The Family of The Unsandaled

“If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.  

However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.” (Deut 25:5-11)

Not much to say here but quite the interesting piece of text.

Was debating the gay marriage issue and came across this tidbit on ‘remarriage of a widow’. I figured, what about this piece – do Chrisrians harp on this groovy idea? It is in the NT as well:

“On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Jesus and questioned Him, asking, “Teacher, Moses said, IF A MAN DIES HAVING NO CHILDREN, HIS BROTHER AS NEXT OF KIN SHALL MARRY HIS WIFE, AND RAISE UP CHILDREN FOR HIS BROTHER.'” Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. “Last of all, the woman died. “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.”” (Matt 22:23-28)

Gall of these people asking someone who wasn’t even married. Regardless, Jesus does not shun the teaching, only the idea of being married in the resurrection. It seems like an idea that may have held some weight even in Jesus’ day.

So why is it Christians debate the gay issue so vehemently yet disregard the idea of marrying their sister-in-law if their brother does not have a kid with him?

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31 thoughts on “The Family of The Unsandaled

  1. Context. The point of the Deuteronomy passage is not necessarily to apply that law as a universal, for all times, places and people. You must consider the context of within which the law was given. Widows were vulnerable. Having no one in their lives to care for them and provide for them meant that they often would have to turn to things like prostitution to survive.

    Deut. shows us that God makes provisions for the most vulnerable in society.

    In N. America (at least in Toronto where I’m from) widows are no longer vulnerable people (generally speaking). In our society, when a woman’s husband dies, she is not typically viewed as cursed and avoided at all cost. So, you’re actually doing violence to the text when you ask why Christians “disregard the idea of marrying their sister-in-law if their brother does not have a kid with him?”

    Therefore, you can’t use this text to say, “there, see, y’all shouldn’t be arguing over gay marriage!”

  2. “Therefore, you can’t use this text to say, “there, see, y’all shouldn’t be arguing over gay marriage!”” (JT)

    I agree, since the text obviously is ‘interpreted’ in a different way than just the ‘literal’ observation – intent is viewed and weighed…which you have amply pointed out.

    Why is this relevant to my point about gay issues and the bible, well it’s the same problem – ‘intrepretation and intent’. Just trying to make people see the comparison factor of using something only on it’s literal face value and not seeing more into intent and idea behind the passage.

    The problem is all passages on gays is outright seen as literal and can be read no other way in more conservative circles. If this is how they want to interpret, then this is another issue they never address on the ‘literal’ aspect of it. (Which I agree would be unwise to do)

    But I also see the lack of wisdom in only a literal reading of passages that relate to gay people (ie: Leviticus and Romans). The plan for the literalist is to simplify the text and not see beyond that…which I point out here.

  3. Context. The point of the Deuteronomy passage is not necessarily to apply that law as a universal, for all times, places and people. You must consider the context of within which the law was given.

    Exactly so. However that goes for passages concerning gays equally. You can not pick and choose which passages have context and which ones are not ‘universal’.

  4. I understand the point of the discussion. The point of the discussion has nothing to do with widows and re-marriage, per se. It has to do with modern Christianity picking and choosing battles as they see fit; i.e. those that fit an agenda and ideology even if they have no context in scripture.

    The passage you cite about widows is antiquated and is of no moral use in the Western world, but what of those that are in actual impoverished objective realities across the globe. JT misses the fact that a majortiy of the 6 billion people on the earth live in some kind of abject poverty and do not live in T.O. or any wealthy-middle-class scenario. There are millions of widowed women that do not have any source of income once their husband dies. In this sense the passage makes sense. But of course the passage was only meant for the traditional Jewish (Hebrew?) communities and thus cannot represent a universal idea in any way. The sadness of modern Christians is that these antiquated scrptures represent, to them, communal universals. In this sense JT is correct that the context is skewed. It would be best served to leave the OT to the time that it was written and to its community.

    Gay marriage and gay life have no context in the OT/NT. Therefore the ideas about gayness cannot be judged correctly in 2011 by ideas that are over (even in many Jewish communities). The Bible is not a path to accurately portray gay life in any way.

  5. I feel I need to point out that thinking this passage is about protecting the vulnerable also seems like a wild abuse of the text.

