandment separates the woman from a man’s property in order to give proper attention to the rights of the woman.
… I believe that the Deuteronomic sequence of “wife” and “house” is a radical shift in the view of the status of women in Israelite society. The Deuteronomic change reflects the increased concern for the status of women in Israelite society in the seventh century BCE and the recognition that women had legal rights as members of the covenant community.”

I have a couple of concerns with these conclusions:

1. Even if we accept that the change in order in Deut 5.21 is a conscious separation of women from a man’s property, and that it reflects some historical reality from some point in the history of Judea, is this really evidence of a “radical” shift in women’s status? We still have to ask: who are these coveting commandments being addressed to? They are addressed to males. Men are the the assumed addressees of at least this part of the covenant, even if women, aliens, and slaves are also included in the covenant elsewhere. That is, the assumed audience still comprises males, who are also addressed in the following sentence (in their normal capacity as property-holders). Although the word can have emotive connotations, it pays to remember that ‘Property’ is no more than ‘a bundle of rights’ that one person has over an object. But the word “property” does not appear in the Tenth Commandment. Instead, the verses talk generally about that which is “to your friend”. Given that the possessive “your” also appears with “friend’s wife”, couldn’t this also still include everything just listed in the verse, including “your friend’s wife”? Sure, there are different governing verbs for the wife and the other things, but the verbs are close similes. Moveover, and as a matter of realpolitik rather than the questionable use of imposed terms like “property”, is there any real evidence in Deut 5.21 that the bundle of rights that a Judean man had over his wife has been altered at all?

2. If the Deuteronomist’s changes result in some moral improvement, doesn’t this mean that the law delivered to Moses by Yahweh on Mt. Sinai (as recorded in Exodus) was morally inferior? Isn’t it a bit odd that “the recognition that women had legal rights as members of the covenant community” involves changing those very legal rights in order to recognise them? What does this mean for making laws today, if you accept that Yahweh made laws that “were not good” in the Bible? Isn’t there a continuing obligation to morally improve on Yahweh’s morally inferior laws? One obvious example, reflected in the Tenth Commandment, is the biblical law concerning slavery. The Bible never seriously challenges the morality of enslavement, only providing some minimal protection, and differentiating on the basis of race as between ‘Israelite’ and ‘non-Israelite’ slaves. Obviously, many modern nations have seen grounds for moral improvement to Yahweh’s laws here. How about, as a random example, the laws against same-sex relations? Are these morally inferior laws which should also be changed?

Update: Charles Halton, of Awilum, makes some further objections to Claude Mariottini’s approach. See his fine comment, in which he draws attenton to the need to separate out the views of the narrator from those of the characters, questions whether any cessation of marriage gifts would have effected a change in status for women, and questions the assumption that women were seen as equivalent ‘property’ with donkeys.

Posted in Gender, Justice, Pentateuch | 2 Comments »

Christmas Comes Early – From Margaret Barker

Posted by NT Wrong on October 23, 2008

Available from today, October 23, 2008, is Margaret Barker‘s latest book, Christmas: The Original Story. Margaret Barker is former President of the Society for Old Testament Study and author of a number of books on Enochic Judaism and the Jewish Temple.

“I’ll be interested to see how the public reacts to it, because, the Christmas story is something that’s got a lot of emotional capital tied up in it. I think if I were to write a radical book about Obadiah, no one would worry as much. But when you’re doing a Christmas story people [say], ‘oh hands off, that’s ours, don’t touch it’. But I hope I have set it in its real historical and cultural sense, so that people can glimpse maybe what the authors were really writing…”
— Margaret Barker

Margaret Barker discusses her new book in a taped conversation over lunch with William Hamblin. You can even watch Margaret Barker eating!

It is entirely coincidental that the date of release coincides with the date the world was created, as cleverly determined by Bishop Ussher.

Posted in Books, Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Jesus & Christ | 2 Comments »

I Have Risen!

Posted by NT Wrong on October 23, 2008

Yes, after three days and three nights* fighting Evil in the depths of Hades, I have arisen. I am pleased to announce that I have defeated Sin and Death and killed the Devil outright (I mean to say, why piss around with holding him captive for thousands of years, when I have the power to kill him now and end all the Evil and Suffering in the world?).

Now things will be much better here on Earth. Anybody who believes My Word (that there will be no more Evil and no more Death on Earth) gets eternal life! Just believe that all Evil and Death has ended. That’s all you have to do. Just believe it!! Do you have faith in what might otherwise appear to be a patently ridiculous proposition? Of course you do!

In order to confirm your faith (and salvation), please complete this quick poll:

* the three days and three nights were calculated using Hades Time, which — as every chthonic descender knows — is much quicker than Earth Time. You see, everything in My Word may be completely harmonized if you have enough faith and ingenuity.

Posted in Death, Divine Intermediaries, Evil, Faith | 1 Comment »

R.I.P., N.T. Wrong

Posted by NT Wrong on October 22, 2008

Posted in Biblioblogs | 11 Comments »

Old Testament Minimalism, Jesus Legends, Calvin & Hobbes – Thomas Verenna

Posted by NT Wrong on October 20, 2008

Historian Thomas Verenna (Friend of the Guild of Biblical Minimalists) commenced a blog on historiography and biblical literature in October 2008: The Musings of Thomas Verenna.

Thomas provides a review of Gary Rendsburg’s introduction to The Hebrew Bible: New Insights and Scholarship (ed. Frederick Greenspahn, 2007), describing Rendsburg’s attack on ‘minimalists’ as “no less than dishonest hyperbole and blanket ad hominem”.

He also defends a mythicist’s approach to the character ‘Jesus’ in the Gospels.

