3 A.M. Thoughts

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3 a.m. thoughts, in sequence, upon waking:

1. Life is most likely not as bleak and drear and futile as it briefly appears when you wake at 3 a.m. with a headache and an overabundance of snot.

2. That cyborg ceratosaur that you just fled in your dream for an hour while firing a ray gun over your shoulder and yelling at your crewmates to run faster, dammit…that ravenous robotic dinosaur did not actually eat your friend Jorge. No matter how choked up you just got at the memorial service, where his casket held only his favorite helmet because the rest of him was inside that ceratosaur’s half-mechanical belly, Jorge is not really dead in real life. You didn’t lose him. You don’t have to feel like you abandoned him on that world, down there in the belly of the beast. It’s ok. Sometimes you fight the cyborg ceratosaur and overcome, sometimes you fight the cyborg ceratosaur and you’re breakfast. That’s life in the fleet. It’s ok. You did all you could. Also, that was a dream, silly, and Jorge is just fine. His memorial service can wait a few decades yet. You can tell him about the dream tomorrow after sunup and laugh about it together.

3. You do not actually know anyone named Jorge.

The History Behind “Hocus Pocus”

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This was written tongue-in-cheek to entertain a friend yesterday, though it is mostly accurate. I’ll share it with you, too.

The question was: Where does “hocus pocus” come from? So I took a deep breath before the plunge, and then told this story.

OK, so. England. Early 1600s. For a half century England has been a theological and political war zone between the Anglicans, the Catholics, and various Protestants sects:

  • Much of the Church of England wants a good middle-of-the-road religion with a Bible written in King’s English and that isn’t too obsessed with squishing England’s many folk traditions.
  • Half of the Protestant splinter sects want to ban anything that looks remotely Pagan (which in their minds is a code word for “Catholic,” except for when “Papist” is a code word for “Pagan”), such as stained glass and Christmas and orphanages and kissing.
  • The other half of the English Protestants are smaller sects assembling hastily around a charismatic prophet, in quite a few cases an educated woman who can read Latin and English and has Some Thoughts about the biblical text.
  • The Catholics want England to be Spanish. Now, some of the English don’t want that because their grandfolk saw Bloody Mary and the Spanish Inquisition and the horror of Inquisitors rooting out heretics and “secret Jews” and just torturing and burning people left and right and up and sideways, but since over on the continent the Protestants are now performing their own genocides, many of the English don’t want *them* either.

Super turbulent.

Many English folk whose parents were Catholic and whose county now isn’t Catholic would love to pay alms to an orphanage or a chapel or a hospital whose patients can sing prayers for the souls of their dearly departed to get them out of purgatory into heaven faster, but the Puritans are busy telling them, “HOLD ON NOW, ALL YOUR PARENTS ARE IN HELL, THERE AIN’T NO PURGATORY OR NO GHOSTS OR NONE OF THIS CATHOLIC STUFF NOW WE AIN’T HAVING IT, THIS IS A GODLY AND PROTESTANT LAND, YOU ALL ARE PROTESTANTS NOW, Y’HEAR. EXCEPT THE KING, HE’S A TOTAL HEATHEN (AND GAY), BUT HE’S FUNDING US.”

But not being able to fund doctors and orphanages to sing for the beloved dead (which used to be the big engine driving philanthropy), lots of English folk with dead loved ones who apparently are burning in hell now have the major sads. (As Stephen Greenblatt argues in Hamlet in Purgatory, it’s part of what Hamlet is about. How do you mourn for the dead when you’ve been told ghosts and purgatory aren’t real and most of the dead are in hell, and what if a ghost does show up and tells you to avenge your dad and off your uncle, who do you believe then??? Someone is playing you an unkind trick, and something is rotten in the state of Denmark.)

And Catholic Spain sends in an invading armada, and a generation later, a terrorist tries to blow up Parliament, so the Pagan Pontiff in the east is clearly out to kill all good English people and also bring kids presents and hang glass balls and ribbons on trees in the middle of the winter. Nefarious bloke, that one. And Ben Jonson puts on a masque for the king when the king visits London, where Father Christmas is led out in chains by the London Guard, to plead his case before the king. Yes, he dresses fancy and gives gifts and decorates trees, but Father Christmas insists that “he’s as Protestant as any,” and the poor orphan children should be allowed to see him this December. Meanwhile, every street in London has its own new religion forming because now the middle-class can read and the Bible’s done been translated into English and everyone Has Thoughts.

Now into this colossal mess walks the Great Hocus Pocus of London! With his billowing stars-and-moons cape and his gift for lifting an object over his head, intoning the solemn, allegedly Latin magic phrase “Hocus Pocus!!” and BOOM, his scarf just becomes a bunny wabbit, or something. He was a great illusionist of the early 1600s. There was no Vatican II yet, so every Catholic liturgy was in Latin and most folk didn’t know Latin. So, it was a common misconception at the time that when the priest lifted the bread and blessed it, he was performing a work of Magic, transforming the bread to the body of Christ, and the wine to the blood. Transubstantiation was something scholars could debate until they were blue in the face; the working class, many of whom still celebrated Yule and Samhain and the rest, knew it was Magic. So the Great Hocus Pocus of London would hold up items, mimicking a Catholic priest, and intone solemnly, “Hoc – us poc – us!” And BOOM! The item changed to something else. Hocus pocus was a seventeenth-century corruption of the Latin phrase “hoc est corpus” (this is the body) from the Eucharist.