    It specifically says that the widow “not marry outside the family”, so even if the widow would be married and provided for, it is still not permissable for the brother-in-law to refuse. Nor does the widow get any choice in the matter.

    In addition, the brother-in-law must not only give the widow children (who would then support her if the brother-in-law dies) but also to raise these children as his brother’s children. The reason for this is explicit: “so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel”.

    Furthermore, the punishment in this case – shame on the browther-in-law’s family line – has nothing to do with compensating the widow. Instead, this is clearly a punishment of retribution: the brother-in-law who would not honour his dead brother by continuing his line, has his own line dishonoured.

    This is very male-centered notion of lineage, intented to sooth male egos about their prodgeny. Such misogynist texts where women are property, tools of men to carry on their line, should not be whitewashed by being made out to be about protecting the vulnerable.

    • “Such misogynist texts where women are property, tools of men to carry on their line, should not be whitewashed by being made out to be about protecting the vulnerable.”

      yes, this point shows the great failures of the universailty of the Biblical messages/morals/intents, in many ways. Even the ‘Son of God’ never chose an official female disciple (why not?). And even the Christ had to be a male in order to fulfill the notions about Messiah. God is a misogynist and the persona of Jesus shows this to be true. Do not get started on Paul and his views (he mistrusts women more than Nietzsche and Rousseau did).

      Antiquated ideas about women, as material property and second class citizens, have continued for two thousand years in Christian theology. This a great issue that many male christians often ignore and try to eradicte from their organizations. In truth, Paul’s ideas about women have become negative universals and have been implemented as standard practice in many christian communities; even in the West and to this day.

  6. @Johnny Bird
    You say that the Deut. passage is of “no moral use in the Western world” because it is “antiquated”. This is absurd. The “Western world” did not just pop into existence out of nothing but out of a particular HISTORY. History is of course “antiquated” so would you also argue that our legal system is of “no moral use” because it too is rooted in ancient legal practices?

    Perhaps the problem is that you’re coming to the scriptures looking to “use” them for a particular end. This is to do violence to the text. The Judeo-Christian scriptures are not to be “used”. To come at the scriptures from this perspective is to miss the point. We cannot “leave the OT to the time that it was written” because this is the very context in which the NT arose. So then, you’d have to say the same thing about the NT. Of course, this is not necessary. But I digress. Certainly homosexuality has evolved since the time of scripture but to say it is a *totally* new invention is misleading. This issue of homosexuality is complex and beyond simply “acceptance” or “rejection”. Of course, this insults the intuition of both liberals and conservatives, but that is no surprise in light of the person and work of Christ Jesus.

    @Christine
    I don’t want to get into a drawn out debate about how we are to interpret Deut. but I would suggest that how I’ve interpreted it above is not “a wild abuse of the text”. If you read and are familiar with Hebraic law and the narrative of the Hebrew scriptures (continuing on with the Christian scriptures) then it is obvious that within Hebraic law God makes provision for those who cannot care for themselves (widows and marriage aside). What is interesting is that this set Israel apart from other nations/cultures of their time in which the most vulnerable would have been ignored and left to rot or taken advantage of for personal gain.

    This text is not misogynistic, in fact, given the nature of the culture/time it is anything BUT misogynistic. Now, I recognize that the way in which many ancient cultures do greatly insult our modern liberal convictions but to suggest that the culture of ancient Israel was misogynistic is to read something into the culture from YOUR perspective that would not have made sense in the original time/place. I’ll repeat what I’ve already said, but in the culture of the time Israel’s laws were entirely and wholly PROGRESSIVE.

    I would just end with this: from our modern liberal perspective there are many things about ancient culture that are offensive. This is not limited to ancient Judeo/Christian culture but to all ancient culture in general. In light of this, the laws of God in the OT and the teachings of Jesus and Paul (etc) in the NT, demonstrate that God is always two steps ahead of the prevailing culture in terms of providing for those who go unnoticed. To say that we need not pay attention to scripture because it is “antiquated” is simply to set up a straw man to distract from what the real issues are. Plus, given that there is nothing new under the sun, any ground that you wish to argue from is itself “antiquated”.

