Sunday 12 August 2012

Canon Within the Canon / Inclusive Bible?

These are two of the ideas that have floated around among feminist biblical scholars & in feminist hermeneutics by those who wish to stay within the Christian belief system. I have problems with both of these attempted solutions to the patriarchal construction of the biblical texts. As I see it, some of the major problems with both solutions are that:

  1. The texts were all written from within patriarchal societies by people who were socialized within those cultures. No matter how hard you try, you cannot avoid this fact. We cannot escape our past, we can only be aware of how it shaped us.
  2. Both solutions contain within them the assumption that there is something authoritative and "divinely inspired" about (some of) the biblical texts. They are thus privileged and contain ethical and instructive material that cannot be found elsewhere.
  3. There will be no consensus on what should be the "good" canon as opposed to what is the "bad" canon. This is not necessarily a negative thing, but believers often have the idea that everyone should somehow see things the same way. Some decisions might be easy, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", for example [but that is contained in just about every ethical system in existence]. 
  4. Incipient Christianity was an apocalyptic Jewish sectarian movement. A text such as Paul's comment that there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, etc., one of those "good" texts, derives from the apocalyptic assumptions of the early beliefs of the proto-Christian belief system. You can only accept it if you remove the verse itself from everything around it. This is a major problem for the entire Christian "New Testament" corpus, its apocrypha and cognate writings.
  5. The big one. How do you deal with the atonement? Jesus' death on the cross and then his resurrection are central to the structure of Christianity. Even if one focuses on the resurrection, you can't have a resurrection without a death. So do you leave it in? If yes, then how to deal with all of the theologies that were built around this from the earliest days? If no, then what are you really left with? I happened to believe that there was a real person, Jesus who was an itinerant preacher and who was sent to his death. However, why, what happened afterwards, are all open to interpretation - right from the beginning. What we have is the hero myth, writ large and it appealed to the world in which it was created. Short of Dr. Who's Tardis, we will never know what happened.
  6. Inclusive language is almost a mythical attempt to reshape the bible. What difference does it really make if Jesus died for humanity, rather than for mankind? The problem is not language but the entire construct that implies that humanity (or mankind) is in need a scapegoat - that we are guilty of something more than just living life.

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