His magical illusions earned the Great Hocus Pocus many coins and noisily excited crowds, and many Puritan scowls. He got to perform before nobles great and small. And the Puritans published a street pamphlet condemning the Great Hocus Pocus, with a little engraving of the Pocus himself in his cape with a malevolent sneer and with the Pope following along at one elbow and with a little horned devil with a long tail and shrivelled little bat-wings following along at his other. I saw it when I was a graduate student at the Bodleian Library.

But for ever after, street and stage and vaudeville illusionists would cry “Hocus Pocus!” as they performed their spells, and Puritan polemicists would adopt “The Hocus Pocus” as a slur for the Pope. Mid-century, the Puritans take over the country, behead the king, and criminalize Catholicism, Christmas, maypoles, theatrical productions, laughing too loud, and wearing colors other than black. A generation later, they’re overthrown, Oliver Cromwell’s head is stuck up in a steeple, and England reveals to the world just what happens when a people who have been repressed by Puritans for twenty years suddenly get to let loose: they launch a non-stop party, open opera houses and brothels and vaudeville theaters (where an actress-witch might entertain a drunk crowd by yelling “HOCUS POKE-US!!!” and appearing to transform a fellow nude actor’s manhood into a bouquet of flowers. Or a rabbit, I suppose), and they rewrite all of Shakespeare’s tragedies with happy endings and mad cool sparkly special effects. (You haven’t *really* seen King Lear until you’ve seen Lear and Cordelia dance off stage at the end to a sprightly tune while the audience is showered with flowers, let me tell you.) Also, the Anglicans get to hang up Christmas stockings and burn Yule logs again, and some Catholics get to come back, too, although good Anglicans still celebrate escaping the Gunpowder Plot by burning Catholics in effigy every 5th of November.

There is a 1680 Restoration-era political pamphlet that urges the king not to allow the Puritan faction to get any more power because they are “Fanatics.” The pamphlet stages a debate between the Pope and a “Phanatick,” and caricatures many common Puritan arguments. In one, the “Phanatick” names the Pope the “Anti Christ” and “the Spiritual Pasha of Mystical Babylon, the great Hocus Pocus of Christendom, Son of the Scarlet Whore!” Because the Puritans used to throw phrases like that around a lot.

So Hocus Pocus was originally “Behold, I transform this wine into blood and also your dangly parts into a fluffy bunny! POOF!”

It was a phrase invoked by London street magicians and by Puritan brimstone preachers who had an itch to fight the Pope. And because the two catchiest things in the world are brimstone preaching and lewd comedy, we still hocus pocus things today.

Stant Litore

Photo above Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash.

A Comfort on the Long Road

Portrait of Teresa of Avila
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The statements being released by some members of my faith, filled with hate and prejudice and a desire to disclaim responsibility rather than accept the radical responsibility that Christ teaches … It makes me tired. It makes me mad. It makes me grieve. It makes me want to take some of my brothers lovingly but so, so firmly by the shoulders and shake them.

A friend reminded me today of these words from Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Dear Teresa of Avila, she and Julian of Norwich, have been a comfort to me on many long roads. From Julian: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Stant Litore

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Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

The Invasion of the Acropolis

Painting of the Acropolis by Leo von Klenze
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I am alternately amused and mildly appalled while perusing my old Greek textbooks today. Athenaze were my texts and for my money they’re still the best available for learning ancient Greek. They teach the language the same way modern languages are often taught: by having the reader follow a story and learn as they go. It’s very effective, and I recommend the texts for anyone who’s interested; Greek doesn’t have to be as hard to learn as folks make it out to be.

That said, the cultural norming happening in the story written for the textbook is getting a wry look from me. The farmer in the story is hardworking, honest, but occasionally henpecked by his wife; the slave is lazy; the wives set out to persuade their husbands sweetly and submissively to let them go on an outing; the son likes to scare the daughter with gory stories, and the daughter is appropriately horrified; etc. It’s a somewhat Victorianized version of the Attican countryside.

I think if I were ever to write a textbook for ancient Greek (which I would NOT; I will leave that to those who are far better at it! and who have grants to fund it, too), I think I’d help the student learn Greek by walking them through the story of the winter when the Amazons invaded Athens and fought the Greeks toe to toe on the Acropolis in an attempt to rescue their kidnapped queen and bring fire and death and the wrath of Ares on those who had trafficked her across the sea. Now that would be a story to build a textbook on. Will the temple of the Thunderer burn, or will Theseus retake it? Will Hippolyta’s sister succeed in her night raid on Theseus’s camp? What do the slaves who are keeping the war-camp fed have to say about all this? You can find out as soon as you conquer the sigmatic first aorist active verb endings and thus unlock the next chapter.

Stant

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Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

A Military Metaphor in the New Testament, and Where Our Translation Goes Wrong…

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Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!

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All right, with a friend’s help, I found a much faster way to say what I’ve been wanting to say about “hupotassomenoi allelois” (Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις) in the letter to Ephesus. So here is the more Internet-friendly, tl;dr version.

People often quote Ephesians 5:22 (in English, usually a variation on “wives, submit to your husbands”), and there are several problems with how this verse is usually used.

First, people usually forget to also quote Ephesians 5:21 (“submit to each other in reverence of Christ”), despite the fact that in Greek this is all part of the same sentence and that in that sentence you can’t talk about wives submitting to husbands without simultaneously talking about husbands submitting to wives.

