Biblical Poetry – Trees by Janet Maika’i Rudolph

Image from an Egyptian tomb ca. 1314-1200 BCE. Isis is giving nourishment in the form of fruit and drink,

In many cultures of the world, including our own, trees are considered the ancestors of humanity – own our ancestors.

Trees are connected with great goddesses throughout antiquity. We see this in the bible where, as I’ve noted before, the Tree of Life is Eve’s tree for the word Eve means life. It is, in essence, the Tree of Eve. Goddesses in trees feeding humans were common themes in ancient Middle Eastern art. The tree was Hers to give freely of as she wished.  

Anthropologist and religious scholar, Mircea Eliade writes extensively about the associations of trees ancestral connection to humans. He calls them both mystical and mythical.[1] His examples include the Miao groups of Southern China and Southeast Asia who “worship the bamboo as their ancestor.” He also notes Australian tribes who view the mimosa as their progenitor. And there is a tribe from Madagascar, called Antaivandrika which means “people of the tree,” who considered themselves descended from the banana tree.

Continue reading “Biblical Poetry – Trees by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”

Of an Anniversary, a Methodology and the Parshah Yitro by Ivy Helman.

This month’s blog post marks my 10-year anniversary writing for feminismandreligion.com (FAR) and my 122nd post.  I would just like to take a moment to acknowledge this milestone and thank the community for both its dialogue with me and support over these years.  I look forward to writing for FAR for years to come.

Speaking of dialogue and support, this post is structured in the form of an answer to Barbara Ardinger’s question on my last post.  She asked in what language I read Torah.  I found that intriguing.  To me, what I do is obvious.  Yet, for the reader, I have never explicitly walked through the steps of how I create these Torah commentaries.  In this walk-through, the reader is getting a rather unedited look into my process.

Continue reading “Of an Anniversary, a Methodology and the Parshah Yitro by Ivy Helman.”

Vayechi’s Take on Fertility, Women and Theodicy by Ivy Helman.

This week’s Torah portion is Vayechi, or Genesis 47:28-50:26.  It is the last part of the Joseph saga (For my thoughts on two other parshot relating to Joseph, see Mikeitz and Vayigash).  While there is much that could be said, there are three aspects of the parshah which I would like to concentrate on for this post: blessings being associated with fertility; verses 50:19-20’s troubling theodicy; and its women.

Let us begin with the last topic: women.  Women are mentioned four times in Vayechi.  Jacob recalls the burial of Rachel in verse 48:7.  Joseph’s beauty is such that women often look at him (49:22). The blessing that Jacob gives to Joseph includes the blessings of both mother and father (49:25-26).  At present, I will focus my commentary on Jacob’s request for burial, the fourth mention of women in this parshah.

Continue reading “Vayechi’s Take on Fertility, Women and Theodicy by Ivy Helman.”

Heart Vibration: Biblical Poetry by Janet MaiKa’i Rudolph

My inspiration for biblical verses this month comes from the lovely and soulful translations of Rabbi Yael Levy in her book Journey through the Wilderness (subtitled: A Mindfulness Approach to the Ancient Jewish Practice of Counting the Omer). She has given me permission to quote her translations (thank you!). I use 2 of her verses in this blogpost.

One of her translations aspects I found most fascinating is that of YHVH (LORD in the bible). She uses Mystery. I have used Mother/Father Creator, and more lately, Vibration.Being. I love her usage. It taps into the magic that YHVH is the ultimate Mystery of all creation. These beautiful translations are meaningful, differing, yet connected aspects of the holy name. These prism-like views come together to make an even more exquisite truth.  

For today’s blogpost my main focus is on several verses from Psalm 119. It is poetry which talks about the heart and chesed, or in English, lovingkindness.

Continue reading “Heart Vibration: Biblical Poetry by Janet MaiKa’i Rudolph”

Biblical Poetry, 5th Installment

This is the 5th in a series of work I have been doing to translate passages of the bible into poetry that strips out the patriarchal overlays. You can read the previous posts.

In this installment I am grouping together some passages that deal with vibrational energy and its role in creation. We humans often express sacred vibration as song or chant. When we get into the vibrational flow they are truly uplifting. In the translations below, I have kept two of the words in Hebrew because of their wonderful vibrational essences:

Continue reading “Biblical Poetry, 5th Installment”

On Devarim: From a Feminist Perspective Problematic, but not Irredeemable by Ivy Helman

This week’s Torah portion is Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22).  In it, the Isrealites are preparing to enter the Promised Land, as the last of the sinful generation have died.  Most of the parshah consists of Moses recalling the divinely sanctioned wars they undertook and the mass murder they committed in order to possess the land.   

Needless to say, this emphasis on war is difficult from a feminist perspective. Starhawk argues, in “Why We Need Women’s Actions and Feminist Voices for Peace,” that, “Patriarchy finds its ultimate expression in war.” In other words, a parshah ripe with war is ripe with patriarchy.

Yet, it is more problematic than that. The deity is understood to be a warrior as are the Israelites. Verses 1:30 reads, “The L-rd, your G-d, Who goes before you… will fight for you, just as G-d did for you in Egypt before your very eyes.” In addition, this warrior mentality requires the Israelites to fight as well. G-d hardens the hearts of Sihon which requires the Israelites to fight (1:27). Thus, war and mass murder become divinely sanctioned methods which G-d and the Israelites use to further the sacred promise of the Land.

Continue reading “On Devarim: From a Feminist Perspective Problematic, but not Irredeemable by Ivy Helman”

Biblical Poetry, Continued by Janet Maika’i Rudolph

This is the 4th in a series of work I have been doing to translate passages of the bible into poetry that strips out the patriarchal overlays. You can read the previous ones here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

In this installment I have picked out some passages I really like but that I feel their power and beauty have been deeply hidden. I seek to reveal those hidden wisdoms.

