February 21, 2015 — Article on Scandal of all Male Bible

This was originally submitted by John Grunstad:

This is from an essay by David J.A. Clines of the University of Sheffield. It’s too long to be quoted in its entirety, but here is the conclusion.  You can find the full text at Academia.edu.

Conclusion

I conclude with a demonstration of how widespread male language is in the Bible. I choose a text that is put in the mouth of a woman, Mary’s Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm,

he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his posterity for ever (Luke 1.46-55).

The poem is esteemed on all sides, but from the perspective of a gender analysis it is a shocking text for the way a female character is made the mouthpiece of so much masculine ideology. Hardly a word of the Magnificat fails to reflect male language, and it is ripe for an exposure of its ideological bias.

God’s most important characteristic is strength (the ‘Mighty One’). His ‘mercy’ is not a soft or quasi‐feminine counterpart of strength. It corresponds to the Hebrew ḥesed (ds,j), , which does not mean mercy or lovingkindness, and it is not an emotion. It is covenanted or promised support, which differs from sheer

The Scandal of a Male Bible, p. 15

strength since it has an interpersonal dimension. It is normally the action of a superior towards an inferior, almost everywhere it is males who exercise it, and possession of it implies strength. Likewise the deity’s role as ‘saviour’, while it is a welcome activity on behalf of humans, is an aspect of his strength and power, male qualities.

‘Holiness’, as we have seen, is another male characteristic. And binary thinking is well represented by the fantastical idea of putting down the mighty from their thrones and exalting those of low degree—as bizarre as solving world hunger by creating a new class of the hungry who were previously bankers.

Mary describes herself as ‘lowly’, which cannot refer to the social disapproval that attends a married woman who has had no child, but the low status she has in being a woman, who expects to be overlooked and disregarded, but in this case has been ‘looked upon’ by a powerful male. Mary further abases herself, beyond her low estate as a woman, by calling herself a female slave of the deity. Considering how female slaves of all cultures may expect to be used by their masters, this is not exactly an honorific title. She will be called ‘blessed’, she believes, realizing that her own worth will arise from no quality of her own, from no desire or effort that she has had or expended, but from a event not of her making. She will be praised by future generations solely because she has become, without her own volition, a mother. She is a victim who has accepted her divinely imposed lot, a complicit victim but a victim nevertheless.

Here is the Magnificat with the male language in red:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm,

he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his posterity for ever (Luke 1.46‐55).

The twofold scandal of a male Bible is encapsulated here. It is, in the first place. that the Bible—widely taken as an authoritative Word of God or at least a revered or beloved or respected testament to universal religious values—is deeply compromised by its ubiquitous adherence to specifically male values, which everywhere distort the apparent universality of its contents. Being a male text, the Bible inevitably enshrines and perpetuates male power, which makes it a problematic text for anyone in the modern world who has some sense of

The Scandal of a Male Bible, p. 16

the social injustice of gender inequality. And the scandal of a male Bible, in the second place, is that the Bible’s masculinity is for the most part invisible, hardly ever noticed or mentioned, even in our world that is much more egalitarian than that of the Bible. Even if we don’t quite know what we should do about the scandal, we do at least know something of its shape and size.

3 thoughts on “February 21, 2015 — Article on Scandal of all Male Bible

  1. admin Post author

    Chuck Hesse made the following Comment:
    This guy is obviously suffering his own gender identity. He is calling the reader to see a distortion that is not there. This was written long before the feminine movement and to me demonstrates humility in the face of God, not bowing to masculinity. The ELCA has certainly subscribed to erasing the time tested custom of referring to God and certainly Christ as male, which makes some formerly familiar hymns and even parts of the liturgy that were once memorized now requiring reading in order to not stumble over the words. I have a real problem with such critics of the Bible who either have nothing of substance to write about or have their own agenda to propagate. Sort of reminds me of Joseph Dobrians guest editorial that caught so much attention and uproar in subsequent letters to the editor. Chuck H

  2. admin Post author

    Al Grundstad made the following comment:
    It is an warmed-over issue that this person has apparently just awakened to, and is now drawning our attention. In one sentence the author tips his/her hand to an ill formed arguement.

    The Bible is a masculine set of writings: true. And at the time of the writings no one would have questioned the validity if them being so. In fact, had they been written from a feminine viewpoint it is highly unlikely they would have carried enough critical mass to survive to this day.

    The fatal sentence to me is,

    ” It is, in the first place. that the Bible—widely taken as an authoritative Word of God or at least a revered or beloved or respected testament to universal religious values—is deeply compromised by its ubiquitous adherence to specifically male values, which everywhere distort the apparent universality of its contents.”

    Again, at their writing the texts were not at all compromised by sexual bias. Further, to state that the Bible adheres to masculine values says that the Bible is actively, daily, moment by moment, sticking with it’s mistaken bias, thumbing its nose at the enlightened world, and refusing to speak nicely to and about all that are not masculine.

    If the author wants a new interpretation of holy writ that will correct for the claimed mistake then the author should write one and present it rather than this yelling in a vacuum.

  3. admin Post author

    Mark made the following Comment:
    Thank you Chuck.

    Not entirely sure about your “ELCA” reference but indeed, recent Biblical scholarship does “re-image God” (as they say).

    Jesus is clearly a man.

    The Magnificat is praise of God as rescuer of a persecuted (held captive) people.

    Just as many Biblical epics are rescue stories of God’s intervention.

    A wonderful and important conversation is this. All senses focused on revelation – ancient and present.

    See you Tuesday.

    Much to talk about – Bible AND soup.

    Pries

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