Second, if you look at the original words, you realize that “submit” doesn’t mean “obey.” Our modern “submit” doesn’t even mean what “submit” meant in English when it was used originally, four hundred years ago, in the King James translation of the Bible. The older English translations used “submit” because they were drawing from Latin “sub + mittere,” meaning to deploy oneself like a soldier under a command, to get a mission accomplished. (In fact, we get the English word “mission” from the same Latin verb.) And the Greek “hupo + tassomenoi” means to deploy or arrange yourselves in military formation under a command. The original passage isn’t making a statement about obedience, but about the disciplined and alert support that Christians who are in relationship with each other are called to provide each other as they wear the “full armor of God” and face (spiritual) opposition. It’s actually a remarkable word to use in a first-century Greek text because military metaphors were usually reserved for men. But people of all genders are being asked to deploy themselves in a battle-ready unit in support of each other within the early Christian community. Ephesians 5:21: “Deploy yourselves in support of each other, in reverence of Christ.” The tense is one we don’t have in English, one that suggests continual action: Be always deploying yourselves under and in support of each other. These lines in Ephesians are part of a longer sentence and a longer passage that offers an extended metaphor for how each member of a first-century Ephesian community can be continually, spiritually battle-ready, regardless of their gender, class, or position.

Third, by missing both of the points above, we end up trying to take one piece of a Greek sentence and use it as an isolated aphorism to hang a doctrine on, specifically about women’s roles in [the household / the church / society – take your pick], and we then proceed to miss entirely the point the original writer appears to have been making, which has to do with the need for a community in which all members are actively supporting each other, each member ready to step in wherever the other is vulnerable — operating in concert (“homothumadon,” of one mind) like a Greek phalanx or a Roman battle square. And the use of the military metaphor to apply not only to the citizens and freedmen in the community but to the slaves as well, and not only to men but to others also, subverts the traditional class and gender hierarchies of the community the letter is being written to: treating all believers as though they are all soldiers working together in a unit. It’s a radically subversive idea in the first century, and we don’t have easily equivalent words or concepts to translate it to in modern English.

So when we pluck out the one verse by itself and use it as rhetorical backing for a gender hierarchy that is traditional in *our* culture, we might possibly be committing two errors.

First, we’re missing the forest for the trees. Imagine that we’re grabbing up one branch and whacking women with it while the writer of the passage is standing to one side shouting indignantly, “Wait! Look at the forest! Put down that branch a moment and look at the whole forest! It’s important!” (And there is an impressive, deep, beautiful, and useful forest here, if we don’t busy ourselves waving twigs in the air and we get to see it. The larger message about community that this letter is trying to convey is a very powerful one that is no less radical today than when it was written. It’s just being conveyed within a language and context that’s very different from our own.)

And second, we may be advocating a message that, in spirit, is opposite to the message the epistle was written to convey. That is, we’re enforcing culturally traditional divisions (and doing so potentially in divisive or oppressive ways) in a passage that was all about how to operate as a cohesive and interdependent unit inside of and against what was at that time a divided and highly stratified culture.

Something to think about.

(That’s still quite a long post, I suppose. But much shorter than my other attempts.)

Stant Litore

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P.S. Sometimes, the King James Version actually gives us a really good translation, but we get in trouble because the meanings of many words have changed in English over the past four centuries (like “submit”). Another example my friends and I have been talking about a lot is the Proverbs 31 “virtuous woman.”

The Hebrew is “eshet chayil.” It doesn’t mean “virtuous woman.” It means “woman of valor.”

The King James translated “chayil” as “virtuous” because in the 17th century, “virtuous” still suggested the French “virtu” and at the time it meant “manly” or “brave.” This is the woman who is also, in the King James translation, clothed in “strength and honor.”

The Hebrew doesn’t suggest “manly”/masculine though. Just: valorous. Brave, persistent, daring, and ready for anything.

“A daring, warrior woman, who can find? Her worth is incalculable” would be a much better English translation. (In fact, the JPS Tanakh used for Jewish worship in the United States translates the verse closer to that.)

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Photo above by Caleb Wright on Unsplash.

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Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

So Many Different Ways to Say Hello

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Greetings fascinate me, as they are sometimes really different from one language to the next.

The Hebrew “shalom!” means “let’s have peace!” and a very specific kind of peace: the flourishing of the whole community.

The Greek “xaire!” means “rejoice! celebrate! be glad!” or, more jovially, “Party!!!” Bill and Ted are very Greek in the first half of their famous greeting: “Party on!”

The Latin “salve!” means “be strong!” Very Roman sentiment, that. You could soften it to “be well!” because strength and health are largely the same concept in that language.

The English/Germanic “hello!” is a modern adaptation, several words removed, from “hail!” which literally means “Be healthy!” Guess we’re pretty Roman, too. (The Russian “Zdravstvuyte!” means the same thing, just with more syllables.)

The French “bonjour!” is a cheerful “good day!”

The Swahili “jambo!” appears to be derived from a word meaning “matters, business, things,” so it may have begun as a cheerful “Things to do!” or “Let’s get to it, friend!” Which maybe makes a lot of sense when we remember that East Africa, a few centuries back, was a network of the most bustling trade centers of the Old World, with merchants constantly arriving and leaving at the docks to do trade with everywhere from Persia to Indonesia to China. Those ports were busy places, and prior to the circumnavigation of the world, there were no ports on the planet that were busier.

The Chinese often say “nǐ chī le ma?” (Have you eaten?) and the expected response is, “I have, how about you?” I rather like that way of greeting someone: [Have you been taken care of? Do I need to feed you? I care about you.]

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I remember learning that there used to be, a century or so back, a formal Romanian greeting that literally translated to “I’m not holding a knife” or “I’m unarmed.” As in, hello, don’t attack me. Which likely made a great deal of sense as a greeting in a region that had been invaded constantly and relentlessly, practically in each generation, for over a thousand years.

Stant Litore

P.S. And of course the Fae open with “Ill met by moonlight,” because if you should encounter the Fae, you are probably going to get messed up. By moonlight.