To review; my usage of the 2 main names of divinity:

YHVH or LORD, I translate as Vibration.Being

EL or god, I translate as All-Potential Powers.

I discuss my reasons for these translations in my prior posts referenced above.

Genesis 3:6

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
 and that it was pleasant to the eyes,
and a tree to be desired to make one wise,
she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat,
and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
KJV (King James Version)

and the woman saw that the function of the tree
is for nourishment and that he is yearning to the eyes
and the tree was a craving to make calculations
and she took from his produce and she ate
and she gave also to the man with her and he ate
Benner Mechanical Translation[i]

When the woman saw the tree, she recognized herself
She recognized and remembered beauty and wisdom
She took its seeds within her in knowing wholeness
She gifted its seeds to her husband in knowing wholeness
MPV (Mystic Pagan Version – my own translations)

Note for Genesis 3:6 – the word for “food” in the KJV version of this passage is “maakal” (Strong’s 3978). The word used for to eat is “akal” (Strong’s 398). Both are built on the root word “kl” which means complete or whole and traditionally refers to how food or nourishment makes us whole.[ii] I would add that in the context of spirit, it is that essence or element that we fill ourselves with to achieve a sense of wholeness.  

Genesis 49:25

Even by the God of thy father,
who shall help thee;
and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that lieth under,
blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:
KJV

from the mighty one of your father,
he will help you,
and with Shaddai [my breasts] he will respect you,
presents of the sky from upon
the presents of the deep sea stretching our underneath
presents of the breasts and bowels.
Benner

The All-Potential Powers of your ancestors
Who watches compassionately over you
With nourishment from the dripping milk of the cosmos
And blessings from the misty cauldrons of the goddess Tiamat
Blessings of the breast, and the loving womb
MPV

Notes on Genesis 49:25: this passage had to have been a very old pre-biblical blessing. We don’t often see blessings that are clearly given by female divinity figures, or in this case, a divinity that has breasts and womb. Even in the conservative, male-centric King James Version the blessing is of the breast and the womb. The word for breasts is “shad.” To take this theme a step further, the phrase El Shaddai or Shaddai appears 48 times in the Bible. In English, El Shaddai is usually translated as “God Almighty” and Shaddai as “Almighty.” Sometimes they are translated as “God, the One of the Mountain.”[iii] Both are almost always referred to in scholarly discussions with the pronoun “he.” 

I have put the following two passages together because they speak to the same theme. One is a Psalm and the other a Proverb. I really like them because they both speak to the condition of our hearts. As some of you know I am an alaka’i of Aloha International. That is a spiritual guide of Huna or Hawaiian Adventure Shamanism. I love the lessons of Huna which foremost and foundationally remind us to keep a loving and open heart. Aloha not only means hello and good-bye, it means “the breath [ha] we all share,” and it means LOVE. Picture this, the Hawaiian people greet and part from each other which a statement of connection and love. The first principle of Huna is “the world is what you think it is.” The lesson behind this is that what is in our hearts will shape our experiences and ultimately our world. I believe that this is the lesson behind these biblical passages. (I have also included the New International Version for Proverb 4:23 because I think it is particularly beautiful.)

Psalm 37:4

Delight thyself also in the LORD;
and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
KJV

Cherish thyself in harmony with Vibration.Being
And gifts will be returned as per the radiance of thy heart.
MPV 

Proverbs 4:23

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life. 
KJV

Above all else, guard your heart,
For everything you do flows from it.
 (New International Version)

Treasure your heart in lovingkindness,
For it is the wellspring of your life.

MPV 


[i] https://www.ancient-hebrew.org

[ii] Benner, Lexicon; 146-147.

[iii] The Jewish Study Bible; 37.

Bio

Janet Maika’i Rudolph. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUEST.” I have walked the spirit path for over 25 years traveling to sacred sites around the world including Israel to do an Ulpan (Hebrew language studies while working on a Kibbutz), Eleusis and Delphi in Greece, Avebury and Glastonbury in England, Brodgar in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Giza in Egypt. Within these travels, I have participated in numerous shamanic rites and rituals, attended a mystery school based on the ancient Greek model, and studied with shamans around the world. I am twice initiated. The first as a shaman practitioner of a pathway known as Divine Humanity. The second ordination in 2016 was as an Alaka’i (a Hawaiian spiritual guide with Aloha International). I have written three books: When Moses Was a ShamanWhen Eve Was a Goddess, (now available in Spanish, Cuando Eva era una Diosa), and One Gods. In Ardor and Adventure, Janet.now available in Spanish. Cuando Eva era una Diosa

Breathing Life into the Women of Chayei Sarah by Ivy Helman.

One of the basic tenants of feminist methodology in religion is the recovery of women’s history.   There are many ways to approach such a task.  In religions with sacred writings, one avenue for recovery may be reinterpreting them.  This could come in the form of a critique.  For example, traditional interpretations may overlook or undervalue women, who appear in the text, reaffirm sexist, patronizing, and/or misogynist viewpoints already found in the text, or develop new ones.  In order to recover women’s history, feminists working with their sacred texts would then call out these interpretations for their sexism.  They would correct phrasing, understanding, and even translations, when necessary.   

In addition to critiquing, feminist interpretations of scripture could also be constructive.  Religious feminists may highlight values, teachings, and images that affirm women’s lives.   They may incorporate documented history into their interpretations as proof of expanded roles for women.  That would then contextualize or negate later traditions that deny women such roles.  