    Now, I’ve gotten off track and said nothing about homosexuality thus far. My point is simply that scripture is complex, more complex than you may think and our job is not to make off-hand decisions from our modern liberal perspective about what is applicable and what is not. Rather, our job is to wrestle with the text as a community in an attempt to discern what the Spirit is saying amongst us.

    • “History is of course ‘antiquated'” JT

      No, I would never aruge this point because we are making history today and we are living it and changing it. I sad the OT is ‘antiquated’ in its moral scope, and it is. I do not regret this point of view. If it is not antiquated then why do you not sacrifice animals to Yahweh? Which was a mandatory form of worship in the OT context. Also, the punishments for breaking the laws were often extreme and unjust (in a gender context for sure). Read the laws again and try to apply them in an objective reality in 2011. Good luck with that.

      “Perhaps the problem is that you’re coming to the scriptures looking to “use” them for a particular end.” JT

      JT, you are defending ideas and subjective beliefs that are thousands of years old and you have us all to believe that there are none that are out of date in 2011? Really, none? This is far too deterministic and essentialist for me to grasp as objective “truth”.

      I never “use “scriptures for anything other than subjective theological discussion. Why? Because I do not subjectively believe in any of them.

      So then JT, if I read you right, you are arguing that the entire OT can go beyond its original context? Which is entirely Jewish-Hebrew based and meant for that society, agreed. So then how does the OT contain any universal messages? There are no universals contained in it, certainly not in the context of the actual time and space when the Hebrew communities ratified it into their law. The context is traditional Hebrew and NOT Christian or Roman in any sense. History is correct on this point and even subjective faith cannot refute this truth.

      “Certainly homosexuality has evolved since the time of scripture but to say it is a *totally* new invention is misleading.” JT

      Nobody said it was a new “invention”. What was said was that the OT and NT were incapable of addressing the issue in 2011 since scripture is vacant on the issue, which is also true.

      “our job is to wrestle with the text as a community in an attempt to discern what the Spirit is saying amongst us.” JT

      I personally see this notion of “spirit” as being a common ruse for those that have no real answers to tough modern questions. It is akin to “praying about it.” The spirit is a blatant subjectivity and not a material reality; it is also one that I do not adhere to and never will.

  7. @Johnny,
    Well it appears that we simply disagree on some major points then.

    “I sad the OT is ‘antiquated’ in its moral scope, and it is. I do not regret this point of view. If it is not antiquated then why do you not sacrifice animals to Yahweh? Which was a mandatory form of worship in the OT context.” JB

    Sure, you said the OT is antiquated in its moral scope but you haven’t argued WHY. So far the only reason you’ve given is that it is old and the cultural context has greatly changed since then. I don’t sacrifice animals because, as you yourself said, that was restricted to a particular *context*. Now, if your argument is that an “antiquated” OT has nothing to say to our modern Western culture then I simply disagree. I concede that not everything in the OT can or ought to be applied to our culture now (I never argued this in the first place). So then, I have no desire to take OT laws “and try to apply them in an objective” manner in 2011. HOWEVER, just because some of the OT cannot be applied today does not mean that the OT in general can just be tossed aside as meaningless. The Christian tradition takes the OT as something through which God has revealed himself to his creatures (the bible is not revelation, but God reveals himself through the scriptures…this is an important distinction). As such, the OT is part of our story. If the OT is part of our story then we must continually remember it as to remember who’s we are. We cannot simply ignore it as “antiquated”. Also, in regard to it’s morality, there is much of OT morality that we simply DO apply today (see our laws for example). So I disagree with you that OT morality is simply bankrupt on the whole and ought to be done away with.

    “JT, you are defending ideas and subjective beliefs that are thousands of years old and you have us all to believe that there are none that are out of date in 2011?” JB

    I trust that at this point it is obvious that there are some (many, even) OT laws/ideas that are indeed out of date in 2011. But the OT in more general terms is not “out of date in 2011”. Fuck, I know us modern Western liberals think a lot of ourselves but oh how quickly we forget!