Storytellers and Troublemakers

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If I’m not careful, I’m going to get a reputation as a troublemaker, which isn’t what I intend at all. I really just care about my novels about biblical prophets standing against the hungry dead and my stories of naked people competing on tyrannosaurback aboard orbital space colosseums. But I get so excited to have people to nerd out with about history and language. Then inevitably some pundit or politician or false prophet says something absolutely atrocious, my brain responds, “That’s not what it says in the text,” and then the teacher in me wakes up. If there are two things I can’t abide, they are tyrannosaurs without feathers and people who wrap up their avarice, bigotry, or fear in a coat made of scattered, out-of-context biblical verses and then have the audacity to strut about in it, as if the Word is a showy uniform you wear for your convenience rather than a flame blazing in your heart.

Stant Litore

About the Rebel Virgins of the Roman Empire…

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Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!

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Because I think this is worth knowing: many of the verses quoted by teachers of American “purity culture” and taken as justification for the subordination of women were likely originally intended to have the opposite effect. Chastity and virginity were prized in the early first-, second-, and third-century Christian churches in Europe and Western Asia partially as a way to free up men and women to preach and to work in the community outside the home. Roman law after Augustus required young men and women to wed and bed and produce healthy Roman babies. That’s right, likely in response to the extremely high infant mortality rate, the state mandated getting married and knocked up — and penalized those who didn’t. However, there were at least two exemptions I am aware of, one for registered and professional prostitutes and one for priestesses. Rome had this idea that priestesses needed to be virgins and therefore shouldn’t wed and bed Roman men – so priestesses didn’t have to marry.

Now, in most recognized Roman religions, it was very hard to become a priestess, and the number of priestesses were few. But in Christian doctrine from its earliest days, every single Christian was a priest/priestess of God, and the members of the church collectively were the “bride of Christ.” So…during those times when the Empire didn’t ban the religion outright, any Christian woman could claim the marriage exemption, declare herself an official virgin, and rather than devote her life to raising a good Roman family, she could teach, she could preach, she could run a business (as many Christian women did – just look to Lydia of Thyatira for a quick, biblical example), and/or she could join one of the sisterhoods of the holy widows, gathering funds for the poor and organizing efforts to care for the community’s orphans and homeless.

This is one reason that during the times of Nero, Trajan, Domitian, and Diocletian, Christianity was so hated by the Roman government. It wasn’t just that Christianity was nominally monotheistic (and so Christian mothers raised their children not to sacrifice to ancestral deities, a circumstance which eventually led to the crash of several major industries), it was all the growing numbers of women who were unmarried and teaching and leading and bursting into activity in their communities (though others were also withdrawing into secluded communities of scholars or anchoresses). There is a reason the letters in the New Testament name as many or more women apostles and teachers as they do men. To men in power in Rome, this may have appeared to be a bit of an apocalypse. “Women not getting married??? Women preaching??? The world as we know it is ending!! Stop them! Stop the Christians!”

Emperor Diocletian draws my particular ire. He attempted to exterminate Christianity in the Roman Empire in the year 303 specifically by attacking Christian women. He revoked the state’s recognition of Christianity as a legal religion and required that all Christian women marry. All women who refused were either raped by order of the state and then killed, or forcibly married (and then raped), or forced to register as prostitutes (and then raped). It was a systematic, state-ordered enslavement of tens of thousands of women.

After Diocletian, women were much more marginalized in the church, both because many Christian women who had been leaders in the church no longer existed — or lived in enforced marriages — and because the church that survived sold its egalitarianism in exchange for government recognition. The lesson the church seemed to learn from the early fourth century was: Women ministers aren’t safe from the government, and the church isn’t safe while women lead it; let’s have the women sit back and we’ll play it safe.

But it was not so in the beginning.

When you read stories of early Christian women martyrs who refused to give up their virginity, this is the context. Their state-recognized virginity permitted them to travel between churches as apostles, to lead, and to gather as financially independent sister “widows” or “virgins” who could take action in their communities. When Thekla, in the second-century text “The Acts of Paul and Thekla,” repeatedly escapes attempts at rape in order to continue traveling and preaching (where the rapists are hired by someone who had wanted Thekla to marry their son and took spiteful exception to vow of chastity, or by a village magistrate), the context is that rape was a weapon employed by local and imperial authorities to limit the spread of this subversive new religion and to enforce proper, Roman family values. At that time, a woman’s chastity was seen as an act of rebellion.

And today’s purity culture, which often hijacks the language of chastity in Roman-era texts to insist on the seclusion and submission of women … is such a bizarre (and arguably offensive) anachronism once you realize that the original teachings on chastity were intended to free women for public work, leadership, teaching, and preaching. It is one example of how, if you take a teaching out of one cultural and historical context and plunk it down into a different place and time without any consideration of context, you can actually end up with the same verses and the same words having opposite implications.

Stant Litore

P.S. For more on the role of women in the early church, see the book God’s Self Confident Daughters: Early Christianity and the Liberation of Women, my own favorite though there are many more studies on this, and also this witty little article in Atlas Oscura entitled “Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers.”

P.P.S. Even the Apostle Paul, while he did write about marriage being an acceptable outcome and one to be preferred in his mind to a promiscuous state (in 1 Cor 7), he also advocated in very strong terms that an unmarried state and the pursuit of God’s work was preferable to marriage. In the early church, the two — chastity and active work in the community on one side, and marriage on the other — were seen as alternate paths for a Christian’s life to take. We often take from that passage Paul’s parenthetical remark “better to marry than to burn” and treat it as if that’s the important point in the passage; by doing this, we skip the actual point he is making for his first-century readers, which is that to his mind it’s better to be single and do God’s work than it is to marry. When we lack the context in which he’s writing, we emphasize very different things in the passage than his original readers would have.