Continue reading “Breathing Life into the Women of Chayei Sarah by Ivy Helman.”

Ruminations on Emor by Ivy Helman

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThis week’s Torah portion is Emor, or Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23.  It details purity and the priesthood including whose funeral a priest can attend, who can marry a priest, bodily blemishes and temple services, and under what circumstances daughters of priests can still eat temple food.  Emor also discusses the treatment of animals. A baby animal must be 7 days old before it can be sacrificed and cannot be killed the same day as its mother. In addition, the parshah describes the holiday calendar, including the counting of the Omer, how to harvest fields, and what type of oil should be used in the Temple’s Menorah.  Finally, it outlines punishments for various crimes including blasphemy and murder.

To say that there is a lot there would be an understatement.  In fact, a good question about this parshah is where does one begin?  An obvious place would be the mention of the named woman, Shelomit bat Dibri of the tribe of Dan, almost at the end of the parshah.  First, it is remarkable that a woman has been named and more so that her name has been remembered as significant. It begs the question of who was she?  Why remember her name? Why mention her at all? The discussion about her son’s crimes could easily not have needed any mention of her name! So why is it there? Continue reading “Ruminations on Emor by Ivy Helman”

Shariah is not a Law by Esther Nelson

I will never forget the day Nasr Abu Zaid (1943-2010), an Islamic Studies scholar and teacher extraordinaire, told me, “Shariah is not a law.”  In spite of his assertion, many people—both Muslims and non-Muslims—are convinced that Shariah is synonymous with archaic legal rulings that are at odds with democracy and modernity.

 

What is Shariah, then, if not a law?  When we see or hear the word Shariah, the word “Law” almost always follows.  Shariah literally means a path—a well-trodden path such as animals use on their way to a watering hole.  Shariah, then, can be understood as something that when embraced has potential to give life and sustenance.

 

Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel circa 600 C.E.  That revelation—Muslims believe it to be God’s actual speech—took place over a period of approximately twenty-one years. The Qur’an contains Shariah (path) in the form of information, narrative, and poetry.  Since Shariah is essentially a path that leads to life, the critical question centers on how Shariah can be appropriated, leading us to the water that sustains.

Continue reading “Shariah is not a Law by Esther Nelson”

Divine Physics: A Poetic Reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:14 by Lori Stewart

lori-stewart

Ecclesiastes 3:14 – I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all that should stand in awe before him. 

Nothing can be added or
taken away…
… then why does it feel like everything is lost?

You haul away the bodies while
we watch
— linking arms
— standing fast
against the tide of
grief that churns until
we can find
a distraction that makes us believe
life will return to
normal

Nothing can be added or
taken away, you say…
Really?
You take away innocence at
the marketplace
— the prices vary by age
— virgins to the highest bidder
Surely, El-roi, you see
— the pain
— the suffering Continue reading “Divine Physics: A Poetic Reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:14 by Lori Stewart”

The Dog and the Divine by Ivy Helman

20151004_161012When I was in high school, I once gave a speech summarizing what I had learned about G-d through my dog.  I still chuckle at the idea.  I cringe sometimes and wonder what others thought of the piece.  Oh, the seeming immaturity of such an idea and perhaps naiveté.  I’m still embarrassed by my high school self.

The connection, on which I drew, included some of the ways I had come to love my four-legged friend as well as the way I interpreted his actions as love for me.  I remember I had a list of ten things my dog had taught me about the divine.  There was definitely a mention of unconditional love, being happy to see me, probably something about not being angry or ever holding a grudge, sharing secrets, perhaps a lesson on patience, and, of course, many more which I can’t remember.  This is beginning to sound like my blog post about Hanukkah, isn’t it? What were the other two nights?  What were the other six comparisons?  Oh, never mind. Continue reading “The Dog and the Divine by Ivy Helman”

Garden of Eden Retold by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

Trelawney bio picture

Today, I came up with a less patriarchal Garden of Eden story:

Endelyn (age 7): “When I think of my soul, in my name “fire-soul,” I think of a powerful wind.”

Me: “That makes sense, since one of the names in the Bible for God/ess is Ruach, which means “breath” or “wind”, but we call it the Holy Spirit. God/ess is also symbolized by the other elements: fire, air, and earth – like when she shaped Eve and Adam out of clay.”

Endelyn, “What? I don’t remember that story.”

Me: “Oh, ok, I’ll tell you.” ……

Here’s the part where I froze momentarily, thinking “how can I tell my children that misogynist failed mentor story? how? how?” <deep breath>
Continue reading “Garden of Eden Retold by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”

Plato’s Diotima as a Symptom of Psychosis by Stuart Dean

Stuart WordPress photoAs I mentioned in my January 30, 2016 post, Grace Jantzen in Foundations of Violence makes a compelling case that Diotima is a fictional figure.  She does not, however, adequately distinguish her from the poetizing female figures Parmenides and Boethius portray as instructing them in their respective works.  If nothing else, the quality of the poetry of Parmenides and Boethius betrays the influence of a very real woman: Sappho.

By contrast, Plato essentially portrays Diotima as the personification of his philosophy–his metaphysics–and it is hard to believe there was such an ancient Greek woman.  Although the term ‘metaphysics’ derives from a neologism coined in Greek centuries after Plato and Aristotle lived, its meaning (‘beyond’ (meta) the ‘natural,’ or ‘embodied’ world (physics)) appropriately characterizes what Diotima and hence Plato’s philosophy is all about.  A key passage is where she characterizes the most intense love as “gazing at and being with” the beloved, without even the need to “eat or drink.”  That leads her to ask rhetorically whether it would not be best to gaze at what is not “infected” by flesh and blood (Symposium (211 d-e)).