    “So then how does the OT contain any universal messages? There are no universals contained in it” JB

    False. God is Creator of all things. This is a universal from the first few lines of Hebrew Scripture. The law then, is basically saying, “since we are God’s, this is how we are to live.” I would argue that while that legal system no longer applies to us (it’s been fulfilled in Christ anyways) the notion that we are God’s and as His creatures He has set out a particular way for us to live, a particular way to be human, is a “universal message” from the opening lines of scripture and throughout. Here then, we have the beginnings of a universal morality (of sorts), namely: God made you. You are His creature and He knows best the ends towards which you ought to live your life.

    Now, that being said, I don’t believe we ought to go rummaging through the OT looking for universals. But to say there are simply none is false (The Decalogue, for example, while ancient has modern applications…i.e. the 2nd commandment: it ALWAYS leads to dehumanizing ends when we turn from our creator to worship other bits of the creation).

    “the OT and NT were incapable of addressing [homosexuality] in 2011 since scripture is vacant on the issue, which is also true.” JB

    For starters, I agree that homosexuality as we know it today probably isn’t what Paul or the writer of Leviticus is talking about. I don’t think Paul had in mind a loving, committed, monogamous homosexual relationship. HOWEVER, to suggest that God has nothing to say about *any* area of life including homosexuality just because it isn’t obviously spelled out in the scriptures is fallacious, an appeal to ignorance. Just because something is not obviously spelled out in the scriptures does not mean God has nothing to say about any such matter for in wrestling with the scriptures as a community we are able to discern what God is saying to us today.

    “I personally see this notion of “spirit” as being a common ruse for those that have no real answers to tough modern questions.” JB

    I disagree. Perhaps sometimes this is the way it is used. However, I was simply alluding to the fact that the scriptures are complex and that when we come together as a community to submit to them the Spirit is present there in our midst.

    “The spirit is a blatant subjectivity and not a material reality; it is also one that I do not adhere to and never will.” JB

    I probably wouldn’t ever adhere to that sort of “spirit” either. However, the Spirit that I’m referring to is the 3rd person of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit. Fully and beautifully God, the Spirit is God with us. This is a far cry from “blatant subjectivity”.

    Peace.

  8. “Nobody said it was a new “invention”. What was said was that the OT and NT were incapable of addressing the issue in 2011 since scripture is vacant on the issue, which is also true.” (Johnny)

    I slightly disagree here. The Tanakh is pseudo history (in narrative) that focuses on a time frame in history (well many time periods to be honest). What’s in it may not be modern in it’s scope, but that does not make it ‘vacant’. The issue will always be modernization of the texts and tranfer from historical contexts of the texts to today’s context and use (which is what I am usually on about).

    Christine raise a great point on misogyny of the text if used as ‘literal’ now – which addresses a wider point which yout touched upon – misogyny in general (an certain imbalance towards women it would seem). I agree on this point, however each text can be looked at from a modern perspective and learned upon from it’s historical roots (like how WW2 framed a lot of what happened after it).

    I don’t find the scriptures outdated at all, they’re historical records (in narrative obviously) about ideas and thoughts we weigh day to day in this society. The goal should always be to ‘progress’ from there (ancient history) to here (present). The goal of the theologican is to examine this and find what about ancient ideas canbe kept alive in intent to this day.

  9. As for ther aforementioned scripture in the blog – I get the reasoning for the teaching. The protection of the widow, which was carried on by the disciples in Acts, was important. The concern was for the widow to not get lost in the shuffle of society and for man that passed to be ‘remembered’…of course via lineage in this case.

    Some things modernize well from there.

    We still want to take care of widows, single mothers, and the elderly who may be in this position. I still feel it is on the family of that person to help provide if this is their sister, mother, or daughter – since this is where the most concern can be appropriated and genuine compassion will arise. If someone n my family wanted me to watch their child in a case like this, I think I would (for a single mother). I see a sense of shame in not helping out if one can do so.

    Of course, in this society we have systems to help take care of people in this position and we are thankful for that. So the modernization of such a text might mean supporting those systems.

    As for the part where the brother has a child with the widow, we really don’t follow those tight of familial systems anymore, so this would not be something we would try advocate.

  10. @ JT
    I was not making a point about all of Deuteronomy, but on the specific passage in the blogpost. My point was that that particular requirement of brothers-in-law does not have as its intent provision for the vulnerable (although that may have often been its effect). I would argue that provision for foreigners or the poor, for example, occurs much more than provision for women as an intent.