First-century Christians were called to lives of active involvement in their communities as the agents of God, his “hands and feet,” serving collectively as the body through which God operated in the world. The first-century ideal of chastity was intended to expand the agency of young men and women, whereas modern purity culture so often seeks to contract and limit agency.

P.P.P.S. This post is receiving some love in Likes and Shares on social media, so I will add this list to it:

Lydia of Thyatira.

Prisca.

Mary.

Julia.

Phoebe.

Junia.

Chloe.

Euodia.

Syntyche.

Tryphena.

Tryphosa.

Damaris of Athens.

Dorcas of Joppa.

The unnamed “elder” who was a “woman appointed by God” (2 John).

These are all women who were called to active leadership within church life in the first century and who are named in the Book of Acts or the Epistles as leaders, apostles, businesswomen and philanthropists, and as organizers or heads of sisterhoods. It was not just one or two women. And that’s just the first century, and this doesn’t even include the names of women leaders Paul wrote to but whose specific names he couldn’t remember (“the sister of Nereus”; “the mother of Rufus”; etc.). It also doesn’t even include the female leaders among those who, according to the gospels, organized and funded Jesus’s original ministry, like Susanna and Joanna.

The list gets long once you dive into second century texts.

So, if you are a woman in the church reading this post whose heart is called to an active life or to leadership, may this list give you courage. You are not some aberration of modern society, as others will insist. This is a list of your sisters. It is a list of names honored and trusted by the writers of the New Testament.

Stant Litore

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Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

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The Badass Women of the Bible

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Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!

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Now on to the post…

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Both in protest of our nation’s rampant misogyny that walks around wearing religion’s clothes — and also because I love their stories — here’s a shoutout to the badass women of the Bible: to Rizpah, who guarded the bodies of her children from wild animals and carrion beasts all night, defying the king and his soldiers; to Deborah, a middle-aged prophet who settled the court cases no one else could and led armies against an invading force; to Jael, who drove a tent peg through a dude’s head; to Mary, who fled to another country to keep her baby from being killed and then later after returning raised her child in a small town where everyone thought she was a “slut” — and raised him so well that the world still reveres his name (and hers) to this day; to Mary Magdalene, who endured the disbelief of everyone she ever told about what she saw, but didn’t disbelieve herself; to Judith, who seduced an invading general in order to get close enough to chop off his head; to a woman whose name we don’t remember, who stood on the wall of a starving city and killed the tyrant Abimelech by chucking a brick down at his head; to Miriam, the first of the prophets of the Children of Israel after their departure from Egypt, singing on the shores of the Red Sea moments after seeing her people’s enemies crushed under falling water; to Huldah, who commanded such respect that when the lost sacred texts were discovered, the priests handed them over to her and said, “Please interpret these for us, Huldah”; to Dorcas the healer, who refused to leave those dying of fever, no matter the contagion; to the Queen of Sheba, who traveled a continent to meet people of learning and establish trade deals for her nation; to Joanna and Susanna, who funded Jesus’s ministry and had a great deal to do with the early disciples not starving on the road; to Prisca, Mary, Julia, Phoebe, Junia, Chloe, Euodia, Syntyche, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and others, apostles and leaders of the early church; to Mary sister of Martha who studied with a rabbi, and to Martha sister of Mary who did the dishes and cooked so she could; to the unnamed, brave woman who suffered continual bleeding and a life of being outcast and untouchable by her community and who yet found the courage to seek out a miracle worker and commit what her community would treat as an unforgivable act: to touch him; to Anna, who spent nearly a century prophesying in the Temple; to Jochebed, who sent her baby down a river in a basket rather than let him be found by genocidal soldiers; to Abigail, who prevented a massacre; to Dinah, who got blamed for one; to Hadassah (Esther), who stopped a genocide from happening on two continents; to Tamar, who found an unusual, daring, and quite horrifying solution to her father Judah’s neglect in leaving her unprovided for and starving; to Delilah, who outwitted and captured her people’s greatest foe; to Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, who marched up to Moses in the desert and said, “We don’t have a brother, and we want to inherit our father’s property”; to the eshet hayil (the “woman of valor” who “stretches out her hands to the needy”) who fed Elijah when he staggered, exhausted and starving, to her doorstep, though she had only a single cake of bread left in the house; to the Shulammite, who loved a foreign king, survived prejudice and brutality, and chose love over fear, even against all the terror-pressure of past trauma; to Bathsheba, so often remembered as a victim of either rape or seduction, so often reduced in our retellings to a momentary plot device, but whose actual story lasted decades and who successfully maneuvered her only son to the throne; to Naomi, who lost so much to famine and tragedy, yet found joy again; to Ruth, who immigrated to a land hostile to her people, yet stayed and kept her mother-in-law and herself fed and alive, daily risking rape or worse in the fields where young men followed the vulnerable, “exotic” immigrant gleaners at a near distance; to Lydia of Thyatira, the businesswoman who funded Paul’s missionary work in Macedonia because a story he told once lit her heart on fire; and to so many, many others who lived such stories.

Stant Litore

Related:

God’s Self-Confident Daughers: Early Christianity and the Liberation of Women

The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers

The Misleading Translation of “Wives, Submit,” and a Tale of Battle-Ready Women

4 Facts that Show that “Head” Does Not Mean “Leader” in 1 Cor 11:3

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Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

Engorged with Justice: The 4th Beatitude

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I am reflecting today on the nature of creation and on the metaphor of a “banquet in the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those hungering and thirsting for justice, for they will be filled.”

