feminism, patriarchy, sexual agency, women

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Being Womanish Is Not Bad

bible, old testament, sexual assault


Tamar David’s daughter was failed by her family and her community and by if I dare say God. When you exegate the text you know all the things that followed David after his affair or rape with Bathsheba ( depending on which Old Testament scholar you ask it may and may not have been a rape) Tamar’s rape, Absalom killing Amnon, Absalom trying to overthrow David etc happen because God placed a curse on the house of David to punish him for his sin. David failed his daughter by being angry but doing nothing, Absalom failed Tamar by telling her do not say anything because Amnon is her brother. Amnon failed her by raping her and sending her away. Were is the hope for women like Tamar when the deity, her family and community fails her. Were is her hope when her community and family plots against her ( as Amnon had help from their cousin.) Were is her hope when she is being used by a deity that claims to love and protect her but yet uses her to punished her father. Who can she go to when her father does nothing because Amnon is his first born. and where does she go but to her full brother’s house in despair never to be seen, heard or mention again except that Absalom named his daughter after Tamar. Can we not question God’s goodness in this? and what kind of deity places a curse on a man’s family to punish him? Tamar was failed by everyone including by the deity himself or herself.


Signifying and Xena

Signifying and scripturalization takes place in many forms in our culture, through music, art, media, television and many other forms of entertainment. Although many of these productions claim to not have any religious affiliation, they cannot help being influenced by the religion of the culture of the people who developed it. More often than not, it is the internalized dominant sacred texts or scriptures of the people that are used in the asaociated signifying process. What is signifying? According to Henry Louis Gates Jr, signifying is when you are alluding, implying or insinuating divergent meanings of words and phrases for the benefit of a particular person or group. When you signify you understand that meanings are adaptable and changeable.1 Scripturalization, according to Lynne Darden’s interpretation of Grey Gundaker’s work, is “the re-contextualization of sacred text. The term is derived from the understanding that sacred text and community cannot be separated from its scriptures. It is through the process of scripturalization that the formation, deformation and reformation of community are possible.”2
Christianity the major religion in the West has constantly played a prominent role in Hollywood even though I suspect it would likely be denied. As a result, there is often observed biblical allusion in Hollywood movies like the Matrix and television series like Scandal. Many popular songs, like Lady Gaga’s Judas and Madonna’s Like A prayer are influenced by the Christian message. Sometimes, Hollywood in movies like War and Risen uses biblical allusions to critique popular Christianity and at other times affirm the worth of basic Christian values that are so much a part of the culture. These values have always been at work in the culture. It is also observed that no matter the culture, Christ like characters are present and appreciated. The interpreted popular message of these Hollywood production is that we are relationally all the same.
I have a huge interest in science fiction and fantasy television shows and series that have a huge background in mythology and fables. The television show I am writing about in this paper that has a great deal of signifying and scripturalization in it is Xena, the Warrior Princess. Although the television series takes place in a mythologized version of ancient Greece, the series sends its main characters on travel adventures around the mythologized world for its time. For example, the land of the Norse is traveled to and signified as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland and China as Chin. The main characters also travel to North Africa, Rome, Japan, and ancient Palestine where they meet David and King Saul. Before I get into the ways in which the series uses signification and scripturalization, I will provide a background for the show.
Xena, the Warrior Princess is a spinoff of the series, Hercules, the Legendary Journeys. Xena was an evil warlord who was redeemed by Hercules after she tried numerous times to killed him. After Hercules redeemed her, she went on to have her own adventures by doing right deeds. She absolves the guilt from her evil past by helping people. Redemption is the key theme throughout the series because the overarching concern of Xena, the Warrior Princess is whether or not she can experience redemption for her evil sins. Her travels reflect her quest for redemption. Xena usually credits her salvation experiences to Hercules and her travel partner, Gabrielle; who she says keeps her on that the path of being good.
I see some signifying and scripturalization in this way. Hercules, the good, merciful and all powerful person could have punished her but instead he shows mercy. When she asks why he didn’t kill her, he tells her, “Killing doesn’t make you a warrior and I think you know that.” He tells her this in the Hercules episode, ‘The Gauntlet’. Hercules, who has the influence and power, I guess could be signified as both “God” and Jesus in the series. (Jesus as the Christ, like Hercules, was a half god while his mother was mortal. God was the father of Jesus and Zeus was the father of Hercules, this half-god journeys around ancient Greece saving, redeeming o people, and giving evil people second chances, as well as, helping the poor, women, orphans, widows, homeless and etc. In essence, Hercules in this show is a type of Christ character. God and human intervening in the lives of humanity.