    Your point that it is progressive *relative* for its time and place might indeed be true – but only relative to a culture which placed no value (beyond a montetary one) on women whatsoever. Unless we accept that women actually *did* have less value then than now, I stand by my assessment that it’s mysogynistic.

    Yes, that is an assessment based on my context. But I’m not trying to say that those writing it would have been seen at the time as mysogynistic – I’m saying that I see it that way. I’m a moral relativist only to a point, and that crosses my line. At some point, I believe in absolute right and wrong and only have the capacity to evaulate that based on my experiences (not those of ancient Israel) – and I would posit that that isn’t a bad thing.

    Furthermore, God shouldn’t be “two steps ahead” of human culture. God should be good, right, and perfect. End of story. To paint God as the great compromiser/collaborator, who legitimizes human evil in order to bring us “two step along” (at one time, and likely one step back for millenia after) does not do God any service. Why can’t we see these failings as human failings, a human inability to (perfectly) perceive God’s will?

    I understand it’s complex, and that it’s not a matter of saying this is applicable and that isn’t. I’m questioning the value of it as a guiding/authoritative text at all, whether at the end of our wrestling, the Spirit is using it at all. Or whether it is just a historical record, an important context, but not a text from which to derive our morality.

    (Even if we can see enduring moral precepts and concepts in the text, the text itself does not distinguish the moral and amoral for us and thus the yardstick for morality is actually derived from outside of the text.)

    As for: “This issue of homosexuality is complex and beyond simply “acceptance” or “rejection”.” Do you have any justification for this statement?

  11. “I would argue that while that legal system no longer applies to us (it’s been fulfilled in Christ anyways)…” (JT)

    I would argue it doesn’t neccesarily apply to us since we are ‘Gentiles’ and was never really applied to us.

    As for Jesus ‘fulfilling’ the law, well this is certainly in doubt on 2 levels:

    (a) the law cannot be fulfilled since it is ‘law’ (not prophecy)

    (b) The prophecies themselves are not even fulfilled – no world peace, no end of war, etc. Many of the things required to say they are ‘fulfilled’ (in totality) have not yet occured.

    (c) Since all prophecy is not fulfilled the law still stands (to some degree) because Jesus said this would not pass until it was accomplished.

    Unless you think Jesus fulfilled everything during that 33 year life he lived?

  12. Just one point further on the mysogyny of the particular text – we can take it way beyond choice and male notions of lineage.

    Look at how it is the widow who accuses and inflicts the punishment on the brother-in-law instead of the elders, even as the punishment offers her no compensation. She acts not as herself, but as the proxy for her dead husband (who is the one the brother-in-law offends in his refusal). Her role is even scripted to be the advocate for a dead man. She is his tool, his property, even after his death. She is not thought to have any desires, will, or emotions of her own. She is not a person, but an appendage of the dead husband.

    I should think this attitude about women would be more problematic to us than simply having the idea of male lineage trump her material security and freedom of choice.

  13. “God is Creator of all things. This is a universal from the first few lines of Hebrew Scripture.” JT

    You have just proved my point even with this line of argument. If the scriptures of the OT are entirely Hebrew in their scope (agreed?) then how can they be universal to the entire multiplicity of humanity and the diversity of cultural experiences in the past 200,000 years of human evolution? In fact, most humans never actually read these “Hebrew scriptures” up until the last 100-400 years (after the printing press was invented, and European translations in different languages were available, and after people were actually literate enough, etc, etc, etc).

    If it were not for the universal message of European Christianty (Roman then Protestant) then these Hewbrew scriptures would never have been read by any European reader and thus would not be read by any part of the extending parts of the vast Euro-empires and into the colonies (North and South America, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, etc).

    The notion of the Hebrew God is not a universal in any way! A great percentage of the 6 billion people on the planet do not beleive in the Hebrew God and never have and never will. China has 1 billion and so does India, not to metion secularism. Unbelievers, like myself, do not adhere to creation myth that take place 6 thousand years ago. and on and on and on………

    If the Hebrew God of the OT is truly universal then we are all fucked, especially as Gentiles and ‘Goyim’! Read what that God says about us a little closer.