Excerpt from Lives of Unstoppable Hope (2015):

The second half of that beatitude is: “…because they will be filled.”

I want to be careful. I don’t think this should be read as a platitude. I do not believe that God wants us to see life as a Hallmark card. I think he wants us to see the world’s injustice and the incredible agonies of human beings for exactly what they are: an unforgivable travesty, a train wreck, the ongoing rape and torture of everything life was meant to be like. Our world—and you do not need to look to starving children in some other country to see it, you can see it if you look in your own city; I see it in my city—is filled with injustices that will make us cry until our bodies can’t bear the pain of it, if we look around us for one moment with truly unlidded eyes.

We must never cheapen the reality of human suffering with platitudes. The response to a world that knows rape and cancer and child soldiers and ethnic cleansing and human trafficking and senseless deaths cannot be: “It’s part of God’s plan.”

That is not what we are asked to put our faith in.

What we are asked to put our faith in is a promise about the future that has been made to us by the Maker of all things, by the One who gave birth to something as vast and full of unexpected beauties as the universe. Creation is what God does. And the promise we have from God is this: that he will continue creating. That no matter what happens in our world or no matter what havoc human beings wreak on their own lives or on each other, he will always find a way to create new life and new joy. We are asked to trust that this is who God is, to put our faith in his creativity and his love and his commitment to us and to his universe. We are to trust that no matter how dark a situation seems, there will come a beauty and a joy—“new heavens and a new earth”—so wonderful and so fulfilling that the joy will eclipse the suffering that preceded it. Because ash is fertile, and no matter what burns down, God will grow something new where it stood.

* * *

For those who live with a fierce hunger and with a thirst that tears at the heart, for justice—for those who hunger and thirst, there is a specific promised blessing. Χορτασθήσονται (chortasthesontai), Yeshua of Nazareth says: we will be fed, we will be fully satisfied, we will be “engorged.”

That Greek verb χορτάζω (chortazo) means ‘I gorge myself’ or ‘I fatten myself.’ Say the word χορτάζω and feel it in your mouth: it is actually a really funny word. It has a very funny sound. Χορτάζω!

In the Middle Ages, religious scholars frequently contended that Christ had no sense of humor and that though he was recorded as having sweated and wept, he was never recorded as having laughed. I think these scholars saw the words of Yeshua as humorless because they read them in Latin rather than Greek. It is difficult to say “Χορτάζω! I engorge myself! I burst! I am coming apart, I am so full!” without a grin.

Χορτασθήσονται is a remarkable promise, a ridiculous promise, a wonderful promise, if we have the courage to believe it, if we have faith even the size of a mustard seed. Yeshua is speaking this promise to human beings, who know suffering. In the first century, he is speaking it to people living in poverty within an oppressive empire where their most basic rights might be revoked at any hour. Yet he is asking them to trust so deeply into God’s love that they can laugh with him. God has seen the end of the story, and it is worth laughing about, though we who live our lives in the middle chapters, in a broken world that we see “through a glass darkly” cannot imagine how an ending that would provoke delighted laughter could be possible.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice, for they will be gorged full of justice.

They will see so much justice, so much rightness.

They will be so full that all they can do is loosen their belts and laugh before sitting back and closing their eyes in a dozy contentment.

That’s how much justice and rightness God plans to bless us with.

Hungry for justice and rightness in the world? Yeshua asks in the Sermon on the Mount. Well, my Father is going to have a banquet. And all of you here on the street will be welcome to the table. And at that banquet, the world is going to become so full of justice that you will be engorged with it. You will be fully, fully satisfied.

* * *

Even as I wrote the first draft of this chapter, Inara began having what looked like gelastic seizures—fits of seizures that manifest as bouts of hysterical, uncontrollable giggling. Afterward, she would often slump, exhausted, or even black out. This would happen four or five times a day, and it threw us into a panic of medical tests and anxious vigilance.

I stopped writing this book for many months.

My heart had been torn open. The injustice of it ate at me. Inara had been largely free of seizures throughout 2013; she was beginning to pick up new skills and recover lost ground. The thought that she might lose all of that again, perhaps even be plunged back into long weeks at the hospital—it was like watching the sun die into dusk without any hope of dawn.

Yet I did hope.

My wife and I awaited, fiercely, the results of the tests. And early in 2015, Inara’s epileptologist called us with a startling answer, in fact the best of all possible news.

This past year, Inara has not been having gelastic seizures as we had feared.

She has been having honest giggles, but due to her her delayed development, her laughter consumes her entire body; she loses all control of her body when she laughs, and the blacking out is actually from physical exhaustion. Much as an elderly person might lose control of their bladder while laughing hard, Inara loses control of everything.

Inara also has a very low exhaustion threshold compared with you and me. This is why she can’t eat normally yet: she hasn’t been able to develop the necessary muscle tone for her jaws and after trying to eat for a bit, she’s literally too exhausted to continue or to do anything else. (Inara receives 85% of her nutrition through a G tube.)

So apparently, when something strikes Inara as funny, her laughter consumes her and burns what energy she has and then she either blacks out or just slumps and lies listless for a while until her body recovers. We thought we were looking at post-ictal exhaustion, the fatigue-state that follows a seizure. But no. Inara literally laughs herself into exhaustion.

The doctor thinks Inara, who is partially blind, sometimes sees a shadow from the corner of her eye or a funny blurry shape, and that sets her off. “She’ll find something hilarious that you can’t see in an empty room,” her doctor tells us, “and she knows it is the funniest thing in the universe.”