Jesus, this half-god, yes I believe that Jesus is a half god if we believe that God is his father and Mary is his mother, travels around ancient Palestine is comparable to the series’ Hercules. The only difference was that Jesus could raise the dead and heal the sick. Hercules saved and redeemed Xena. He basically told her to go and sin anymore. As he did on show, he asked her if everything was over after they joined forces and defeated her army. Him asking this question was his way of making sure that he no longer has to fight her. Gabrielle, a village girl and an amazon princess is Xena’s friend; although there is innuendo that they were lovers and that depends on who you ask, is another Jesus like character. She keeps Xena on the straight and narrow. Holding on to Gabrielle’s goodness keep her on the path of good. We hold on to Jesus’ goodness to keep us on the straight and narrow of a sinless life.
“Selfless, pure Love is the only divine perfection we have in this world. It is the greatest power one can possess.”―Eli in “The Ides of March”
Xena, the Warrior Princess is filled with signifying and scripturalization. In season five of the series, there is an increased presence of the scripturalization and signifying of the Christian story. In the second of half of season four, they meet a man with powers called Eli who has not yet come into those powers. Eli is the Avatar of the God of the Ultimate Way. Eli is the Jesus like figure going about healing people and speaking of peace. At the end of season four Xena and Gabrielle are crucified by the Romans. Eli is grief stricken. Joxer and Amarice, Xena’s friends get Gabrielle and Xena’s bodies. While Eli goes into prayer and after he has prayed to his god, he raises Xena and Gabrielle from the dead. This story is very similar to that of the Lazarus story, Jesus’ friend Lazarus dies and Jesus is grief stricken, however he goes into prayer and then raises his friend from the dead. Eli talks about a new world order coming, a time without the gods, a time where there will be peace. Jesus also speaks about a new world order, a new kingdom. Jesus says he is the son of God, Eli says his god is greater than the Greek Gods. Jesus angered the Romans, Eli angered the Greek Gods, Ares the god of war killed Eli and the Pontius Pilate ordered Jesus crucified, both Eli and Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to their disciples. Both Jesus and Eli were challenging systems. Eli the oppressive reign of the Greek gods and Jesus the oppressive reign of the Romans. Eli is Aramaic/Hebrew for “my God”.
The show evolves especially in the latter portion of season four and later seasons five and six with strong similarities being drawn between Eli and Christ. The similarities are obvious for those of us who are Christian and who watched the show. For example, his teachings of non-violence, his powers of raising the dead which can be seen in the episode entitled “Fallen Angel”, his casting out of demons seen in the episode, “ Devi”and the Christian fish symbol which is seen in episodes. “Seeds of Faith”, as well as,”Eve” and “Heart of Darkness.
Another way the series scripturalized the Christian story is its storied use of the “immaculate conception.” The show scripturalized this story line twice in its delivery. Both Gabrielle and Xena got pregnant by the hand of an angel or a god without having sex, in essence the story of Mary. Xena a few months after she was resurrected by Eli, found that she was pregnant and she knew that she did not have sex in a while, Gabrielle thought it was either Hercules or Ares the god of war, the two male loves of her life. Xena’s baby, Eve was conceived by Immaculate Conception. The angel Calisto announces it to her. Mary who was to be wed to Joseph and the angel, Gabriel announced that she was carrying baby Jesus. Both Eve and Jesus were said at the time of their birth to bring greatness to the world. Eve was said to bring about the twilight of the gods and bring a new world order. Jesus was said to be great and would inherit God’s kingdom. Both Eve and Jesus’ greatness were foretold by divine beings. Jesus by the angel Gabriel and Eve by the Fates.
Another way the show uses signification and scripturalization, Eve is not only a Christ figure, and she is also a Paul figure, she has two names. Paul never met Jesus, Eve never met Eli, however Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus and Eve as Livia persecuted the Elijians. Paul met Jesus during his Damascus experience and Eve met Eli when she was having her visions. Eve converted to the way of Eli and Paul converted to the way of Christ. Eve spreading the message of Eli, and Paul spreading the message of Jesus. A conversation between Eli and Gabrielle signifies and scripturalizes the conversation in Matthew 18:21-22,
Gabrielle: “What is the truth?”
Eli: “So you really wanna know?”
Gabrielle: “Yeah.”
Eli: “It’s life. We must revere it wherever we find it. To bring peace to this world, I have to teach mankind a reverence for life.”
Gabrielle: “So, if someone were to walk up to you and knock you down…”
Eli: “Then I’d get up.”
Gabrielle: “But if they knocked you down again?”
Eli: “Then I’d get up again, if I could. But under no circumstances would I fight back. If I did, I would simply be perpetuating the cycle of violence that has ravaged the earth for centuries. That cycle has to be broken, Gabrielle, and the truth is that it can only be done through non-violence.
I raise the following question in conclusion, Why did the creators and artists of the show choose to signify and scripturalize the Christian narrative in the show? My asserted belief is that the creators of the show borrowed so as to show the bigger picture that everything in our cultural understanding is not as narrow as it seems. Its use allowed them to tap into some larger source of understanding and develop or establish cross cultural meanings for the presenter and those who are viewing. There are universal appreciations of good and evil, right and wrong and how people can be supported or hampered by either. The bigger picture I believe that the creators and authors did by signifying and scripturlization is that the Christ and the Christian story is bigger than Christianity, that the notion of good and evil is not only core to the Christian story. That the story of redemption and saving is not a Christian story but a universal storyline no matter the culture. Although we are both good and bad, all of us are worth saving and all of us have some Christ characteristics in us c.f Eve. The creators of the show used the Christian story and Christ like figures to say that there is always a type of oppression we must fight whether it be the Greek Gods , the Romans and/or the Jewish priests. There is this sense that you must lead your people into freedom no matter the cost to you c.f Jesus and Eli.