Philosophy, Albrecht Dürer (1502)(Die Bayerische Staatsbiliothek)
Philosophy, Albrecht Dürer (1502)(Die Bayerische Staatsbiliothek)

Continue reading “Plato’s Diotima as a Symptom of Psychosis by Stuart Dean”

Caroline Schelling’s 4th Letter by Stuart Dean

Caroline Schelling

Caroline Schelling (‘Caroline’) wrote the fourth letter of hers that survives (the ‘4th Letter’) on October 7, 1778, shortly after she had turned 15, to a girl she met at boarding school who was to become her lifelong friend (Luise).  The intensity of her friendship with Luise is evident already in the 4th Letter, for she tells Luise that in writing to her she “portrays her entire soul.”  What prompted such depth of feeling for this letter relates not just to a significant moment in Caroline’s life but in every person’s life.  In the second paragraph she refers to what was most likely her first sexual relationship.  Given that context, Caroline demonstrates remarkable emotional maturity and intellectual sophistication in how she expresses herself.

She begins by referring to the “sensations of my heart,” telling Luise how she struggles to find “adequate words” to express them.  She is not, she proudly insists, an “enthusiast” who simply gives into feelings, insisting instead on the importance of “going over” (Überlegung) them herself.  Though Caroline was not taught Latin, it seems as if she had been taught the relevance to German of a Latin treatise from the 4th century CE on the method for defining words.  Caroline’s ‘going over’ her feelings before writing Luise is consistent with its methodology: first, to confront the question of whether something even exists (an sit, Existenz) and then determining, to the extent possible, what it is (quid sit, Wesen) and what its qualities are (quale sit, Eigenschaften)–i.e., its relationship to other words (grammar) and hence how it can be communicated.  

This methodology, which is applicable to a wide range of disciplines (e.g., legal argumentation, psychiatric diagnosis), is also analogous to a language theory Charles Segal argued is implicit in what remains of the writings of the 5th century BCE Sicilian Gorgias, a theory Segal related to Sappho’s poetry.  That is relevant, because given the failed sexual relationship about which Caroline writes to Luise, the 4th Letter bears comparison to two poems by Sappho (S. 31 and S. 1) that Caroline surely then knew in translation.  Caroline’s “sensations of my heart” is directly comparable to the palpitations of the heart Sappho refers to in the second stanza of S. 31.  The immediate effects are comparable; Sappho cannot speak and Caroline cannot find “adequate words.”  Though S. 31 appears to break off, S. 1 can be read as a continuation of it.  There Sappho prays for divine intervention (Aphrodite) to deal with a failed sexual relationship; the closing prayer of its final stanza is analogous to the last sentence of the 4th Letter’s first paragraph: “Lord, you who know my heart . . . fulfill no wishes that are not pleasing to you, I am depending on you!” 

In each case it would seem the answer is anticipated to be one that is not heard or read but rather felt in the heart, intuitively understood as the center point of all bodily feelings.  That would be not an abstraction from the senses but an inward intensification of them.  Such intensification becomes the basis for its outward expression not just in words, but in all forms of art.  

Caroline grew up during a time of renewed interest in ancient Greek art and particularly nude sculpture, which rightly can be taken to symbolize the belief in the sacredness of the entire human body (a belief that correlates with heart centeredness).  It is notable that the floruit of such sculpture predates Plato by almost a century and quite literally embodies principles utterly antithetical to his philosophy.  It is also analogous to another art form that predates him and that he disparaged: reciting poetry (whether or not incorporated into a theatrical production).  Poetic recitation requires fully identifying with the poet and poem to such a degree that it can be thought of as internalized sculpting.

The principles underlying sculpture and recitation are thus similar and of general applicability.  Caroline, who enjoyed (and was appreciated for) reciting poetry, makes the point in a review she wrote of a book of essays on artistic appreciation (the “Review”).  To judge art, she says, it is necessary to penetrate “deeply into the meaning and sensibility of both it and its initiator . . . surrendering oneself in quiet reflection to a disposition of loving, receptive observation . . . [to be] transpose[d] . . . into the world of the poet or artist.”  She defends the book’s use of a fictional friar to voice religious reverence for art, effectively equating artistic appreciation with religious devotion, since it is only from feeling the divine within (i.e., internalizing god as the artist) that the divine outside is to be understood.   

This was not something new for Caroline, as is evident from the 4th Letter that was written nearly twenty years before the Review.  Not only does she seem to have internalized Sappho, but the opening line of S. 31 (a man, “equal to the gods”) and the closing line of S. 1 (“my comrade,” the goddess) arguably encouraged her transition in the 4th Letter’s first paragraph from describing her feelings to Luise (psychology) to praying to God (theology).  That transition anticipates the identification of psychology with theology Caroline articulates in the Review.  

The remote antiquity of this identification and its association with goddess worship to which Sappho attests, as well as the recognition of it by Caroline at such a young age deserve attention, for it has quite a history, especially in German culture.  Goethe quoted two lines of a 1st century CE Latin poem on astrology that essentially echo it in the guestbook atop Mount Brocken on September 4, 1784: who is able to know heaven except by a gift from heaven, who finds god unless a part of the gods is within them.  It is not known when Caroline met Goethe; it has been speculated that he was the father of her first daughter, Auguste, born April 28, 1785.  In August 1784 Caroline was living in a mining town not far from Brocken.

The opening paragraph of an essay published by Caroline’s third husband in 1809, only months before her death, contains a reference to the principle of knowing the god outside from the god within, correctly noting that its connection with Empedocles proves it predates Plato.  In 1936 Heidegger characterized that essay as “one of the most profound works” of Western philosophy.  In my next post(s) I hope to show that its profundity relates to a critique of Plato (and other philosophers) that derives from Caroline and her appreciation of ancient Greek female spirituality, and not to glorifying supermen.

