Over the summer, I’ve been writing more than I do during the traditional academic year when other tasks consume the bulk of my workday. I have spent more time experiencing the joy of creative discovery and production, but I’ve also had more time confronting the difficulties of creative work as I’ve wrestled with some of its unique challenges. One of those challenges has been to refine my academic writing voice. I’ve approaches the challenge of developing my voice as both a spiritual and feminist practice and this has helped me find confidence in my work.
One of things that has dismayed me since I began graduate school and started focusing my study on the Bible, is how much sensationalism exists. We are told in the academy not to use Wikipedia or watch the History Channel. The first, as we know, is unreliable due to the fact that anyone can enter information and make changes. The other caters to the general public. What compounds this problem is the fact that scholars, many times – even reputable ones – appear on these shows. Sometimes creative licenses are exercised by the producer distorting or otherwise shifting the message of what the scholar was trying to explain. Other times, scholars will just give the producers and the public exactly what they want to hear and thus perpetuating myths rooted in literalism.
This is not the only time this issues manifests. The other time I encountered this is when I travel to sacred or holy sites in the Middle East. The people in charge of sites may want raise money and increase tourism – so they give the people what they want. What do I mean by this? Walking into a place that has a story whether true or not provides pilgrims a sense of awe and wonder.
Certainly I am not saying that this experience should be diminished or should be taken away. What I am saying is that we should be a bit more truthful in our descriptions and remove the shroud of literalism that seems to fuel tourism and not faith. What was difficult for me when visiting Patmos is the rhetoric surrounding the island. It may or may not have been where John had his visions, but certainly the mystique surrounding the Church of the Apocalypse seems to perpetuate the literalism that surrounds the Book of Revelation as being prophetic in dealing with the end times. Moreover, the vendors around the Church certainly focus their merchandise to support this myth. However, while I study the Book of Revelation and teach that it is something other than prophetic, a person visits the island and the church, are told that it is prophetic – who is a person to believe? Me or the religious order running the Church or the vendors living on the island?
This also happens at dig sites. If a tourist is led by a guide or lead at a holy site being excavated and they tell them what they want to hear so they come back and tell their friends, who has more creditability – me or the person who guides on the site? When scholars like myself, write about a topic that seems to gel with what the commonly held view of the academy, and goes against literalism or fundamentalist beliefs, we become heretics in relation to the information being fed by the sensationalism on the History Channel and the tourist industry. So the popular view does not change and the academic view is left on the margins and Biblical literalism wins.
In 2007, I had a conversation with a professor who felt that change was in the air for the Roman Catholic Church. The basis of this opinion was based on language. The words and the context used in writings that emerged from the Vatican were changing and somehow different – a difference that went beyond personal writing styles of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. This professor was hopeful that positive change for women could be coming. He was right about change in the Church, however, the changes surrounding women that emerged have not been positive.
An example of this can be seen clearly in the changes in the liturgy that occurred last year. First, the teaching comes out with the rationale as to why the liturgy needs to change. From there a discussion, especially through the media, addressing the upcoming modifications are followed by subtle changes in the liturgy beginning with the call – response and the language in the creed. Next, the language of the celebrant began to change. Finally, the full implementation of changes is made with the addition of new gestures or movements. When I discussed the mass changes with a family member, there was an admittance that the changes no longer affect them – the changes were no longer noticeable. Their memory was impacted because the routine is now second nature.
In order to come to grips with the issue of language and the observation of my professor, I wanted to do a cursory review of the writings issued by the Vatican during this period. Admittedly, with a blog post, there is a limitation as to the depth and breadth of information that can be disseminated. It is my hope to eventually complete a thorough review of the modification of language used during Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy. For now, I want to address a few observations.
A socio-political examination of Genesis 16 explores how ancient myth can influence the story of Hagar and Sarai. Socio-political events could have occurred between the Egyptians and King Solomon that influenced the writing of this text. According to John Currid in Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, the Egyptians and Hebrews borrowed many things from each other and because of that, an inter-relatedness exists between the languages as well as cultural and religious practices of both kingdoms (26). It is this inter-relatedness that I wish to explore and ask the question -was Hagar an Egyptian Princess demoted to a lower position of servitude in order to make a political statement of superiority of the Israelites over the Egyptians? Or is this a story of conflict between two of Solomon’s wives? Finally, could this story tell us about events that occurred after Solomon’s death since the Biblical texts from the pre-exilic period began to take shape during the reign of David and Solomon? This is a very brief exploration of these theories.
In Genesis 16, Hagar and Sarai connect Egypt and Israel in a familial relationship, one rooted in strife. These two women, an Israelite and an Egyptian, are brought together because of Sarai’s barrenness and need to fulfill the covenantal promise. Because of this, Hagar becomes Abram’s secondary wife. This is not the only time that marriage between an Israelite and Egyptian occurs in the Old Testament. Joseph marries and an Egyptian, the daughter of a priest of On (Genesis 41:45). Solomon also has an Egyptian wife who seems to have some importance because she is mentioned six times in the Old Testament (1 Kings 3:1; 7:8, 9:24; 11:1-2; 2 Chronicles 8:11).
Important is the fact that this passage could be rooted in the writings that emerged in that period that portray family strife. Savina J. Teubal in Ancient Sisterhood: The Lost Traditions of Hagar and Sarah, states these “andocentric writing and editing” of the biblical narratives portray conflicts between women who “vie for the attention of their husbands or sons” (19). In this case the story really could be a tale of family strife inspired by two of the wives of Solomon, one of which was Egyptian.