Volume 1, Issue 2

Spring 2020 — The Bible: Transgender and Genderqueer Perspectives

Guest Editor: Caroline Blyth

Jane Nichols and Rachel Stuart, “Transgender: A Useful Category of Biblical Analysis?,” 1–24.

This paper revolves around issues of anachronism and identity in moving toward a transgender hermeneutic of interpretation. Putting Joan W. Scott’s work on gender as a category of historical analysis in conversation with María Lugones’ and Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyèwùmí’s discussions of gender and coloniality, the paper proposes the terminology of “gendered category” in order to resist colonialist assumptions inherent within the term “gender” and allow for more possibilities of analysis. With that grounding, the paper turns to an interpretation of the Jacob narratives in Genesis 25 and 27, arguing that the status of firstborn son (bəkōr) in the ancient Near East can be productively understood as a gendered category. It does not argue that Jacob is transgender in the sense of the modern identity marker, but rather that Jacob’s navigation and crossing of the gendered categories of his day carries certain compelling parallels to the ways in which transgender people today experience their identity across prescribed categories.

KEYWORDS: Gender; transgender; postcolonial; hermeneutics; LGBTQ; queer biblical studies

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Samuel Ross, “A Transgender Gaze at Genesis 38,” 25–39.

KEYWORDS: Tamar; Genesis 38; transphobia; transgender gaze; queer interpretation

While queer interpretation of the Hebrew Bible has begun to flourish, readings which focus particularly on trans and gender-diverse experiences remain lacking. In this article, I offer a trans reading of Gen 38, the Judah and Tamar narrative, drawing the text into dialogue with a trans hermeneutic. This allows me to reflect on trans and gender-diverse experiences while also shedding new light on the biblical narrative. In the course of this reading, I focus on three narrative aspects which I believe are particularly relevant to trans and gender-diverse lives: Tamar’s precarity, her engagement in sex work, and the complexity of her motives for doing so. This reading is intended to counter transphobic uses of the Bible, contributing to a growing body of trans affirmative biblical studies and providing some new answers to questions about the text.

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Rebekah Dyer, “Envisioning Fire Theophanies as Gender-Neutral Expressions of Selfhood,” 40–60.

KEYWORDS: Genderqueer; agender; non-binary; theophanies; Exodus; Acts; burning bush; Pentecost; God; imago Dei; personhood; fire imagery

The Bible is not an obvious source of affirmation for non-binary or agender identities. Commentaries on gender in the Bible focus on narratives in which gender is foregrounded by the text, and queering these narratives requires negotiation around binary categories of gender. This article proposes that biblical narratives which portray God through gender-neutral images may speak especially to non-binary and agender identities. This premise can be demonstrated by applying a genderqueer hermeneutic to two biblical fire theophanies: Moses’ encounter at the burning bush (Exod 3) and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). Exodus 3 and Acts 2 describe encounters with the divine in which divine selfhood is revealed in gender-neutral or ungendered terms. The deeply personal nature of divine self-disclosure within these encounters is underpinned by expressions of selfhood which exist outside binary categories of gender—indeed, beyond gendered categories altogether. Far from being irrelevant to the discussion of gender, gender-neutral images in the Bible offer a method of “re-imaging” divine selfhood in ways which affirm genderqueer expressions of the self.

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Melissa Harl Sellew, “Reading the Gospel of Thomas from Here: A Trans-Centred Hermeneutic,” 60–96.

KEYWORDS: Gospel of Thomas, gender, transgender, queering Jesus, reader response

This article adopts a trans-centered approach to reading the Gospel of Thomas, in particular key statements found in Gos. Thom. 22 and 114. Treatments of gender in the gospel are discussed from the author’s position as a queer woman of transgender experience, informed by postcolonial, feminist, and gender-critical theory and practice. Literary and historical comparisons with Philo of Alexandria and the apostle Paul are explored to uncover Thomas’s worldview, which is seen to be darkly critical of the material world, while being hopeful for spiritual transformation. Though the Gospel of Thomas participates in the prevalent masculinist ideology of most literature of the day, many of its sayings may garner a new or nuanced meaning when read through a transgender lens, including especially the demand for replacement of the outer person with the inner person (Gos. Thom. 22), and potential salvation through erasure of conventional gender difference in the making of an ungendered Living Spirit resembling Jesus (Gos. Thom. 114).

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Aysha W. Musa, “Jael Is Non-binary; Jael Is Not a Woman,” 97–120.

KEYWORDS: Jael; Judges 4–5; non-binary; gender ambiguity; queer theory

In this article I suggest that the non-binary identity of Jael (Judg 4–5) has been erased or overlooked due to dominant discourses of heteronormativity and binary gender. This biblical narrative depicts Jael performing roles and behaviours which have been identified as masculine (violent, warrior, killer) and feminine (mother, seductress, nurturing). Moreover, Jael’s name appears in the Hebrew masculine form, alongside Jael’s feminine label of “woman/wife.” Despite such evidence of gender ambiguity, interpretations of Judg 4–5 tend to identify Jael unproblematically as a woman, thereby ignoring this character’s non-binary potential. This article contributes an original reading of Jael by interpreting the text from a non-binary perspective, employing queer methodologies. Inviting the reader to look beyond hetero-binarized expectations, my investigation reveals Jael as a gender ambiguous character.