Stuart WordPress photoStuart Dean has a B.A. (Tulane, 1976) and J.D. (Cornell, 1995) and is currently an independent researcher and writer living in New York City.  He has studied, practiced and taught Tai Chi, Yoga and related disciplines for over forty years.  Stuart has a blog on Sappho and the implications of her poetry for understanding the past, present and future: http://studysappho.blogspot.com/

Feminist Interpretations by Elise Edwards

Elise EdwardsI’ve written a few posts recently referencing biblical themes or stories. I’m not a biblical studies scholar; I’m an ethicist and theologian. So I know that ways I use the texts disturb some people who study them from a historical or biblical studies perspective. To say I don’t use the Bible as those scholars do, though, doesn’t mean I don’t have a disciplined approach. I aim to apply a consistent approach to scripture and to encourage my students to do the same.

I get really annoyed when someone proclaims a variation of “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it!” in moral debates. Obviously, people within a religious tradition are going to believe there is truth in the scriptures of their tradition. That’s simply how scripture functions. So I’m okay with “I believe it.” I have a problem with the two other parts of the statement – the Bible says it, and that settles it. The assertion that “the Bible says it” masks the task of interpretation that anyone encountering a text takes on. The statement “that settles it,” when adopted in moral debate, rejects the accountability and humility in sharing our interpretations with others. Continue reading “Feminist Interpretations by Elise Edwards”

“Dear Terrorist: Keep Up the Good Work” Said NO ONE by Valentina Khan

Valentina KhanHow much longer do I as a Muslim American female, have to deal with the “gang-buster,” terrorizing, “Satan” worshipers high-jacking my faith for the sake of trying to supposedly ‘preserve’ it? Who are these wackos and why do they seem to represent my faith in mainstream media? Where did they all come from? Which terrorist schools have they all graduated from and what truly is their agenda?

I don’t know how else to say it- I’m so disgusted and fed up by the heinous acts of the terrorist mentality coming from what appear to be Muslim males– who really knows? ISIS, for example, with their masked individuals carrying out barbaric crimes could actually be another race or religion for all I know. Regardless, as a female, I want nothing to do with them. As an American, I want to go to war with them. As a Westerner, I want to hide in my Orange County bubble and only watch Bravo TV- just to get dumb and numb to the problems- and turn a deaf ear and blind eye to world events on the news.

However, as a Muslim my heart aches. My body trembles and my mind is terribly puzzled. How can all these awful events happening around the world come from people who claim to be Muslim, as I am? Didn’t they grow up reading the Prophet’s Last Sermon, as I did? Did they miss something? Did I miss something? Why are murder, beheading, and stoning things to be prideful about on social media? Why are they playing God and taking the lives of others in the name of a higher power? Why are they casting judgment on cultures and people when really they should start healthy dialogues in order to resolve differences of ideologies from one socio-cultural context to the next? Unfortunately, lunatic terrorists with apparently nothing positive going on their lives feel that their suicidal guerrilla warfare style of killing to avenge their faith is the ticket to authentic belief and entrance into heaven! Continue reading ““Dear Terrorist: Keep Up the Good Work” Said NO ONE by Valentina Khan”

ISIS and the Larger Muslim Crisis by Hanadi Riyad

Hanadi Riyad croppedIt is heartening to hear the many condemnations Muslim scholars have issued of ISIS and its methods and actions. One of the latest attempts comes in the form of an open letter addressed by a coalition of one hundred and twenty six Muslim “scholars” from across the world to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and ISIS followers and supporters. The seventeen page letter is one of the most detailed responses to ISIS I have read. However, just like other responses, it fell short of my expectations as a Muslim woman. I checked the list of the signatories and I could not find any women amongst them.

I am saddened to note that the authors of the letter fall into the same mistake they accuse ISIS of: they quote some Quraanic verses and Hadiths selectively, out of context, and portray them as sufficient rebuttal against ISIS actions, never mind the sources, verses, and Hadiths ISIS has been quoting just as selectively to justify its crimes. The letter explains about the methodology of Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh) that it stipulates “to consider everything that has been revealed relating to a particular question in its entirety, without depending on only parts of it, and then to judge if one is qualified based on all available scriptural sources.” There’s no explicit logical explanation for why the parts of the scripture and interpretations quoted by the writers of the letter should be given precedence over the ones quoted by ISIS.

The implicit reason, however, resides in the authors’ assertion of their authority as Sunni “scholars”  and their opinion as “a scholarly opinion.” We should take their word because they have the authority that ISIS does not. The assumption that ISIS cannot count amongst its ranks scholars is neither explained nor defended. The doctrinal connection between ISIS and Wahhabi ideology upheld by many Saudi scholars – like ibn Baz and his disciples— goes unacknowledged. Continue reading “ISIS and the Larger Muslim Crisis by Hanadi Riyad”

Painting Tiamat/Tehom by Angela Yarber

angelaToday I am honored to give a lecture on “Queering Iconography: Holy Women Icons from Sappho to Pauli Murray” at the North Star LGBT Center in Winston-Salem, NC. So, I want to continue the theme of featuring some of my queer Holy Women Icons. Joining Virginia Woolf , the Shulamite, Mary Daly, Baby Suggs, Pachamama and Gaia, Frida Kahlo, Salome, Guadalupe and Mary, Fatima, Sojourner Truth, Saraswati, Jarena Lee, Isadora Duncan, Miriam, Lilith, Georgia O’Keeffe, Guanyin, Dorothy Day, Sappho, Jephthah’s daughter, Anna Julia Cooper, the Holy Woman Icon archetype, Maya Angelou, Martha Graham, Pauli Murray, La Negrita, and all my other Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist is the often overlooked and misunderstood primordial goddess of creation: tehom.