  14. @SocietyVs: You know you have my deepest respect. To describe you, I’d say you have a strong moral foundation, a generous heart, and a patient ear. And you are deligent and intentional in those things.

    But can you explain to me why one should go through the trouble of modernizing the text rather than simply ignoring it in terms of a moral compass? Doesn’t the text then just become a stumbling block that must be overcome in order to do what is right?

  15. Yes, exactly how does one modernize texts that were written by males and speak of male-patriarchal history and their complete dominance in social, legal, political, and religious life?

    How can true believers subjectively interpret the female point of view, or the gay point of view, from antiquated scriptures that totally ignored those existences?

    This is a response I would love to hear.

  16. “But can you explain to me why one should go through the trouble of modernizing the text rather than simply ignoring it in terms of a moral compass? Doesn’t the text then just become a stumbling block that must be overcome in order to do what is right?” (Christine)

    There is really 2 modes to this type of thought, as I can see it.

    (a) Since we are Gentles we are not obliged to follow those laws; they were set for the Jewish nation – not us.

    (b) They can serve as an inspiration and should be included in the conversation for deriving a moral path based in the scriptures.

    I adhere to the idea, as a Gentile, we need to follow ‘just laws’ (based on the Noahide laws). I see the Jewish laws as just and use them as an ‘inspiration’ – so to speak.

    The ignoring of it doesn’t make it ‘disappear’ and solves very little thelogically – within religious circles. I think issues like this need to be grappled with head on and people need to speak from both sides of the table so we get a large picture understanding. Dialogue more or less.

    For me, the goal is the use the scriptures in a respectful and meaningful way – that can seek change to ‘status quo’s’ on many issues and provide a theological backing that is definsible in religious circles – which I seek for personal reasons more than anything else – but I see how this can change the future.

    Modernization is that process for me. I could look at this law and just ‘throw it out as meaningless’ – but at what point do religious conservatives just ignore you for not taking the bible ‘seriously’? So I use their standards to discuss with them obvious modern issues in interpretation and context of their current issues – ie: homosexuality, abortion, women’s rights, and other moral issues on the table in the present.

    As someone more liberal, I understand your point of view Christine, but I cannot adhere to that since I look at the bible as ‘inspirational’…and this means I need to look at every text and just face them head on. Doesn’t mean everything coming from scripture is ‘good’ (inspirational can be found in mistakes as well) – and this is something I freely admit…since this is pseudo history colored in narrative – we going to find some brutal honesties.

    My friend Yael, Jewish lady, talks about Abraham and the sacrifice in Issac in this manner – and much can be gleamed from seeing many side to that story. Obviously sacrificing your son is beyond aggregious – it tells a tale about the ‘why not’ and blind ‘religious obedience’. In that story is a complexity of right and wrong that can be learned from and built upon. I like that style personally.

    So when I examine this text I get to the intent within it, not just the literal reading of it. And ‘yes’ there are obvious issues that it raises for discussion, like misogyny and women as property. But that made this whole conversation on this blog that much more enlightening – all this from a modern world view looking back.

    That’s what I like about the process. We raise issues with an antiquated law and debate them in present tense based on current morality in society – now that’s good theology (a seatch for God that does not die).

    Do I see them as stumbling blocks? On the homosexuality issue, yes – it is for sure. However, we cannot change the religious mind by ignoring the passages they mention – they may respect the idea ‘have an answer for those that ask of you’ (in one of the letters). I think this is the best stance to take and move forward for the side that is oppressed in a meaningful way in religious circles – for equality and for their voice which may not be as theologically atuned.

    Maybe that’s why I do it, I always want to stand on the side of the oppressed in society.

  17. Thanks Society for the thought-out answers. I can understand your meaning.

    I guess there are still two things for me:

    1. Modernization seems to imply that these things were just then and in their original context (that it is only changing society that makes adaptation necessary), and I’m not comfortable with that.

    2. I’m been struggling lately with perceiving scripture as guding/authoritative/inspriational/insert-any-beyond-purely-natural-term-here. I see how it can be used to stir conversation, but is it really unique in that respect, or even worthy of priviledge?

