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The Bible is alien to the modern and postmodern era

31 March 2015 / 10:03:09  GRReporter
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My interests revolve around the Old Testament. In Greece the Old Testament is generally neglected and often misunderstood. Christians tend to think that only the New Testament is relevant for them but they do not realize that the New Testament is simply the climax to the Old Testament story and that Jesus is incomprehensible apart from it. Moreover, its neglect can create a Jesus who is less Jewish in the Christian mind and that can, sadly, lead to distorted forms of Christianity, even to an anti-Semitic Christianity. So, I think that the Old Testament is crucial for Orthodox Greece, today more than ever. My role is to keep “unburying” it as much as I can.

This is the vision that the director of Artos Zoes, Mr. Stavros Zoumboulakis, shares and he always makes a point to bring the Old Testament to the foreground in every conference he organizes, as much as he does in his own writings.

I participated in one of his conferences with a talk entitled “The God of the Prophets.” It was a challenging paper because when one speaks of the God of the Prophets it means that one has to make a synthesis of how God appears in the writings of all the Old Testament prophets and not just with respect to Israel but also with respect to the nations. The title presupposes a canon of prophets. How do these prophets portray their God? What is Ηe angry about? What is it that pleases Him? What is His vision for both Israel and the nations? My talk was a discussion of questions such as these.

Currently, my focus is on the book of the prophet Amos. I am writing a commentary on the Hebrew text of the book and I am fascinated with his concerns for social justice and covenantal faithfulness to both God and the Other. I think it should be completed in two years, hopefully.           

In her insightful and thought-provoking book about the origin of current gender roles and rediscovering women’s power entitled “When God Was a Woman” Merlin Stone explores the ancient female deities of the agricultural societies that flourished in the Middle East at the dawn of civilization (6000-5000 BC) (attempts at discovering a past that has been buried by millennia of Judeo-Christian myth and corresponding social order.) Later they were violently substituted by the male God Yahweh of the Judaic religion thus forming the Judeo-Christian tradition. Does biblical Hebrew imply in any way gender of the deity?

Biblical Hebrew uses masculine verbs for Yahweh’s actions. However, the gender of this God is not as straightforward as we would like to assume and it would be premature to exclude any femininity in God merely on the grounds of verbs or adjectives.

A key text for understanding God is the creation story, where God’s image is revealed in the humanity He creates. In Genesis 5:1-2 the text says: “In the day when God created Adam, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Adam in the day when they were created.” This text is very significant in showing that Adam, which means ‘humanity’ includes both genders and, in fact, both of these genders are created in the likeness of God, representing the reality of God. This radical embrace of both genders as legitimate representations of the deity cannot be ignored, especially in the ancient Near Eastern context where only male kings would carry this characterization of “image or likeness of God”.

This text deconstructs the political understanding that the male ruler of a land was the only legitimate child of God, the only legitimate representative. Not only is this title transferred to all humanity but it is also extended to women. Of course, the full implications of this text have not been realized in the patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, but I think the seeds were sown.

Yahweh was not exclusively against the worship of female goddesses, such as Asherah, but primarily against the worship of Baal, a masculine deity. The agenda was not for Israel to deny the worship of the feminine but to resist the worship of any other deity. Moreover, the reason Jezebel, the wife of Ahaz, is so negatively portrayed in the biblical text is not because of her status as a woman but because of the introduction of the worship of foreign deities, Baal and Asherah, into the land of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:19).

Yahweh includes everything in Himself and the absence of a wife for Him in the text is also telling. There is a sense that God does not want to be envisaged “sexually” and this is very important in a world where the sexual manipulation of deities was a possibility, or more like a common reality. Sexuality in the deity is radically toned down which possibly sends a message that sexual manipulation is not a legitimate path for Israel.

Do texts in biblical Hebrew imply in any way that women’s roles were far more prominent than in patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures? Would you agree with Stone’s interpretation of this ancient system which, with its disintegration, resulted in a decline in women’s status?

No, there is no indication in the biblical text of a prior era where women’s roles were more prominent. The Bible begins in a world that is already declined and corrupt. Even where the text looks back at primeval times, as in the flood story or even before that, in Genesis 6, women appear to have been the prey of men’s appetites. Israel inherits this corrupt world, it does not create it and it had no power to create it at that time, as it was the tiniest of peoples. They struggle to survive in a world of great empires that are antagonistic to their freedom and beliefs.

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