In Genesis 1 we read, “In beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” It is the creation narrative held dear, formative, and meaningful for countless Jews and Christians. Interestingly, this word, deep, in Hebrew is tehom. Tehom translates as “deep or depths,” but it’s also a cognate for Tiamat, a Babylonian Goddess of creation. Out of the face of the deep, the world begins. Out of tehom, God creates. Out of Tiamat, the earth comes into being. This dancing Babylonian goddess syncretistically intermingles with the creation myth so pivotal to the faith of Christians and Jews in a way that could be terrifying, or beautiful, or—like the chaotic body of Tiamat that brings the world into being—both. Continue reading “Painting Tiamat/Tehom by Angela Yarber”

The Declaration of Independence: A Misogynistic Mash-up of Greek Philosophy and Roman Law

Stuart WordPress photoRegardless of political identity in America there seems to be an almost religious reverence for the Declaration of Independence (DI).  By far the most quoted sentence from it is the one that begins “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Though it is hardly ‘self-evident,’ the history behind the words in these two clauses betrays the fact that they constitute a misogynistic mash-up of Greek philosophy and Roman law.

First, the Greek philosophy in the first clause.  Precisely because of how often this portion of the DI is quoted (perhaps most memorably by Martin Luther King), the idea that there are ‘truths’ that are ‘self-evident’ may seem–self-evident.  From the perspective of the history of Greek philosophy, however, such an idea is as problematic as it is peculiar and for that very reason can reliably be traced back to one source: Plato.  The most likely direct source is the introductory section of an ancient Platonic commentary on Greek mathematical methodology.

Though relatively obscure today, it was a much admired work in the Renaissance and for a few centuries thereafter, influencing a wide range of disciplines, including law.  As a consequence of that influence law was conceptualized more geometrico (in a geometric manner), with legal documents drafted (as they often still are today) with a list of ‘defined’ terms first followed by the propositions to which they relate.  Similarly, judicial decisions still slavishly follow a quasi-mathematical methodology, ‘applying’ law to the ‘facts’ of the case, as if plugging numbers into an equation, with everything set out in a sequence of paragraphs identified by a combination of Roman numerals and arabic letters (‘as applied’ in Hobby Lobby (see the majority’s penultimate paragraph)). Continue reading “The Declaration of Independence: A Misogynistic Mash-up of Greek Philosophy and Roman Law”

Whose Sharia Is It? by Kecia Ali

dissertation, Advising, feminism and religionIt has been a lousy month for Islamic law.

First, there was the kidnapping and threatened sale of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram, which claimed religious acceptability for their acts. As Muslim theologian Jerusha Lamptey opined, this is not my sharia.

Then, the Sultan of Brunei’s horrific new penal code came into effect. Unlike the Nigerian girls, where a social media campaign garnered White House attention, the Brunei law gained visibility because the Sultan–who is dictating law that his track record suggests he does not observe–indirectly owns the famous Beverly Hills Hotel. Hollywood figures have objected to the rules, due to come into effect next year, which would punish proven male-male anal sex with death. (As far as I know, the code does not prescribe any particular punishment for lesbian acts, though the rhetoric has become that the new law prescribes “stoning gays and lesbians.”)

Claims like that of the Sultan or Boko Haram that “Islam” demands implementation of “sharia” ignore the complex reality in which there is not now nor has there ever been a uniform set of identifiable rules that Muslim scholars have agreed on much less that governments in Muslim majority countries have implemented over the centuries. As I wrote elsewhere, so-called sharia laws on the books in Brunei, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Morocco are not directly revealed by God. They are human products with human histories negotiated in human contexts. The pretense that these laws are straightforward implementations of God’s will not only serves to justify these otherwise unjustifiable rules but also feeds the demonization and dehumanization of Muslims. Though happening on two continents and perpetrated by two quite distinct sorts of actors – a multibillionaire monarch enmeshed in global capitalism and a militant anti-Western, anti-government insurgency – the Nigerian kidnapping and the Brunei law became exhibits A and B for the vilification of sharia. Continue reading “Whose Sharia Is It? by Kecia Ali”

The Physician Luke, the Virgin Mary and the Poet Sappho by Stuart Dean

Stuart WordPress photoSince my last contribution to Feminism and Religion my interest in Sappho and her influence has led me to a detailed analysis of Luke 1:27-45 (hereafter, the “Conception Story”).  I want to share two observations from that analysis that I think will be of interest to readers of this blog.  Both relate to the generally agreed upon fact that Luke was a physician and in particular to knowledge he can be assumed to have had of female anatomy based on evidence from approximately contemporaneous sources.

My first observation relates to the fact that Luke lived during a time when the existence of ovaries in women had only recently been discovered and their function correctly understood.  While this had obvious implications for Greek medical theory, it would appear to have affected how Luke himself interpreted the source material he had for the Conception Story and hence how he told that story.  My second observation, based on what is known of Greek gynecology, is that Luke would have correctly understood that although as a medical term ‘virginity’ does refer to the physical fact that sexual intercourse has not occurred, it does not necessarily or even often have an anatomical meaning.  That observation leads directly to investigating whether ‘virgin’ as used by Luke may have a primarily metaphysical rather than physical meaning.

