old testament

Five Sisters Who Fought the Patriarchy

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The Jewish people were nearing the end of their 40 years wandering through the desert when Moses orchestrated a census to determine how the promised land would be divided among families when they arrived. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah were five sisters. The fact that they are often referred to as the “daughters of Zelophehad” or the “daughters of Z” reflects the patriarchy of the day (in which, for instance, land was only passed to a male heir). “Z” had died in the desert, and these women of the wilderness advocated for themselves with Moses.

‘Of Kings and Prophets’ Like ‘Game of Thrones’ Minus the Dragons

Image via RNS/ABC/Trevor Adeline

Seger, who said she has seen only trailers of the series, says there can still be a market for such shows among Christians, like herself, or Jews.

“A Christian audience can get hooked on exactly the same things that any other audience does: violence, blood, sex, etc.,” she said. “As Christians, we might want to be high-minded and enlightened but that doesn’t mean we are.”

Jonah At Sea

Illustration by Rick Stromoski

THE MORE I READ the story of Jonah nestled among the serious Minor Prophets of the Old Testament, the more fantastic and hilarious it gets. Everything is turned upside-down.

Jonah’s story follows Amos, who rips into rich people who “lie on beds of ivory and lounge on their couches.” It precedes Micah, whose Lord calls us “to do justice and to love kindness.” But Jonah spends his energy running away from Yahweh. In fact, Jonah is never even called a prophet in the book that bears his name. His interests and concerns are completely different from the Deity who has called him. Only entombment inside a “great fish” will drive his bedraggled, stinking self to the city that needs to repent. Even so, Jonah will perceive his surprising success as an utter failure.

But that’s getting ahead of the story. Most Hebrew prophetic books are collections of oracles unmoored to narrative, but Jonah’s tale has a setting, characters, and a plot! If you didn’t learn this in children’s Sunday school, here are the bare bones of the action:

Yahweh tells a man named Jonah to go east to the city of Nineveh to cry out against its evil. But Jonah flees in the opposite direction on a ship traveling west. A huge storm blows in, so when Jonah says it’s his fault, the sailors reluctantly throw him overboard. The storm immediately stops. A “great fish” swallows Jonah for three days and nights. Then God makes the fish vomit Jonah out on dry land.

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July 2015
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On Capital Punishment, Don’t Start with the Old Testament

Book of Genesis, Janaka Dharmasena / Shutterstock.com
Book of Genesis, Janaka Dharmasena / Shutterstock.com

After this week’s botched execution in Oklahoma, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued why Christians should support the death penalty at CNN.com. Grounding his argument in Genesis 9:6, where Noah is told that anyone guilty of intentional murder should be put to death, Mohler says, “The one who intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life.”

In my experience, most Christian pro-death penalty advocates make similar arguments, rooting themselves in Old Testament teaching. On occasion, they bolster their thinking with a somewhat cryptic reference to the government’s ability to “bear the sword” to “bring punishment on the wrongdoer” by the Apostle Paul. Rarely, will anyone cite Jesus’ teachings.

Mohler is a capable theologian and a thinker I respect. And I have many intelligent friends who support the death penalty. Yet, I think it is problematic for Christians to root their support of capital punishment in the Jewish Scriptures.

A New Way of Being 'Pro-Choice'

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To be “pro-choice” is to make decisions beyond the horizon — to act for the beloved community. Naypong/Shutterstock

“I knew from the beginning that as a woman, an older woman, in a group of ministers who are accustomed to having women largely as supporters, there was no place for me to come into a leadership role. The competition wasn’t worth it.”

These are the words Ella Baker spoke regarding her decision to leave the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, in 1958. Baker was one of the core founders of this organization. Yet, her male colleagues only recognized her competence and expertise to a limit. The “preacher’s club” selected Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker to replace Baker at the helm. Due to this prevailing patriarchy and what she deemed a focus on “mass rallies and grand exhortations by ministers without follow-up,” Baker left the SCLC. She chose to go her own womanly way.

We make decisions every day. Life’s twenty-four-hour cycle is filled with choices. We contemplate what we will wear. We ponder breakfast selections. Will it be the bagel with cream cheese or a caramel macchiato with soy? Should I watch Mad Men, Scandal, or go to bed early? Do I call or just send a text or email? Our daily lives are replete with routine choices.

However, beyond these commonplace decisions are those personal, communal, and national selections that will have an impact on our lives years from now.