And he also provides this rather fine Calvin & Hobbes cartoon:

Posted in Biblioblogs, Historical Books, Historiography, Jesus & Christ | 24 Comments »

1 Enoch is in the Bible even Today

Posted by NT Wrong on October 20, 2008

1 Enoch is a part of the canon of scripture in both Judaism and Christianity today. That is, 1 Enoch is a part of the Bible for both Jews and Christians.

It is recognised in both the smaller and broader canons of the Christian Ethiopian Church.

It is considered canonical by Falasha Jews.

Some groups within Judaism and Christianity do not consider it biblical, however. These groups include Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jews, Karaites, Samaritans, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian Christians. By contrast, the citations of 1 Enoch before AD 200 in Christian documents all refer to the Enochian books as scripture.

Posted in Prophets | Comments Off on 1 Enoch is in the Bible even Today

Capitalism as Religion

Posted by NT Wrong on October 18, 2008

“A religion may be discerned in capitalism — that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments, and disturbances to which the so-called religions offered answers… In the first place, capitalism is a purely cultic religion, perhaps the most extreme that ever existed. In capitalism, things have a meaning only in their relationship to the cult; capitalism has no specific body of dogma, no theology. It is from this point of view that utilitarianism acquires its religious overtones. This concretization of cult is connected with a second feature of capitalism: the permanence of the cult. Capitalism is the celebration of a cult sans rêve et sans merci (without dream or mercy). There are no “weekdays.” There is no day that is not a feast day, in the terrible sense that all its sacred pomp is unfolded before us; each day commands the utter fealty of each worshipper. And third, the cult makes guilt pervasive. Capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement. In this respect, this religious system is caught up in the headlong rush of a larger movement. A vast sense of guilt that is unable to find relief seizes on the cult, not to atone for this guilt but to make it universal, to hammer it into the conscious mind, so as once and for all to include God in the system of guilt and thereby awaken in him an interest in the process of atonement. This atonement cannot then be expected from the cult itself, or from the reformation of this religion (which would need to be able to have recourse to some stable element in it), or even from the complete renouncement of this religion. The nature of the religious movement which is capitalism entails endurance right to the end, to the point where God, too, finally takes on the entire burden of guilt, to the point where the universe has been taken over by that despair which is actually its secret hope. Capitalism is entirely without precedent, in that it is a religion which offers not the reform of existence but its complete destruction. It is the expansion of despair, until despair becomes a religious state of the world in the hope that this will lead to salvation… The cult is celebrated before an unmatured deity; every idea, every conception of it offends against the secret of this immaturity.”
– Walter Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion” (1921)

Posted in Capitalism, Justice | 2 Comments »

Capitalism, Middle East Invasions, Resource Exploitation, advertised as ‘Civilized Christianity’ versus ‘Terrible Islam’ – 1922

Posted by NT Wrong on October 18, 2008

This is a remarkable cartoon, albeit tragically still in 2008.

From radical leftist cartoonist, Arthur Henry Young (in Michael Cohen, “‘Cartooning Capitalism’: Radical Cartooning and the Making of American Popular Radicalism in the Early Twentieth Century.” IRSH 52 (2007): 35-58, 45).

The violence intrinsic to Capitalism continues unabated, and will do so until it is forcibly overthrown.

(click for a larger picture)

Posted in Capitalism, Islam, Justice, Religion & Society, War | Comments Off on Capitalism, Middle East Invasions, Resource Exploitation, advertised as ‘Civilized Christianity’ versus ‘Terrible Islam’ – 1922

Q Was a Woman

Posted by NT Wrong on October 18, 2008

There are many factors in Q, a source for both Matthew and Luke, which point in the same direction:

    Why such an interest in the female God, the divine Sophia?

    Why is woman’s domestic work accorded equality with a man’s work (Luke 13.20-21; 12.26-27; 17.25)?

    Why is there such an interest in the salvation of women (Luke 17.35)?

    Why is Q so interested in protecting women from remarriage and divorce (Luke 16.16-18; 17.27)?

    Why the interest in flowers and in heralding all that blooms (Luke 12.27-28; 6.43-45)?

    Why is Q interested in itinerant prophets, given the prominent role of women as prophetesses in the earliest church (Luke 10.2ff; Luise Schottroff, ‘Itinerant Prophetesses’)?

    Why does Q remember so many words of Jesus containing domestic elements — salt that has lost its savour (Luke 14.34-35); children (10.21-24); lamps (11.33-35); washing cups (11.39-44); mixing flour until leavened (13.21)?

    Why does Q have such an interest in purses? eg “Make purses for yourselves” (Luke 12.33; cf. 10.4)?

Surely the answer must be: Q was a woman.

And if so, given the early date of Q (ca. AD 50), would we not expect a woman at the centre of Jesus’ circle of followers? Yes, Q was — in all probability — Mary Magdalene.

The earliest known Gospel was written by a woman. To those who protest that this is just a hypothesis, I ask: Why should we add to the centuries of suppression by male Evangelists of this Woman’s Gospel, penned by the foremost of the apostles who tradition records arrived first at the tomb? No, the Gospel of Mary, Q, must be given its rightful attribution — to the first of the Evangelists, a woman.

Posted in Gender, Gospels, Source & Redaction | 71 Comments »

New Movie Epic: Ba’al: The Storm God

Posted by NT Wrong on October 17, 2008

“A terminally ill archaeologist attempts to cure his cancer by retrieving the ancient amulets of the storm god Ba’al.”

Ba’al: The Storm God is a SciFi Channel special, not a general release. Of course, you just can’t control Ba’al, and so Ba’al ends up unleashing “the ultimate storm on earth.”

I see the tagline is “There’ll be Hell to Pay”. Surely “There’ll be ‘El to Pay” would’ve been more appropriate.

Posted in Films | 1 Comment »