Though in general the ‘glory days’ of Classical Greece belonged to the centuries well before Luke’s time, that is not true of Greek medicine.  Notwithstanding promising origins in a sexual egalitarianism that was in principle consistent with modern medicine, Greek medicine regressed substantially with Aristotle, who introduced the notion that the male’s contribution to reproduction was the active one and the female’s merely the passive provision of the material for its success.  Not only did Aristotle not know of ovaries, even after their discovery it is far from clear when exactly their function was fully understood (the best evidence is about a half century after Luke).  Once that happened, however, Greek medicine moved back towards the sexual egalitarianism of its origins (the ‘two seed theory’ of reproduction), repudiating Aristotle’s theory (the ‘single seed theory’ of reproduction). Continue reading “The Physician Luke, the Virgin Mary and the Poet Sappho by Stuart Dean”

Dr. Debbie Downer Discourses on the Lives of Early Pious and Sufi Women by Laury Silvers

Silvers, Bio Pic FRBlogI’ve been called a downer because I take what seems like a jaundiced perspective on the early history of pious and Sufi women. There is a tendency in some scholarship, and nearly all contemporary popular treatments of these women’s lives, to over-focus on the positive. They fasten to aspects of their lives that we (post) moderns regard as “positive” or even “liberating,” while ignoring what we find less attractive or troubling. For them, these treatments tell a story of a lost tradition of feminine and egalitarian spirituality representing a golden period that we only need to reclaim to overcome the present state of sexist affairs in our religion. I know these kinds of stories work for women, or they would not keep retelling them. But they don’t work for me. Continue reading “Dr. Debbie Downer Discourses on the Lives of Early Pious and Sufi Women by Laury Silvers”

Give Away All That You Have, and Then You Shall Receive…by Natalie Kertes Weaver

Natalie WeaverOne of the loudest refrains I perceive in the Bible is the message that good spirituality means giving everything away.  It is a radical concept that begins in an obvious way with material things, especially those that we have in excess.  The wisdom here is not too difficult for me to grasp: one cannot meet the Lord if s/he is wrapped up in the routines of acquisition and hoarding.    

But, this is only the beginning.  The teaching reaches down much deeper than the critique of riches and speaks in some totalizing fashion to the very essence of personal being.  It seems to say to me that good spirituality involves letting the self be so entirely poured out of the ordinary instincts and behaviors of self-consciousness and self-preservation, of the self qua self, that it is capable of receiving the inpouring of God’s wisdom and light.  

Put another way, the self has to condition itself to receive that which is genuinely extrinsic, that which is outside itself, and that encounter cannot occur so long as one is self-absorbed.  This insight, of course, is not exclusively biblical or Christian.  Indeed, it is perhaps the most common point of agreement among all the great spiritual traditions. Continue reading “Give Away All That You Have, and Then You Shall Receive…by Natalie Kertes Weaver”

Jesus, the Woman at the Well, and the Meaning of ‘Man’ by Stuart Dean

 Stuart WordPress photoThe story in the Gospel of John of the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman (hereafter, ‘the Samaritan’) at Jacob’s well (4:7-29) has attracted considerable scholarly attention.  For an overview of some of the interpretive issues raised by it there is a video of a conversation about it between H. W. Attridge and D. L. Bartlett of Yale Divinity School available on Youtube here.  I intend to focus primarily on only four verses, John 4:16-19.

Here is my translation (the underlying Greek and links to interpretive resources can be found here):

16 [Jesus] said: “go tell your ‘man’ and come back here.”
17 The Samaritan answered, “I do not have a ‘man.”’ Jesus said to her “Beautifully you said ‘I do not have a man.’
18 You have had five ‘men,’ and the one whom you have now is not your ‘man.’  You spoke truthfully.”
19 The Samaritan said to him: “Sir, I see you are a wise listener.”

My translation is intended to bring out what I take to be a play on the meaning of the underlying Greek word for man.  Before I explain exactly what the play on meaning is about I want to justify the assumption that there is some sort of play in the first place. Some have argued that the reference to the bride and bridegroom at John 3:29 foreshadows the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan as a spiritual wedding.  The theme of a spiritual wedding is arguably also foreshadowed in how John starts the book itself, for ‘beginning’ is a feminine noun in Greek and ‘word’ is masculine, making ‘in the beginning was the word’ sexually symbolic; that, in turn, suggests that the well before which Jesus and the Samaritan stand, or the water in it, symbolizes God, or at least the spirit of God. Continue reading “Jesus, the Woman at the Well, and the Meaning of ‘Man’ by Stuart Dean”

On Reading, Not Reading, and Disagreeing by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadThe theology blogosphere in all its glory has been alive in recent days with furor sparked by a blog post from Janice Rees at Women In Theology, where she discusses not reading Karl Barth, the heavyweight German 20th-century Protestant theologian, as an act of resistance against his dominance in the theological academy and his status as a litmus test for serious scholarship. Reminding myself repeatedly of the great xkcd comic, I’ve resisted my urge to comment on this and a number of other recent debates. (See here for a list of links if you wish to catch up on the discussion, however.) So this is not a post on whether to read Karl Barth.* Rather, the debate made me take a look at some of my own reading practices, and the visions of theological discussion that they encode. It also brought me back to the question of feminist disagreement, which continues to lurk in the back of my mind as I pursue disagreements with some prominent feminist theologians in my current book project.