The Biblical Imperative to Speak Out on Sexual Violence and Keep Our Churches Safe

Church doors,  thanunkorn / Shutterstock.com
Church doors, thanunkorn / Shutterstock.com

We have learned from the crisis at Penn State University and other incidents that have gained national attention that it is not only religious authorities that turn a blind eye to abuses of power. The educational, legal, social service, and policing systems are broken when it comes to protecting children, and others who are vulnerable, from abuse.

Lest we forget our history and think that this is a uniquely 20th and 21st century problem, we need only turn to the Bible. In II Samuel, we are reminded that abuses of power, lust, and rage have always been part of the human experience.

An incident described II Samuel happens not in a religious or educational institution but in a family. It is not an isolated incident; it does not develop out of thin air. It is a case of “like father, like son.” Amnon’s father is King David, who in II Samuel 11, sees Bathsheba bathing and uses his power to have her brought to him so that he may “lay” with her.

It is only two chapters later that we read that Amnon, David’s son, is tormented by the beauty of his half-sister, Tamar. Amnon does not have the authority that his father David has, so he must use trickery instead of sheer power to get what he wants. After Amnon violently “lays” with Tamar, he is filled with hatred for her and forces her to leave his sight. In doing this, he shames her even further.

The scandal is not just that Amnon violates Tamar and the law of Israel, but when Tamar cries and ritually mourns her pain and disgrace she is told to be quiet. Her brother Absalom tells her to stop brooding over the episode. And while Absalom and their father, King David, are angry with Amnon for what he has done to Tamar, neither David nor Absalom even talks to Amnon about it. David does not punish his beloved firstborn son.

Perhaps one positive thing we can say about this story is that Tamar has a name; she is not anonymous like so many other powerless women in biblical stories. Tamar is named and remembered.

Relearning to Read

DREAMS CAN serve a powerful purpose. Jacob dreamed a ladder and was renamed Israel. Joseph dreamed the sun and moon and stars and was sold into slavery. The magi dreamed a warning and returned home by way of another road.

Years ago I had a dream. I sat, a child, on a dirt floor. Around me paced a horse, saddled, ready. In front stood an immense door, cathedral-tall and brooding. And though open, the space within was dark. I was holding a light. And in the dream, I knew we were to bring light into that darkness. And the darkness—the darkness was the church.

In Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture, Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, bears light to the exegetical (seminary lingo for interpretive) work and examination of the interplay between truth and power found in both familiar and less familiar narratives of Old Testament scripture. Rigorous in content, the read is nevertheless accessible to scholar and novice alike.

Brueggemann's concern with the interplay of truth and power rests on the observation that far too often truth, even biblical truth, is found colluding with and legitimizing the self-serving and self-preserving agenda of totalistic and monopolizing authorities. To use biblical imagery, truth sides with the Pharaohs and the Solomons of the world and not with those on its margins and periphery.

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There's Something in the Water...

AS A GENERAL rule, it’s a bad idea to skip church. Not only could you miss an instructive sermon, but you also risk the wrath of a vengeful God who, depending on His or Her mood on the day of your transgression, could be thumbing through the Old Testament for ideas. On a recent Sunday morning I decided to risk all and go to the gym instead.

This was a mistake.

Distance swimming is my exercise of choice, but counting laps is about the most boring thing a person can do, aside from sitting through an instructive sermon. So I try to occupy my mind with various reveries of proven distraction. This time I had selected the Rock Star Scenario, and after a few laps my mind was fully into the altered state of being the lead guitar player at a stadium full of screaming fans. Backing me up was Paul McCartney on bass, Bruce Springsteen on rhythm guitar, and my granddaughter on drums. Despite her small size, she can lay down a driving beat and only occasionally needs to be nudged upright by stagehands. (She’s only 1 year old and tends to fall over if nobody’s watching.)

I had just launched into a blazing riff that Eric Clapton would have envied when I noticed Springsteen stepping up to the microphone. He does this a lot, and had I not checked him with a preemptive glare he would have launched into one of his boring monologues that has nothing to do with me. (Is it too much to ask that I be The Boss in my own fantasy?!)

Suddenly a huge wall of bubbles erupted in front of me, followed by the breaching of an enormous humanoid figure, clad all in black, spouting air and spray from what I assumed was a blowhole on its back.  Streaming out the rear of its head was a thick strand of blond hair, presumably the undigested remains of its last victim.

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