Sunday, February 9, 2014

Cakes, Libations, and Smell Good Stuff

           Without getting into a debate about the gender or lack of gender of a triune God, apparently some women during the time of the prophet Jeremiah worshiped not the “King” of heaven but the “Queen” of heaven. Although the text states that this Queen was worshiped by women, children, and men (including kings and officials), Jeremiah implies that worship was mainly done by the women in the Yahwistic community. The interpretation is that the women were excluded from the leadership of the cult (just means religious) practices of the Temple, so they started their own private form of worship that they had control over.
            So what exactly did the new religious group of women do in their new religion according to the prophet Jeremiah? Well, the most offending cult practice these women did was to make “offering cakes” for the goddess known as Queen Cakes. Other offensive practices included bringing the goddess something to drink and making an offering of incense to her.

             Let me get this right, women were excluded from assisting in the male dominated religion of the Yahwistic community so they formed their own religion that included baking cakes, offering libations, and burning smell good stuff. Yep, that sounds like a religion that would centered itself around a feminine approach to worshipping a divine figure! Again, compared to the more masculine religion where the Lord is offered cooked meat, the blood of a lamb, and the pleasing incense is cooking meat….Yeah, I can see where some independent minded women would have struck out on their own!
            Now I’m not saying the women were correct in forming their own religion, but I do think they have a point that some modern church goers would support. In the new Church (Christian Church born of Christ) where there is no male or female, there should be an awareness of what religious practices we do that can be inclusive to all. Or, a searching to shift an all-male dominated religion towards something that can include the gifts and talents of anyone from the community of believers. If we are one body of believers, then searching to include the gifts of all members of the body should be our goal in worshiping the triune God.

I Don't Need a Man!

          Isaiah’s treatment of women in the narrative can cause conflicting feelings for a modern day female reader. On one hand, the authors of Isaiah do include women into the cultural and cult practices of the community. Women are instrumental in leading the community through the mourning, or lamenting, process of grieving. However, being seen a strong leader for the community in general is not something the text describes for the women in Israel/Judah. Thus, it is slightly humorous to read the account of the “Seven Women” in Isaiah chapter 4. 

According to Isaiah, Jerusalem’s population will be decimated and there will be a severe lack of men in the community. Thus the seven women will do anything they can to secure a husband, even going as far to volunteer to provide their own food and clothing. The desire to be wed is so strong for these women that they are willing to engage and take responsibility for life aspects that would traditionally not be theirs to do. 

The humor is found when thinking about how the story line conjures images of a “Desperate Housewives” sitcom. That a female is in desperate need of a husband to provide her with legitimacy or family within the community system that she is willing to do almost all the work. I wonder if these women ever developed into strong and independent females who then realized that they “didn’t need a man” to be happy. And, if so, would that then have sparked a revolution within the Yahwistic community that created an environment that created space for women to slowly achieve equal status with the men? We’d have a much different looking Christian church today if this had happened!

Good Feminist vs. Good Leader

           A friend said recently that Queen Vashti from the book of Esther could be considered the first feminist in the Biblical narrative. This was based on the idea that she was the first female character to stand up that strongly to a male character. This idea is echoed by feminist theologians who write that Vashti “was the first woman in the Bible…to refuse to be treated as either chattel or a sex object. She…sets for women a fine example of female independence, assertiveness, and a high concept of self-worth” (Meyers, 167). For a female character that does not actually speak or be present for more than a few verses such a title is quite extraordinary. Score one feminist point for Vashti!

            Yet, I cannot help but feel that Vashti is not a good study in leadership. A study of strength of character, being courageous in the face adversity, or how to speak up about your beliefs. Yes, Vashti is that, but a Biblical character that is an example of a good and effective leadership, Vashti is not. Not when compared to Esther and her leadership. 

            Now, Esther is not always held up as a paragon of feminist ideals. She seemingly accepts with little protest going into the King’s Harem and ultimately becoming his new queen. This easy acceptance when compared to Vashti’s refusal does seem to create an image of Vashti as a hero and Esther as a non-hero. 

            However, I would argue that of the two, Esther is the stronger leader and thus the stronger, and smarter, feminist hero than Vashti. Vashti has a slightly larger wiggle room to disobey the king, but Esther as a member of a minority group would potentially have had little to no choice in obeying the King. Thus Esther actions of going before the King, confronting Haman, and securing the future of her people is all the more extraordinary. Esther had to have the leadership ability to craft a plan and then the courage to carry the plan through. Vashti, although courageous, did not craft and carry out a plan that would ultimately achieve such greatness or leadership.