I have a very happy daughter. As we’ve confirmed that we’re not looking at seizure activity—and haven’t been since 2013—the doctor has approved dialing Inara’s dosage back a bit and continuing to watch her. But she and her team have consensus that Inara is no longer having seizures.

My wife and I are vastly relieved. And, once I can start breathing again, I’ll probably also be very amused that Inara finds things in life so hilarious that sometimes she faints from the sheer humor of it!

I have become so accustomed to hitting the high-adrenaline, get-ready-to-fight button whenever something happens with Inara that can’t be explained and that looks dangerous … but now it looks like my wife and I can actually breathe for a while. When I first received this news, I was so thankful and relieved and exhausted and happy, I thought I might pass out.

Sometimes—just sometimes—we get a glimpse of that banquet of justice and rightness that is yet to come. Sometimes, we get a sense for what it must mean to push back from the table and groan, “Chortazo! I am full! I am so, so full!”

* * *

I am still trying to let that sink in.

I cannot begin to express how much this promise, this blessing, astonishes me and moves me. In the rare moments when I feel that I glimpse or grasp this blessing—as when a starving man catches the scent of a banquet and realizes the door is open and not barred—when I see my daughter giggling until she blacks out, or making music on an iPad tablet with her toes, when I see her painting with her fingers and toes and knees on a canvas my wife has provided her, painting all the poems she cannot speak, I want to laugh, too. I want to laugh hard with Inara. I want to laugh hard with God.

Stant Litore

(Photo Credit: Image by RusticVegan on Unsplash.)

You can get Lives of Unstoppable Hope here.

And you can support my work — both fiction and nonfiction, from ancient languages to tyrannosaurs, and help me keep Inara fed and well — here, on Patreon.

Would Jesus Do It?

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I’m hearing the name “Jesus” in the mouths of the powerful a lot (as in, if Jesus were alive today he would do this or do that or be a card-carrying this or a card-carrying that…). So I attempted a quick-to-read WWJD flowchart: “Would Jesus Do It?” Share if it moves you.

A transcript of the flowchart follows for those who can’t see the image.

Would Jesus Do It?

1. Matt 23 “Are You Being a Pharisee?” Test: Does it harm or burden someone who may be more vulnerable than you?

If YES: Nope. Jesus wouldn’t do it.

If NO, go to next test:

2. Golden Rule Test: Would you want someone else to do it to you?* (*And if this is an act of evangelism, would you want someone from another religion to approach you in this exact same way?)

If NO: Nope. Jesus wouldn’t do it.

If YES, go to next test:

3. Matt 25 Goats & Sheep Test, Combined with Luke 4 Jesus Mission Test: Does it involve giving food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, welcoming a stranger or refugee, clothing and providing for someone who is naked or without resources, visiting and healing the sick, or visiting and comforting someone who is in prison? Alternately, does it involve giving the poor hope, releasing captives, helping the blind see, freeing the oppressed from their oppressors, or proclaiming a year of forgiveness of all debts?

If NO: Honestly, Jesus probably wouldn’t have time for it.

If YES: OK, yeah, Jesus would probably do it. And those who love him are called to do likewise.

A Humble Request

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A humble request. Will you join my Patreon membership (https://www.patreon.com/stantlitore)? It’s the engine that funds everything I do. It gets you complimentary copies of the ebooks, the opportunity to get signed books, sneak previews of everything that’s coming up next … and it keeps my daughter fed and medicated and my creative work funded. It’s also an outrageous amount of fun. I ask folks to join me at $5, but really, the membership fee can be whatever you would like. It’s up to you. And you get to hear me tell you stories. So if my work moves you or entertains you, if you enjoy what I do, will you come be a part of it? We’d be glad to have you! There are 115 of us in this Patreon family, and we hope to one day be 1,000. That would be a big campfire to sit around and would fund a lot of stories!

The link: https://www.patreon.com/stantlitore

I hope to see you there!

Stant Litore

The Femininity of God

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A new friend in another country is reading Death Has Come Up into Our Windows today, and is writing me about how much he is enjoying it, and how he is delighted that in this retelling of Jeremiah, God is “she.”

I wrote back to him:

Yes, having God be ‘she’ in Death Has Come Up into Our Windows was very important to me, both because I wanted to emphasize all the feminine imagery for God in the Old Testament (and write about the veiled, feminine presence of the shekinah that dwells over the Ark behind the veil in the Temple) and because I wanted my readers to set aside for a little while the popular-culture image of God white-bearded and wrathful, and instead have them experience a story in which a prophet converses with God the compassionate, the lamenting, the grieving. A deity abandoned and scorned by her people, responding with yearning and fury and grief to the departure and then the later suffering of her abusive and neglectful spouse. I also wanted them to hear a story of a deity whose love for and faith in her children is bottomless, and who suffers when her people wound and devour each other, and who feels real pain when she is thrust behind a veil and left there to weep by a priesthood more concerned with keeping her silent and in her place, safely contained, than they are with loving her.

For American readers ten years ago, writing God in the female gender seemed to me the most direct way to do an end run around their assumptions and get them to that story.

Death Has Come Up into Our Windows is possibly my strangest novel (and my first) but, after all these years, I remain pleased with it.

If you are interested in the book, it can be found here in paperback and kindle editions.

Stant Litore

Video: Stant Litore on the Power of Stories

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“And let’s tell stories. Let’s imagine other worlds. Let’s ride some tyrannosaurs! Let’s tell stories DARINGLY. That’s so important. I think in our culture, the stories we are being asked to swallow so much of the time are not daring stories. They’re stories that make us smaller. I want stories that make us bigger–together.”

In this video, I talk about why storytelling is so powerful (to me), why science fiction and fantasy are really important right now, what stories I’m writing, and why I would love for you to come join me over at Patreon.

