Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Image and Likeness

If gender means that female and male are realities, then gender has a descriptive purpose. Gender ordered to biology seems fairly benign, as it describes structural realities that are decisive for reproduction in many species. Grammatical gender has always fascinated me, but as it is of a piece with language, which is itself a culturally mediated phenomenon, I decline to do more with it than what's required for declension. I don't even have a particular problem with 'patriarchy' as it is historically verifiable, deeply ancient, and an artifact of many cultures. If gender means that my wife and daughters are inherently secondary or somehow inherently inferior in contemporary constructs of society, then I reject its hegemony as something grasping for something that, by today's values, or any sense of truth and justice, is ugly and hateful. Such a hegemony is invested in inequality and devaluation and is a harbinger of decadence for societies that anachronistically embrace the necessity of such sociological and historical patterns which may or may not have worked in the past.

Elizabeth Johnson's She Who Is, Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza's In Memory of Her (again I date myself with books), and more recently Catherine Keller's Face of the Deep seek to express, in unique ways, theological ideas in terms of authentic, historical, female experience. The feminist approach has advanced biblical studies incalculably, not only within the historical critical model, but lately in post-structuralist models as well. No comprehensive approach to theology can move forward apart from these currents. My approach is to be sensitive to the accomplishments of biblical and theological feminism without devolving into ideology.

So, let this tiny prolegomenon be my disclaimer.

But how to approach ancient texts, understand their self-understanding, and read sensitively for illumination such texts that are so old?

The preceding blogpost looks at reshith (the title is in Hebrew and intended to be a bit jarring) in terms of what the Elohist says in going on when things get started. In that piece, I had no platform to assert that reshith also can translated as 'she who is,' 'wisdom' (sophia), and Logos. But isn't that what the Elohist is expressing? Creation occurs under conditions of divine fiat, but there seems to be a good deal of stuff making an appearance nearby. Making sense of what's there in the text is 'reading,' and making sense of sacred texts might even mean reading is praying.


Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. [Gen 1:26-7, NIV]

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them...

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. [Gen 2:7; 18-19; 22, NIV]

The story is familiar. The narrative extravagance of the turn to image and likeness, pushes the reading from the purely mimetic (a good story) to the semiotic (a moment open to the event). The general creation of heaven and earth prefigures the creation of humankind, which recapitulates the motion from reshith to heaven and earth. It is from the earth itself that humans emerge as living beings, male and female. The image and likeness of God and humanity refer to their commonality, here not 'being' but loving. Love is willing the good to the other: first, Elohim to reshith, then God to the earth. The first beings are heaven and earth, and from the earth are brought forth living beings. The male and female are of the very same fleshly material, here symbolized by the rib, 'bone of my bones.' By bone of bones, I read deepest of depths (what was,once upon a time, called substance), of identity marked by difference. Male and female are identical in their image and likeness to God (and to each other) and are differentiated only to increase their likeness to God: the will and gift to generate, to create from their very selves in the unity of difference. The images and likenesses of God and humankind are reflections of each other. How is this not an event of a profoundly revealed truth of how God is in and of himself?

The text emphasizes not merely analogy of Being but the phenomenon of similarity that appears within the horizon of love. The text presents the core of the profound unity of God in relation to the differance of persons as the perichoresis of male and female ordered to creation. It is here that reshith finds its location within Elohim, even as Elohim creates in reshith (b'reshith, in the beginning, in solid time where moments are places and matter, which matter). And perhaps here on the horizon of love, reshith becomes the echo of Logos, sophia and the 'she who is,' which, collectively, is another way of saying 'I am who am,' and in so saying, I say so in memory of her.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, i am from Australia.
    Please find an Illuminated Understanding of the Feminine Principle (Shakti - the Goddess - She) via these references:

    Adam & Eve in the Garden of Indestructible Light

    Radical somatic ontology multiple references

    Myth-busting essays on religion, science & culture via: Jesus & Quantum Reality

    Radical Quantum "metaphysics"

    Consciousness & the universal scapegoat "game"

    On the dreadfully destructive nature of the Western mind in both its secular & "religious" forms.