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Don’t Read This Part of the Bible If You’re Under 30—Or a Woman

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It's long been known that Ezekiel is -- well, let's be honest here -- one crazy-ass book of the Bible. Now that I'm tweeting about it every day and reading it cover to cover for the Twible project, I've come to understand one of the oldest traditions about it: it's not for everyone.

Some of the great rabbis taught that the book of Ezekiel, with its strange visions and explicit sexual language, should not be read by any Torah student under the age of 30. The symbolism of "30" was likely tied to Ezekiel's own reported age when he began receiving his prophetic visions; perhaps the rabbis felt that if Ezekiel was old enough to see these weird word-pictures, 30-something men were considered mature enough to read about them.

Not so for women. The traditional explanation for restricting Ezekiel to men was that women were too delicate to hear God using the F word (chapter 16, though you won't find it in English translations), and too fragile to hear about slut-girl Jerusalem bedding down with foreign males whose genitals were as enormous as donkeys' (ch 23). God is full of rage in this book, brandishing a sword so terrifying that the people wet themselves with fear and urine runs down their legs as they face their well-deserved deaths. Jacq Lapsley has this to say in the New Interpreter's Bible:

Ezekiel is one of the strangest books of the Bible. Bursting with bizarre symbolism and sexually explicit language, the book seethes with divine fury even while simultaneously offering some of the most powerful expressions within the OT of God's desire to restore humanity and creation to wholeness. (p. 456)

I am a feminist, and the Book of Ezekiel offends me. It depicts women as sexual victims on the one hand and sexual predators on the other, leading righteous men astray in the most graphic and damning way possible. Its extended allegory of Jerusalem the prostitute is, according to Lapsley, "highly sexualized, even pornographic." Its images of God hiring a hit man to punish the city sound like every john who beats his whores to bring them into line, even killing them to get the point across.

Ezekiel is a text of terror for women, that much is clear. But its raw rage can be unexpectedly . . . cathartic. I read with fascination this personal account of a Jewish feminist scholar who, after years of scholarship on Ezekiel, came to this startling conclusion:

As I dug deeper, I realized that Ezekiel did not just depict wife Jerusalem as being unfaithful. The abomination of wife Jerusalem is that she was attempting to pass for a male (i.e. aggressive, independent), that she was crossing gender boundaries and upsetting the world order. Her behaviors were less characteristic of an adulterous wife and more appropriate to a woman who was asserting her selfhood and independence–behavior associated with masculinity in Ezekiel’s world. In Ezekiel 16, the wife Jerusalem wears the dildo, wields the phallus. Her transgendering is the ultimate transgression.

In Ezekiel, the historical setting was the very beginning of the exile, when the most prominent members of Israel's elite were the first to be deported. This included women of status, who discovered that women in Babylon had more rights than they did: they could "own and freely dispose of their property, initiate divorce proceedings, and inherit a portion of their husband's estate." (IVP Women's Bible Commentary, 397) Women in Babylon were not the equal of men, but they were in many ways better off than women in Israel. And many men likely found that prospect frightening.

Women, here is what I have found: Reading Ezekiel by itself without a guide is a nightmare. Listen to the rabbis and don't do it. On the other hand, reading Ezekiel in the company of wise female biblical scholars is enlightening, and in the end even empowering.

Topics: Faith, Doctrine & Practice
Beliefs: Christian - Catholic, Christian - Orthodox, Christian - Protestant, Interfaith, Judaism, Mormon
Tags: bible, book of ezekiel, don't read ezekiel if you're a woman, don't read ezekiel if you're under 30, ezekiel, flunking sainthood, jana riess, s. tamar kamionkowski, texts of terror, twible, twible commentary, use of the word "fuck" in ezekiel, violence against women in the bible, zeek

Comments

  1. There may be another way of looking at all this and it first occurred to me when writing a critique of Jack Miles’ “God: A Biography”. He regards all three major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel as in different ways crazy which I found too dismissive, too facile. As I wrote in my “Cosmic Father: Spirituality as Relationship” (available Amazon), a way to approach and understand their psychology is as exemplifying the symbolism and psychology of astrology’s three outer, “invisible” planets. These for astrologers are profoundly related to our spirituality, and for Christians could be symbolically related to the Trinity too, but which for humanly are very hard to express, manage and channel. For the average person they are too often just lived out negatively like a badly aspected Neptune could be not prophetic vision but alcoholism, drug addiction and utter delusion. Isaiah’s flowing outgoing vision is the most Christ-like, messianic and Neptunian, Jeremiah’s protest, his drive to the new covenant and at times barely hidden gay feelings (in ways I indicate but which seem missed and ignored) are of Uranus and they connect to the Spirit, while Ezekiel is the sheer horror and terror of Pluto and the creation and destruction of God as Creator/Father. 

