Gender-bending Genesis 22:1-19

This is an assignment from my Old Testament class that I thought I’d share. The student, in this case me, was to pick from one of three passages and switch the genders. I chose the above mentioned passage and this is my entry. Note, not every thing you learn in class of any kind has to be kept in your brain, agreed too, or somehow believed…

In 1975, Edwina Sandys created with her hands a piece of art that was controversial, breathtaking, theological, and damning. It was a picture of a mangled human form, beaten, gashed, adorned a crown of thorns, gnashed about with stripes which an ancient author would describe as healing. One author, before him, described the form as something unhuman. Yet, this figure was not the familiar masculine European male, but feminine. Sandys had controversially sculpted the crucifixion of Christ in the mangled and naked form of a Jewish woman. In 2006, Susan A. Ross, a faculty member in Loyola’s Theology Department presented Sandys’ work to her students. She writes that this classroom discussion was ‘one of the most powerful sessions (p218)’ in her 26 years of teaching. Her students’ reactions changed her and have been presented in a recent Symposium (now enshrined in ]], edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and Aana Marie Vigen) which she notes that her students debated the depiction, but in an unsuspected way. The female students were for it expressly because of the brutalization so pictured while the masculine students were against it for the same reason. Ross even reports that some students who had experienced sexual brutality received comfort from it. Much can be said about the sacrifice by a Mother Abraham and her daughter Isaac, in that changing the genders of the characters heightens the brutality of the moment.

In switching the genders of Abraham and Isaac, we are faced not with the failure of God to uphold his promise of Abraham having many children, but with a mother, whom we normally associate with mothering instincts, tears, and love, forced to take her daughter alone in the woods to murder her. Immediately, I call to mind the recent cases of mother’s drowning their children due to undiagnosed, and sometimes even diagnosed but untreated because of social stigmas, post-partum depression. Something so vile as a mother murdering her daughter must be blamed on something, as our notion of a mother could not include the violent murder by stabbing, a method of killing which is intimately personal because of the closeness required by victim and victimizer. We are left with the mental image of a mother with a knife held to her daughter’s breast, ready to slice her throat, until suddenly there is a voice from heaven commanding the mother to stop. And we are left with the mental images of women today, brutalized by the stigmas of depression, who instead of receiving the divine call to ‘Stop’ carried through with their own infanticides. Finally, as Christians, we are taught to perceive this incident in the biblical text as a herald of the death of Christ on the Cross, when no ram was provided so that the execution of the Son was carried forth as God turned his back. Perhaps, through the brutal images of a mother killing her child, we start to see the death of Christ differently.

Changing the genders of Abraham and Isaac are easy enough, because we must associate genders with humans; however, changing the gender of יְהוָה only serves to reinforce in our minds the need to classify God as ‘male’ and then to attribute to that idea the fallacy that since God is a man, men are therefore superior to the less than equal woman. After all, a man was created first, and God is a man, as the thought process goes. While Scripture engenders יְהוָה as ‘he’ it also engenders some of his attributes as feminine or gender neutral. By transferring genders, the image of God as something like us is reinforced, leaving us to then pick and choose our manifestation of God according to our own understanding of what he should be. In my opinion, it limits the conversation on gender and the role it has played, plays and should play in the discourse of the Church. Instead, I cannot help but to see God as Is, and use my feeble human understanding to try to stop limiting יְהוָה to my image of gender.

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