I’ve written here before about reading authors that I disagree with, and indeed working on theologians I think are wrong about certain issues. On the simplest level, as a feminist and queer theologian, many of the theologians I work on would have questioned or outright resisted my participation in the discipline to begin with – although we cannot always know whether and how they would have done so today (since many of them are dead – yes, the dreaded dead white European males). But I often – not always – find projects that I sincerely disagree with utterly fascinating. From what perspective does the system being developed in such a project make sense? Where would one have to stand to see what that author sees? What do I come to understand about my current context, or the author’s context, from the perspective of the debates and decisions that the author finds pressing? One fairly trivial example: any interest I might once have had in historical Jesus debates was settled forever by reading Albert Schweitzer as an undergraduate. I simply do not find such debates compelling in themselves. (That does not mean I think they are valueless, of course!) But reading theologians who were engaged in such debates teaches me a great deal about how the commonsense assumptions many of us today operate with came to be. And seeing how such debates accompany disagreement over right social relations, over the nature of transmission of Christian traditions, and over what counts as scholarship in theology and religious studies is simply fascinating. Continue reading “On Reading, Not Reading, and Disagreeing by Linn Marie Tonstad”

Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part III

Rescuing Martha – A Hermeneutic of Retrieval
This is the last part of a three part post. Read Part I here and Part II here

Discovering another tradition means being open not only to artistic witnesses but to myth, legend, and to feminist theory. But to begin with what is uncontested: both sisters, Mary and Martha, were friends of Jesus who loved them and their brother Lazarus. Martha seems to be the householder. We are told nothing about the parents of the three – perhaps they had been caught up and killed in one of the Zealot uprisings. The Church that sprang up at the site of Bethany was one of the earliest Christian pilgrimage places.  The legends that grew up held Lazarus and his 2 sisters in great respect. And this is a sharp contrast with the tradition I began with.

Secondly, to disparage responsibility for housework as a lowly role is an anachronistic viewpoint. It is likely, as in most poor agricultural communities today that domestic work goes alongside income- generating work either inside or outside the house. Many rural women in India and Africa cope with domestic work, child care and a full day’s work in the fields. In the life-time of Jesus, women would be involved in cleaning fish and mending nets – though the Gospels do not tell us this.  Nor was this the work of the sisters at Bethany who did not live near Lake Galilee. The public/ private split between unseen work in the household and public work belongs to a much later date. Thirdly, it is diakonia or service that is at stake here, and this was part of a creative tension in the early communities. Continue reading “Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part III”

Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part II

What do the Gospels of Luke and John tell us?
This is the second part of a three part post. Part I is here and Part III is to follow tomorrow. 

I now return to the story of Mary and Martha in the gospel of Luke: what was its purpose for the evangelist and his community? The text itself has been a subject of multiple interpretations. An abstract interpretation sees the sisters as representing two different principles, one as justification by works and one by faith. Augustine (d.430) saw them as symbolising either the labours of this world and the bliss of the world to come. Origen (185-254), famous for his allegorising interpretation of Scripture, understood them as life according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. So, as Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza points out in But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation (1992:58), this typologising contrast was already established by the end of the 2nd century.  In a contemporary context Martha and Mary continue to exemplify the two vocations that the church offers to women, contemplative love of God (Mary), or social activism through service of neighbour (Martha). Continue reading “Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part II”

Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part I

Introduction and Martha – Patron Saint of Housewives

Here I explore a troubling issue for feminist biblical interpretation, namely the interpretations of Luke 10, 38-42, with specific reference to the figure of Martha, and the questions that arise when we compare John’s story, the Raising of Lazarus (John 11.1-44).  At first sight Luke seems clear: Martha is troubled with the domestic task of preparing food, while Mary has gone to the heart of the matter, listening to the word of God at the feet of the Lord. Mary is always depicted at the feet of the Christ, while Martha is the active one and this is often interpreted negatively. (One interesting exception is Giotto’s fresco of the raising of Lazarus, where both sisters are prostrate at Jesus’ feet). A clear message seems given for Christian discipleship and this text has had an evocative power through history. But on reading John’s story, are the roles reversed? Martha runs to greet Jesus, Mary remains at home. From Martha comes the confession of faith in Jesus:

Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world. (John 11.27)

What we are given is a full confession of faith on Jesus as Son of God, the confession which is on the lips of Peter in the 3 Synoptic Gospels, (Luke 9.20, Mark 8.29, Matthew 16.15-17).

Why is it, then, that Christian Tradition has largely ignored the Johannine text and followed Luke, even a negative interpretation of Luke? Continue reading “Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part I”

Imagine a Catholic Church that Loved as only a “Woman” Loves by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Freyhauf, Feminism, Religion, Catholic Church I came across an abhorrent display of ignorance Saturday when reading an article quoting the Pope’s theologian, Dominican priest Wojciech Giertych, on why women cannot be ordained.  This man is in charge of reviewing speeches and texts submitted to the Pope to ensure that they are free of doctrinal error.  Once you read this, I am sure that many of you will have the same thoughts that I do ranging from – that explains a lot — to —  we are in serious trouble!

Giertych touted the common arguments made against ordaining women – Jesus was a man, Jesus chose only male disciples, etc.  However, then he put forth statements about, (1) the theologian’s task, (2) why maleness is essential to the priesthood, and (3) what the vocation of women is and is not.

What is the Theologian’s Task?

According to Giertych, the theologian’s task in determining the definition of priesthood:

 “In theology, we base ourselves not on human expectations, but we base ourselves on the revealed word of God” without the freedom “to invent the priesthood according to our own customs, according to our own expectations.”

According to CTSA (Catholic Theological Society of America), the theological task is described as follows:

Theologians throughout history have promulgated the riches of the Catholic tradition by venturing new ways to imagine and express the mystery of God and the economy of salvation revealed in Scripture and Tradition. This is a Catholic style of theological reflection that very many Catholic theologians continue to practice today. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) is especially eloquent on this responsibility” (See Gaudium et Spes #44).

Continue reading “Imagine a Catholic Church that Loved as only a “Woman” Loves by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

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