    Pluto is the most difficult factor in the astrological pantheon. Its transits can seem like death and destruction itself (notice no one will see God and live according to Exodus). The symbolism as in Ezekiel embraces the lowest and highest. It is the great all-embracing (but all purifying and judging) zero. Any astrologer will tell you it is paradoxical and multivalent. It can be faeces and hell, rape and pornography as much as any creative power of life or sex. It was the fact that Ezekiel is commanded to cook over dung which is against his priestly as much as human feelings that made me realize he is probably to be read as going through some kind of Plutonic realizations as in another way is Job who deals with God as the terrible. To realize and hear God, Ezekiel is being forced to experience the revolting, the terrible, the deadly, the obscene, over and beyond the rationale and custom of Torah which really to meet God beyond custom (Saturn, the last visible planet) one has to go beyond. Neptune, though poorly used it can degenerate into the Dionysian, is the beautiful more obviously compassionate side of God, the filter so to speak which makes management of the Plutonic or plain unapproachable side of God this side of the grave, possible. The Christian Trinity creates a kind of working symbolic logic to the forces the Hebrew Bible is dealing in or postponing dealing with through the function of prophecy.

    To be frank about it, one day theology is going to have to accept there is a hidden but extremely potent and accurate astro-theology at work in the Bible which will unlock many doors to understanding that are needed today. Presently I am hardly able to get any theologian and especially any conservative Christian (for whom astrology is sin despite the Magi being involved in Christ’s nativity) to look into this side of things despite the insight and healing it can bring to contemporary religion.

     

     

  2. One need not twist and turn in the winds of mental gyrations trying to manipulate ancient mythology into modern psychology that has evolved from greater, realistic understanding of our cosmos.  Take those old renditions like Ezikiel for what they were, interpretations of reality long before science.  Mythology was the natural resort to interpreting all the wonders that surrounded and threatened humans before those wonders were hardly understood.  The sun, the moon, thunder, even the awesome, dangerous waters that filled earth’s basins and whirled, providing food, cleansing, pleasure, intrigue, and danger.  Ok, so the authors of those ancient stories like Ezekiel were less knowledgeable than those who came later.  So were the multitudes who listened to them and the scribes who wrote down their poetic notions.  That was then, this is now.  The doors of the Bible and all other mythology were long ago thrown open wide, in spite of the most powerful religious groups imprisoning, torturing, and destroying people like Galileo tried to maintain Ezekiel and the rest as a science text.  That’s still being done.  Have you listened to creationists?  Facts, science, has been learned that exposed mythology as an incorrect and insufficient explanation of things.  Study science, then look upon mythology as an ancient poetry, if you will, that missed reality by light years.  But don’t use ancient writings like those in the Bible as history or science textbooks.  That can be very dangerous.

  3. I’m not sure whether the above comment about reading Bible as mere mythology is being more critical of the original author trying to come to terms with Ezekiel, or my own response to it and treating my references to astrology as mythology.

    Either way I think it’s important to realize that a lot of what goes under the head of “mythology” today is perennial in feeling and import and simply expresses more or less efficiently what it needs to say. If astrology is nothing but dead mythology (and I realize that Christians dismiss it very easily) all I can say is look into just what difficult transits of Pluto, such as I would associate with Ezekiel’s experiences, can do to people - read for example Jungian psychologist Liz Greene sobering account in “The Astrology of Fate”. There is definitely something there of the trials of Job.

    I however failed to mention that despite all the negative Plutonian symbolism in Ezekiel, there is also its positive in especially the Valley of Dry Bones vision. It is this which may be said to help excuse or canonize the controversial rest. This vision is an extreme example of Plutonic life and power through death and it’s a sort of resurrection cum transformation you may hope to obtain if you survive the Plutonic transit. Many can’t, but many won’t have to undergo the experience the length of their lives either due to the nature of their birth patterns and/or the slow motion of the planet which nevertheless helps insure it’s about ongoing, not just a merely passing pain and frustration if and when it strikes. The main achievement of Ezekiel was perhaps to have survived his life and the effects of his own strange vision which we risk forgetting included a very special vision of God more or less unique in the OT, a reason we can’t just throw the book away even when it frustrates us.

  4. reading bible is a big help to awaken our sleeping mind and open our heart unto God.
    reminiscence is the best way to find God and love in our heart
    Water removal

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