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Volume 1, Issue 1

Autumn 2019

Meredith J C Warren, “Editorial Preface,” 1–5.

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Caroline Blyth, “Bringing the Apostle Down to Earth: Emily Dickinson Wrestles with Paul,” 6–25.

KEYWORDS: Emily Dickinson, Paul, literary criticism

While Emily Dickinson included many allusions to the biblical texts in her writing, this article focuses on her engagement with one particular biblical writer—the apostle Paul. Dickinson makes a number of references to Paul in her letters and poetry, often in ways that thoroughly unbalance what she considered to be his spiritual and heaven-centred gaze, thrusting it earthwards to bring new and unexpected meaning to matters such as friendship, love, death, suffering, and desire. Through taking a closer look at her writings in which she engages with the apostle, I consider Dickinson’s obvious desire to engage with Paul’s writings and her regular rejection of certain features of Pauline theology in favour of her own earth-centred spirituality. In particular, I explore the ways in which Dickinson’s faith stands at times uneasily alongside that of Paul, in her focus on the dreaded uncertainty of life after death and her unshakeable delight for a world in which both pain and paradise could be encountered.

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Chris Greenough, “‘Queer Eye’ in Theology and Biblical Studies: ‘Do you have to be queer to do this?'” 26–41.

KEYWORDS: heterosexuality, queer, theology, biblical studies, straight, identity

This article addresses the question of whether one needs to be LGBTQ+ or queer-identifying in order to engage in queer studies in theology and biblical studies. In surveying the popularity of queer as cultural currency in the media and the academy, I express concern with queer studies being undertaken as if it were one approach among others, arguing that it is an “anti-approach”. In directly responding to the question, “do you have to be queer to do this?” I argue that one does not need to be queer identified to engage with queer theologies or queer biblical studies. Four points are made about the engagement of heterosexual identifying intellectuals in queer studies: i) queer theory reveals how all identities are unstable, including heterosexuality; ii) heterosexuality is not the site of disruption for queer studies—it is patriarchy, cisnormativity and heteronormativity that require dismantling; iii) queer is about the production of antinormative knowledge, a practice that anyone can engage in; iv) where queer studies are also done in conjunction with nonnormative gender and sexualities, researchers must incorporate voices from those individuals or communities. The article concludes that there should be no concern about straight-identifying individuals doing queer studies, but we should be careful that queer theologies and queer biblical studies do not become “straight” and normative.

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Matthew R. Anderson, “‘Aware-Settler’ Biblical Studies: Breaking Claims of Textual Ownership,” 42–68.

KEYWORDS: aware-Settler, Indigenous, Settler, hermeneutics, biblical scholarship

“Aware-Settler” is a term coined here to describe the various hermeneutics that arise as increasingly, non-Indigenous biblical scholars take seriously that their research is done on colonized Land. Paying special attention to the principle of possessiveness, the article suggests breaking stubborn Settler-scholar hidden-default assumptions of ownership, proposing instead that biblical texts might be understood as another form of “Treaty territory.” Indigenous scholars’ common emphases on Landedness, relationality, spirituality, and community good, can inform methodologies employed by Settler biblical scholars. These hermeneutical principles, learned in a contact zone characterized by attention to reciprocity and respect, are employed in a brief look at Matthew 28:25–28. The so-called Great Commission is a foundational text of colonialism; many Indigenous scholars have judged it as “unreadable.” For that reason it provides a particularly appropriate test-case for applying Aware-Settler hermeneutics focussed on breaking claims of identity and ownership.

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A. K. M. Adam, “Sensuous Hermeneutics,” 69–94.

KEYWORDS: hermeneutics, interpretation, visual exegesis, information design, comics theory, Magritte, Tansey, differential hermeneutics

The single greatest impediment to clarity in hermeneutics arises from the intuition that words have meaning as a property. This essay will show an alternative to the hermeneutics of subsistent meaning, displaying a way to think about hermeneutics as an interplay of expression and apprehension. By learning about “meaning” from the more pervasive phenomenon of inference and apprehension and reasoning toward language as a special case — rather than beginning from language (which harbours subsistent “meaning”) and treating other patterns of apprehension as “the language of music,” “the language of flowers,” and so on — we can articulate a hermeneutic that better explains interpretive difference, and provides ways to evaluating interpretive claims outwith the customary bounds of exegetical correctness.

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Anna Cwikla, “There’s Nothing about Mary: The Insignificance of Mary in the Gospel of Thomas 114,” 95–112.

KEYWORDS: Gospel of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Eve Sedgwick, feminist criticism

Feminist approaches to early Christian texts have consistently evaluated female characters as the primary focus of analysis. Yet in doing so, placing the spotlight on the female figure inevitably pushes male figures, and by extension, the broader context to the margins. This type of analysis runs the risk of overemphasizing the role of a woman in a given text while neglecting their narrative function in relation to male characters. This article looks specifically of Mary in the Gospel of Thomas. Previously, her role has seen her as one of the disciples in this text. But using Eve Sedgwick’s homosocial bond theory reveals that Gos. Thom. wishes to emphasize the relationship between Jesus and Peter more so than it does Mary. This example is but a case in point in seeing that although our focus as modern scholars shifts to the woman, the ancient text is more so concerned about the iteration of power structures between men over women.

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