Jr., Henry Louis Gates. The Signifying Monkey: a Theory of African American Literary Criticism. 25 ed. publication place: Oxford University Press, 2014.
1 Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Signifying Monkey: a Theory of African American Literary Criticism, 25 ed. (publication place: Oxford University Press, 2014), 4.
2 Lynne Darden., “Scripturalizing Revelation: An African American Postcolonial Reading of Empire.” Definition of Terms, Charles Copher Lecture 2016.


Ruth and Boaz ( not a great example)

When women are looking for their spouses they had told to wait for their Boaz but let me say this. That is not good advice because , as much as we like to believe that the way these two came was great and how it was Godly and all that jazz. The truth of the matter in the text the Diety had nothing to do with this and I am not even sure He/she/it/they have been mentioned at all in the Book of Ruth. It wasn’t romantic, nor godly or innocent or honourable, although Boaz did the honourable thing by marrying Ruth. The truth is what the text says and illustrates is desperation by two women, one who was an elderly woman who can no longer produce male children in a society that honors and prefers males and one young woman who decided to give up her life and family to help take care of her mother in law. Namoi knew in that society they lived in ( it was stupid but heck Namoi
must have been a really good mother in law). She and Ruth would need a man to take care of them that is why she pimped off Ruth and said to her go and dress up , put perfume on, approach Boaz when he is drunk and lay at his “feet” which if you do a word study and study the sexual practices of the ancient world when a woman lays at a man’s feet it is usually sexual or has some sexual innuendo feet in the ancient world more often than not has some sexual connotation to it . Hence , Ruth didn’t simply lay at Boaz’s feet she performed something sexual and that is why he had to marry her. So no it wasn’t romantic or godly or innocent. We need stop telling women that to wait for their Boaz because we telling them that they are in dire straits or in desperation that they need to perform sexual acts on a man so that hopefully he marry them or take care of them ( I say hopefully because many of these guys out there aren’t just going marry someone they had sex with) and some are going break their promise after they get the girl to sleep with them.. Ruth and Boaz are not the standard or the how to guide just like any of the marriages in the bible. Women shouldn’t be taught that have to do anything to get or keep a man whether it is from sexual acts or cooking and cleaning except love them