    I get the pragmatic aspect – that otherwise no one in religious circles will find you credible, and hence you can’t hope so much to affect religious thinking. And I think that makes sense, I’m just not sure if I really want that to be my approach going forward.

  18. “Yes, exactly how does one modernize texts that were written by males and speak of male-patriarchal history and their complete dominance in social, legal, political, and religious life?” (Johnny)

    Great question.

    We need to hear all voices as we look at an issue and have people from each sex (male, female, and gay) within the dialogue for change. Just because the scripture exists as that law then (ancient times) does not mean that scripture needs to exist as that form of the law now (present). Dialogue and inclusion are the steps I seek in this process of modernization.

    How can I speak to gay issues without knowing what they are? How can I speak to women’s rights without hearing their stories? I usually start here with any issue that I cannot fully speak to.

    An example of modernization would be for pastoring to be a team – husband and wife – and not just male dominated. I totally feel this misses women’s issues altogether and they are quite mis-represented – seems unequal to me. I base this on being married and realizing me and my wife think quite differently on things – that’s not bad – but it is different and that can go unaddressed in a church leadership area.

    Modernization means we need to change things in that status quo for leadership and representation. It is true all biblical models are male dominated, however, there is no law or rule on this being the case for time immemoriam. Women are just as educated as males, and in some segments of society, moreso than males. Makes no sense to exclude them from any leadership role they fit.

    Not sure if this answered the question?

  19. “Modernization seems to imply that these things were just then and in their original context (that it is only changing society that makes adaptation necessary), and I’m not comfortable with that.” (Christine)

    Good point. I can see the problem there – the justness only changes with society’s progression – making the rules ‘never really wrong’.

    This is where one’s view of the bible comes into question – their perspective of what they are reading.

    I tend to view the bible as historical in nature and the laws passed in that time frame after the Exodus seemed to work for that society. However, times change and so should ideas about what is lawful and right? This is progressive society and as we learn more about the human condition we change to meet what we have been enlightened about.

    So were they ‘just’ in their original context? In a comparison to todays standards, no. So we can say they were ‘unjust’ and that’s a reasonable position to take. But I do find it kind of dangerous to compare today with yesterday, its the proverbial ‘wish I knew then what I know now’ idea…since all of this took place in their present time somewhere in the ladder of time.

    I think it is reasonable to say ‘they were wrong’ if they obviously used a standard that promoted some inequality. I am willing to debate those issues, however, for me I usually follow the intent of the passage and what they were trying to do contextually. That being said, misogyny was common and we can both view that as problematic, then and now.

  20. “I’m been struggling lately with perceiving scripture as guiding/authoritative/inspriational/insert-any-beyond-purely-natural-term-here. I see how it can be used to stir conversation, but is it really unique in that respect, or even worthy of priviledge?” (Christine)

    I give it a certain level of respect, the teachings anyways from Tanakh and the NT – and this varies from book to book, letter to letter. Judaism see’s a very strong value in Torah as Christians see a strong value in the NT…I see how they can be used for direction and helping to mold a social paradigm. It worked for me.

    I find the books quite unique compared to most literaure that I have read in that it is proposing to be a book explaining aspects of God and this is it’s primary focus. It then breaks into law and ethics, narratives, parables, and a variety of writings that can be seen as inspirational on the same subject (ie: theology). Hard to find those books anywhere.

    Not sure if it answers the question, but I find something of value in it…that being said, lots of people don’t.

  21. “I find the books quite unique compared to most literaure that I have read in that it is proposing to be a book explaining aspects of God and this is it’s primary focus. It then breaks into law and ethics, narratives, parables, and a variety of writings that can be seen as inspirational on the same subject (ie: theology). Hard to find those books anywhere.” SV

    Might I make a reading recommendation then? Perhaps the greatest Jewish thinker of them all – Baruch Spinoza, or Benedict Spinoza. “Ethics” is his masterpiece but also check out “Theological-Political Treatise”.

