Thursday, June 09, 2005

judith christ

I don't know if anyone's heard of a new Bible "translation" that replaces all the masculine references to God with feminine ones, and even renames Jesus as Judith, but apparently it's got some evangelicals in a major snit.

I can't fault them entirely, since there's no textual basis for such changes, let alone the statement that this is a corrected Bible, as its cover claims, but I do think people are making a much bigger deal out of this than it warrants. (Not that the church has a history of making mountains out of molehills, such as with its hatred of Christian rock, its insistence on regarding only the King James Version as a legitimate Bible, the major flip-out over the deathly boring "Last Temptation of Christ," or ... well, you get the idea.)

Still, a flip-out is what I saw when I visited CHRefugee recently, to see if it really was getting as ridiculous there as a friend of mine said it was. (It was.) People were gleefully pointing out that Judith is the feminine form of Judas, as though that proved something, and talking about the "translation" as though it were a heresy straight from hell. The only fair criticism that I saw was that the Bible, when it uses a pronoun to refer to God, invariably settles on the masculine set, and there is no evidence that Jesus was actually a woman.

To be honest, though, I'm not sure it would have made a difference if Jesus had come as a woman, except in the reception the gospel would have received. For whatever reason, God chose to work through a patriarchal society to reveal himself, but he uses some pretty blatant feminine imagery to describe himself at times. There's the prophetic utterance "Can a mother forget the child that nurses at her breast?" or Jesus' own statement, "Long have I longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings." The Holy Spirit, one of the three persons of the Godhead, routinely is described with feminine imagery, describing God as a comforter, a nurturer, and so on. The Holy Spirit's name in Hebrew, Ruakh Khadesh, is even feminine. My personal favorite is one of the names the Tanakh uses to refer to God: "many-breasted One." (I think that's El Shaddai.)

So why Jesus and not Judith? I would hazard a guess it's because of the culture he was in, and no other reason.

When I directed the church's Passion play one year, I wanted to cast a woman in the role of Christ because she was the best actress we had. Anne loved the idea, but didn't see how we could pull it off with a one-time performance, since by the time people got used to a female Jesus, the play would be over, with no other performances coming up.

Honestly, as the father of two girls, I wish the Bible had more fully developed female role models than just Esther and Ruth. That no doubt is because of the culture the Bible was written in, but it's a shame that we don't know more about women like Priscilla, Lydia or Dorcas, Deborah or even Jael, for that matter.) All I can say about Priscilla is that Paul thought highly of her, she was a woman apostle and a contender for author of Hebrews, and a few other little tidbits like that. That's a loss for all of us.

(As a side note, it bothers me tremendously when people hold up Eve as an example of the Bible's perceived sexism. Why is she blamed for the Fall? The book of Romans is pretty clear that the Fall of Man was Adam's fault , not Eve's. If anything Eve is given the spotlight as the source of redemption, since it's through the "seed of the woman" that Christ arrives.)

If this is going to drive people batty so much, I'm tempted to scour the Bible for other men who were really women in disguise. The best example would have to be Jacob, the father of the Israelites. Remember how he was smooth-skinned, Rebekah loved him more than Esau, he was good in the kitchen and had a voice that was noticeably different from his brother's? As a woman, Jacob even needed someone else to help him get his wives pregnant. It would be much easier today, with fertility technology, but at the time he had help from two of the household servants, whom the Bible calls "maidservants" in an attempt to perpetuate the fiction that Jacob was a man.

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