thecosmicdance ([personal profile] thecosmicdance) wrote2013-03-15 07:19 pm
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The History Channel's Bible Fail.

The History Channel has been trying to rebrand itself as a home for working class but intellectually curious (and probably white) male viewers. Everything they do must be fitted to this audience. Simplistic narratives that focus a lot on weapons, military tactics and explosions, which are cool but it means the network tends to ignore soft and subtle things, and women's stories, and men who don't come across as tough enough. If the History Channel was a cooking channel, they'd be Emeril and Guy Fieri 24/7.

In “Mankind: The Story of Us” (already seen as problematic) they portrayed Saint Paul as a muscular young man with a fantastic head of hair who leaped over walls to escape the Romans who persecuted him for spreading Christianity. Raise your hand if you can think of all the ways this is hilarious. Paul didn't become a Christian sympathizer until much later in life, and while he certainly used at least one famous running metaphor it is unlikely he was still able to leap over walls at the age he would've been after the Damascus incident.

I'm sure they refused to even consider mentioning the common theory of Paul's possible repressed homosexuality. Oh man, that'd turn off their intended audience immediately.

In their new production, the six part mini series The Bible, producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (who cast herself as the Virgin Mary) have excised the majority of female characters and rewrote the stories of the men as if they were lone heroes. Obviously, feminist theologians and scholars are pretty ticked off.

The Bible rarely explicitly passes the Bechdel Test but it IS is full of women doing things, important things. Because the Bible is about the history of people and women are, get this, people. A loong blog post by Secret Histories on Tumblr (inspired by an article written by Tansy Rayner Roberts )points out that throughout history, women have been doing all sorts of things, things people tend to assume women would never be doing. Except they actually did. Joan of Arc was not special because she wore armor and went to war at a time when women officially weren't supposed to, she's special because of the level at which she managed it. The women in the Bible cover every possible type of human experience. They're mothers, daughters, wives, grandmas, queens, princesses, slaves, assassins, spies, prostitutes, priestesses, scholars, poets, dancers, businesswomen, preachers...almost anything a male character is, there's some equivalent woman in this thousands- of- years- spanning- story.

A female cantor in Israel plays Mi Chamocha on Masada. This song is popularly accepted as having been written by Miriam, the sister of Moses.

Moses's life was full of strong, smart, women. Women save his life repeatedly. In a lot of the times and places where this story gets retold, it's been retold by people who aren't thinking like an ancient Egyptian. The Prince of Egypt is a fantastic movie but Dreamworks had to scrap their plan to have one of the voices of God in the holy cave be explicitly female (you can still hear it if you're straining) because it would have offended some viewers. This is despite the fact that it probably wouldn't have offended Moses at all, since he grew up in the Egyptian royal court, praying to Isis and Hathor and Sekmet. His adopted mother was considered an avatar of a goddess. The idea that God is male and can never be seen or heard or thought of, as anything else is something he'd have to be taught when embracing monotheism after discovering God in the wilderness. Don't judge the thought processes of someone raised in ancient paganism by the standards of today's mainstream Christianity. However, the ancient Hebrews also had the Shekinah (surviving today as the quietly endorsed concept of The Sabbath Queen), the female aspect of God. The pillars of smoke and fire that led the people when they wandered in the desert. Some branches of Christianity embrace it via seeing The Holy Spirit as female (originally coming from the Orthodox, builders of the Hagia Sophia) but the entire idea of being highly offended at the mere suggestion that God might have a female aspect is a relatively “recent” thing. And this is why we need to deal with it, because otherwise people- both chauvinistic men and poorly informed feminists, are tempted to make The Bible into some sort of Awesome Manly Dudes Club where, if women are featured at all, they just have babies and/or get raped a lot.

There were plenty of women in the Bible who did important stuff. Some of it was conventionally heroic, like Yael and Judith, the assassins, or Deborah, the Judge, and the women who went to court to fight for a woman's right to inherit under Jewish law. Other women were more constrained by their situations but still managed to make important contributions. What would have happened in the story of Esther if someone retelling the story treated Esther and Vashti as if they didn't matter to it?

Rebecca, rock'in the nose ring and fighting for her children, long suffering Leah, and Rachel, beautiful, ambitious Rachel whose tomb is still venerated by people all over the globe.

Ruth's story may seem like a conventional romance but Ruth is the ancestor of royalty. Without Ruth, there is no David and no Jesus. Chew on that. Ruth's story is also a story about a very strong female friendship.

If Michal hadn't used the old teenage standby of “pillows under a blanket to make it look like someone's still asleep in your bed” while her husband climbed out the window, Saul would have had David arrested and killed(there's a lot of other interesting discussion/speculation about Michal in Jewish academia that never seems to reach Christianity). David is surrounded by smart, quick thinking, resourceful women even though the story is not a great story to be a woman in, they save his life repeatedly.

Daniel was not a woman. Daniel was most likely a eunuch. Which is something a lot (well, most) retellings of his story in mainstream religion totally ignore. But it was once perfectly common in Asia and the Middle East (and also in Byzantium), many early Christian figures were also eunuchs, which is something people don't like to bring up today. It confuses the simplistic conversation about gender they want to not have. But it means they (eunuchs) usually didn't have the same perspective and/or unexamined privileges of a “whole” man, another one of the invisible “Others” in the Bible. Daniel is emasculated (a metaphor, perhaps, for an entire nation) and has to fight for his people without protesting in the streets or going to war (his biggest heroic act is a surprisingly passive one), maybe has more in common with Esther than anyone else. And dude, he was a vegetarian, but you don't hear much about that from all those red meat with a side of bacon loving Christian pastors.

Jesus made an explicit point of seeking women out and listening to their stories. In the New Testament, it's three women who first discover that Jesus is alive, all the men ran away and hid after the Crucifixion. And then there's Phoebe, and Chloe, and Junia and Lydia and...these are women Paul thought were important enough to mention. Paul, guys. Paul.

And then there are women who are definitely victimized, like Lot's Daughters, Hagar, Dinah, the princess Tamar, etc, they deserve to have their stories told honestly. So do villains like Jezebel, Delilah, Salome's mother and Potifer's wife. Because if you don't consider where your villain is coming from, you're failing reading comprehension and empathy.