Ph.D. programs in New Testament

Shooting at the Sun

So, where should you go for a Ph.D. in New Testament?  As someone who works with several master’s students aspiring towards future doctoral studies in theological disciplines, I get this question posed to me quite often. It’s a difficult question to ask because the honest answer is, “It depends.”  It all depends on what you would like to do, where you would like to do it, what you’re willing to do to get there, and if you have the opportunity and resources to do so.  This engenders more questions.  What areas within New Testament interest you the most?  What types of schools would you like to teach in if you were to get a Ph.D.?  Would it be best for you to do a program with course work here in the U.S., or to do a research degree at a school in the U.K. or elsewhere?  Which schools align best…

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bible, feminism, new testament, patriarchy, pop culture

An Analysis of Lady Gaga’s Bloody Mary

Lady Gaga’s Bloody Mary is one of those controversial songs on her Born this Way album. It is very complex and hard to decipher unlike Judas another song from the Born this way album. Lady Gaga has no problem depicting religious imagery in her songs. Bloody Mary is hard to interpret , hence if you don’t have an open mind, you will need one.

The metaphors and illusions in the song is confusing you are not sure if she singing about Mary Magdalene or Mary Tudor Queen of England or if she speaking about the urban legend and folklore of Bloody Mary. To understand the song some more you need to know who Mary Magdalene was, who Mary Tudor was and what is the folklore of bloody Mary . Mary Madg is the woman who Jesus cast 7 demons from, there is a strong possibility that she helped fund his ministry, she was one of his closets followers, she was there at the Crucifixion and at the Resurrection and according to some non canon and Gnostic texts she was a leader of one of the early Christian churches. If you a fan of Dan Brown’s Da’Vinci’s code there is this myth that Jesus and Mary was married and there is a bloodline to the present day that is still around.
Mary Tudor Queen of England was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, she was their only child after several miscarriages and still births but Henry wanted a boy and divorced Catherine and disinherited Mary and married Anne Boleyn Queen Elizabeth’s 1 mother but Henry wanted a boy but long story short Anne was beheaded and Elizabeth disinherited and then he married Jane Seymour who gave him his beloved son, long story short Jane died after Edward was born. Anyways to the point when Henry died his will read that Edward would succeed him and if Edward died without heirs then Mary would succeed and if Mary died without heirs Elizabeth would succeed anyways that’s what happen Edward died at 15 he was sickly and Mary succeeded, she got the term Bloody Mary because of her horrible persecution of Protestants, Elizabeth was in constant fear for her life when her sister was queen because she was a Protestant, Mary was Catholic. Henry and later Elizabeth killed more people than Mary but Mary’s methods were bloody , horrible and worse than how her father and sister killed people. As Henry and Elizabeth didn’t persecute religious people, everyone was fair game . Mary specifically targeted non Catholics and tortured and horribly murdered non Catholics with methods that neither her father or Elizabeth used. People died under Mary’s reign horrible and bloody deaths, hence the name Bloody Mary. There is a folklore and legend about bloody Mary some think it stemmed from Mary Tudor but there are many variants to the story and could have stemmed from many historical and mythical people. Depending on the legend Mary is a witch or a ghost. Many young teens and children play this game, which according to folklore that you stand in front of the mirror and call Bloody Mary three times and she would appear . I have played this game several times and I have yet to see this bloody Mary. However I am not sure the song has anything to do with the queen. Bloody Mary is a legend and folklore that has down from generation to generation for hundred’s of years.
Now let me discuss the lyrics and my opinion of them, Lady Gaga I believe is alluding to the fact there is more to the story of Jesus Christ. When we looked at the video we must look past the allusions, illusions, metaphors an what she calls bloody Mary and see the truth of what she is saying. Gaga mentions Pontius Pilate ( when Pontius comes), she also alludes to Christ ( to kill the king upon his throne) and she alludes to Mary Magd or the woman caught in the adultery ( I ‘m ready for their stones) who Jesus saved from the religious leaders. Lady Gaga is singing from the perspective of Mary Magd who as Christ follower does not get the attention that she deserve instead is wrongly accused of being a prostitute , not the woman who stood with Jesus while he was being lynched or the woman who saw the risen Jesus who went and tell the disciples she saw the risen Lord. Gaga as Mary is singing about her relationship with Jesus not in a sexual way but in a deep spiritual way. As Jesus exorcises the 7 demons from  his purity , kindness and goodness touches her soul. Gaga sings “ Love is just a history that they may prove And when you’re gone I’ll tell them my religion’s you “ alluding to John 20 and the other gospel narratives when she goes and tell the disciples that Christ has risen or in the other gospels there other women with her when they went to tell the disciples about Jesus being risen. Gaga continues, “I’m ready for their stones”, again referencing to the woman caught in adultery and the alluding to the misrepresentation that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Mary Magd being misrepresented as a prostitute was claimed to be condemned and shunned by her culture because of her perceived sinfulness . The women caught in adultery was condemned to death by society, but when they met Jesus things changed because they received forgiveness and he did not condemn them. This is very crucial to note.
The next few lines of the song was difficult for me to interpret because they could imply several things . Lady Gaga sings “Ill dance dance with my hands above my head like Jesus gonna dance, dance together”. it could an implication of the Dan Brown ‘s Da Vinci Code myth that she and Jesus were married or it could be which I am going go for that these lines mean that she is happy and joyful for Jesus who cast out the 7 demons from her which I think was physical and mental illness. That she is dancing because Jesus freed her from her ailments, Finally her dancing would be symbolic of the close friendship and communion she has had with Jesus . It is also symbolic of the kind of love expressed for her from Jesus, him telling her to go and tell everyone that he has risen and if you believe the Gnostic texts, it was her not Peter that church would be built on. Gaga also sings “I won’t cry for you, I won’t crucify the things you do, when you’re gone ill still be bloody Mary”. This is also an allusion to John 20 when Jesus basically shows himself to Mary and tells her he has risen and to basically stop crying . It appears that Gaga is giving Mary a response to what Jesus says to her . She has come to accept he has died and has risen and would not try to undo his destiny and all the miracles etc he has performed. She believed. According to some Gnostics and I think I am inclined to believe that she is the most important disciple more important than Peter . Furthermore, she says she won’t deny or persecute (crucify) his good works. This simply implies that she won’’t deny that he rose .
Lady Gaga sings, “Forgive him before he’s dead” alluding to Pilate ( idiot , jack, only cared about pleasing an emperor, the emperor’s errand boy, punk), who wasn’t man enough or had the guts to stand up for Jesus even though he obviously knew he was guilty of any crime. I think the song is about the value of women specifically the women in the bible who Jesus knew and how they were a value to him. In another verse Gaga sings that “We are not just art for Michelangelo to carve. He can’t rewrite the agro of my furied heart”. When I was studying the Renaissance in history class in both high school and undegrad, I learnt that many of the artists and painters did paintings of religious characters nude especially the women. Michelangelo painted women nude, Gaga is saying we are more than nudes, sex workers or whores and adulteress. Gaga sings “J’veux pas mourir toute seule ,French for: I don’t want to die alone” alluding to the Jesus friends abandoning him and alluding to the fact Jesus did not want to go to the cross and wanted God to take him away from death and that he was mostly scared and knew he may have died alone. It also to alludes to the knowledge that after most of Jesus friends and follows scattered and went hide the beloved disciples, Mary his mama, Mary Magd and other women depending on the Gospel writer stand until the end and Jesus fear of dying alone he did not happen.
I think this song is deep like most of the Gaga’s songs, her songs are not always what you think they mean, they are filled with metaphors, allusions and codes. I think the message of bloody Mary if you look deeper is good. She is saying women are all bloody Marys who are misinterpreted by society. Bloody Mary is Mary Magd but she is all of us women who have been accused wrong and whose reputations have been damaged because people are quick to believe patriarchy’s and misogyny’s lies and for women who are judged and ruined because of our past.


Repeating Islands

walcott.jpgRachel DeWoskin for the New Yorker.

One night in the fall of 2002, I was out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant with the poet Derek Walcott, who had been my professor in the graduate poetry program at Boston University. Another of my former teachers, the poet Kenneth Koch, had died recently, and in my purse was a remembrance of Koch that I had written for the journal Teachers & Writers. I had agonized over the text, wanting to render real Koch’s difficult wit in class, the terror and inspiration he inspired in his students, his occasional cruelty in the intimate workshop he ran, and his unusual ability to demystify poetry. I took the pages out and passed them across the table, holding my breath. Derek liked to say that any prose we wrote was a waste of lines that might have been better used for poetry, but…

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