  22. I understand that the other implication of the Deut passage is about inheritance. The father’s inheritance was distributed among the sons – double portion to the eldest, single portions to the rest. If a man died without sons his property would be inherited by his brothers. His widow would then be left without support. The brother who refused to marry his sister-in-law would hence be also seen as greedy – he is essentially appropriating his brother’s property and cutting his sister-in-law out. By marrying her and producing a son who would be counted as his brother’s son he was forgoing his own enrichment in favour of that of his brother’s family. Marriage in the ancient world (and in fact in most places at most times) was not a matter of romantic love, it was a matter of property and business, and people were not seen as individuals they were seen as families and clans. This law affirms the sister-in-law’s place in the family and her entitlement to support and continued membership of the family group after the death of her husband.

  23. @Jon – I agree that that is how things functioned at the time. At least, that’s my understanding as well. It’s just that the passage (at least this one) doesn’t seem to focus on that (the inheritance) – it actually doesn’t even mention it at all and, again, the punishment seems to have no economic consequence for the brother-in-law. Maybe in practice it gave a certain entitlement for a son’s widow to her late husband’s inheritance, but I doubt very much it would have been conceived or intended as such, as women were not seen to be entitled to, well, anything.

    I’m not trying to deny that the widow is at least sometimes or even usually (economically) benefited from this law, I’m only contesting the idea that this particular passage has the intent of benefiting the widow. (And by extension, I suppose I’m also contesting whether we can really successfully modify this passage for use in our present context.)

    @Society –
    “I tend to view the bible as historical in nature and the laws passed in that time frame after the Exodus seemed to work for that society. However, times change and so should ideas about what is lawful and right? ”

    Seemed to work for who in that society? Why do we think they really worked at all?

    “I think it is reasonable to say ‘they were wrong’ if they obviously used a standard that promoted some inequality.”

    Where did the standard not produce at least some inequality?

    On the scripture part, it does answer my question, I think. I think you’re saying that you don’t think there’s anything guiding/authoritative/inspirational about it at all, in the mystical way these terms are often used. But, if that’s the case, I’m still not clear on why certain parts are worth “modernizing”.

    Thanks for the responses. Most people aren’t willing to try and even attempt an answer to these questions.

    (As a complete side note, best not to refer to “gay” as a gender… 🙂 )

  24. “Seemed to work for who in that society? Why do we think they really worked at all?” (Christine)

    Well, according to the biblical record, and even until this day – the Torah is still used within Jewish society.

    The biblical record has Joshua trudging forward, then judges and kings came to the land – but the Torah did not seem to disappear. Through exiles and land over-throws, to losing their nation altogether, the Torah remains the central piece of Judaism. If that isn’t working (Torah) then someone should tell the Jewish faithful.

    For me that testament enough to it’s sturdiness and meaningfulness from age to age.

    “But, if that’s the case, I’m still not clear on why certain parts are worth “modernizing”.” (Christine)

    I think of it the same as the process of anything else we currently use, we have to modernize to get the best from what is being said/done.

    For example, hammering a nail has changed from ancient times to industrialization to modern ages. We went from rock like instruments, to a hammer, to a nail-gun – in search of refining the process to get the best from it. Has the hammer changed? Yes, but the intent has never changed (ie: putting a nail into wood).

    I see interpretation of scripture in the same light, just because some interpretation of a passage may have changed – the intent (which may have been good) has not. So we will examine ideas of women’s rights in light of a passage like that now a days; in search of keeping the texts of the bible in a process of making it meaningful in our times.

    That being said, many people have just dropped the need to do so and I think that’s their call to make. I like the theological examination and wrestling with the passages to see what happened in ancient times, prgressing forward through history, to our times. I would look at a passage like this in it’s Judaic context mind you and forgo the Christian interpretation altogether (if there even is one).

  25. @ Christine, I think you may have a point there. However, it may also be that “that his name not be blotted out in Israel” is actually a reference to inheritance – in the description of the original allotment of land portions were allotted to each family so his “name” appearing in Israel was equivalent to there being a plot of land with his name on it. You’re right that the punishment is not directly economic, it’s a public shaming. In a shame/honour culture like the Middle East that would surely have economic consequences.

    However, I wouldn’t hold this law up as an example of enlightened gender equality. It is clearly framed on the assumption that women are unequal and can’t inherit themselves – an assumption that has been explicitly written out of our own laws. A Society says, this isn’t a universal law, its a law for its own place and time.

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