Love the stories? Help me keep them coming:

Patreon

Stant Litore

New Novel from Stant Litore!

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Stranded inside the hollow world where massive dinosaurs are grown for the arena, Nyota Madaki will face many perils — but she is ready. 

Inhabited by entire ecosystems of nanites, trained for strength and speed and elegance, capable of feats that would leave others broken on the forest floor, Nyota can handle anything. Anything, that is, except the sudden rush of forgotten memories into her heart. Anything but the realization of who she really is.

Luckily she won’t have to face that alone. Not with this tyrannosaur egg hatching beside her…

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In the far future, young gladiators compete on tyrannosaurback aboard orbital space colosseums. I am very pleased to announce that as of today, the Tyrannosaur stories are a trilogy! (You can read them in any order.)

Nyota-cover  cover_md  ScreamingT-Rex_Final-1000

Praise for stories in this series:

“This is a pulse-pounding story, a triumph of world-building – a story of gladiatorial combat, and of bonds strange and transcendent. Without a doubt, one of the most enthralling stories I’ve come across.” – Samuel Peralta, The Future Chronicles

“Wielding elegant prose and tightly-focused characters, Stant Litore cuts deep into the science-fiction realm of bio-engineered dinosaurs and high-tech bread and circuses with a physically enhanced female gladiator whose personal tragedy is as powerful as her victories in the arena. Her story echoes in the heart long after it is told.” – Richard Ellis Preston, Jr., author of Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders

“Yet again, Mr. Litore delivers a fast paced, adrenaline-fueled adventure.” – J.A. Campbell, Jada of the Raptors

Cover art:

Nyota’s Tyrannosaur: Frankie Serna

The Running of the Tyrannosaurs: Roberto Calas

The Screaming of the Tyrannosaur: Roberto Calas

Reading as an Act of Survival

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[Trigger Warning: Mentions of assault and torture.]

I write to move readers’ hearts. That has always been my first goal and vocation.

My own struggle is with depression, with a sense of futility, which I beat back with effort. The sense that the words I speak do little good. When I hear they have done good, it takes a pressure off my shoulders and back. For that reason, notes from readers mean a great deal to me.

Sometimes, I will hear that something from one of the books helped someone process grief or pain, or let them know they were not alone.

And then I will think, like Father Polycarp in What Our Eyes Have Witnessed (who also wrestles with the cold beast Despair): “I am doing my work in the world.”

I used to say that for me writing is an act of survival. I think reading can also be an act of survival.

This note, particularly, moved me today. I am sharing it with permission, but leaving the reader anonymous by request. They wrote me today to tell me they were reading my novel No Lasting Burial, and to share what it meant to them. (For ease of reading what’s below, I will put the initials NLB in front of the reader’s quotes from the book.)

“I am seriously enjoying No Lasting Burial,” the reader said.

I asked what they liked most.

They replied with the following:

No Lasting Burial: The phrase itself. Then there’s a bit where you write about the dead always coming with you, always holding on to you and dragging you back. That is seriously powerful. That first paragraph in the chapter “Faces in the Water.” That struck me deeply.

Also this part:

NLB: “People often think that violence, though it causes pain, is something that can be shrugged away, or healed, or walked away from afterward. But it isn’t. The violence of a man’s fists on a boy’s body, or of a man’s sex forced into a woman’s body or a girl’s, doesn’t just inflict pain. It tears away another person’s security, their ownership of their own body, their faith in their ability to direct and protect themselves. However briefly, they become another’s property, another person’s thing to beat or destroy, and when it is done, it is a long work, a fierce work, to convince themselves entirely that they are their own again.”

I was detained and tortured by the security police in Apartheid South Africa for 18 months in the 1980s.

The worst part was when I was transferred from one jurisdiction to another. The security policeman accompanying me had a “body receipt”. He was transferring a body.

I had no agency. I was just a body.

Sometimes, I still weep.

And this is what and how I made sense of what had happened to me. Partly.

NLB: “This is my husband’s house,” Rahel hissed. “My husband’s. The first man of this town. The man who stood against the Romans when you would not. A man who gave his life. So that my son could be born in a Hebrew town. And how dare you come to his door and talk to me of God? My husband knew God. Do you? Was it God who told you to hide shaking by the boats? The night they beat and crippled your father, the night my husband died, was it God who told you to bow and scrape before our heathen masters? Was it?”

Did God tell you to hate others?

The two greatest compliments I have ever been paid. Firstly, by a black man – in fact, my jailor. “You are a black man in a white man’s skin.”

Secondly, by a woman. Who wounded me more deeply than anyone ever has, even the security police.

her : “You’re not a racist”
me : “yes, I know I’m not a racist”
her : “no, you don’t understand what I mean. You don’t hate black people, you don’t hate Hindu people, you don’t hate women … you don’t hate anybody”
me : (In much puzzlement) yes I know. That’s how I am

And it’s true.

I find it difficult to understand how people can be different to this.

And then this. Oh man ….

NLB: “Yeshua paced the edge of the tide, heading up the shore away from the nets and the people gathered about them. His shoulders were tense, his eyes dark. The wind tugged his hair across his bruised face. The bruises did not bother Bar Nahemyah; he’d seen enough men stoned in the south to know that a man finds rocks hurled at him not when he offends God but when he offends other men.”

When you were a white man opposing Apartheid, you were even worse than a black man. You were a ‘race-traitor’, and so to be hated and feared even more.

I was one of the dead. And I was rescued. Your book speaks to me on a subliminal level.

Thank you.

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After that, we talked a little about our lives. I read their story – which they sent to me, and I shared about my Inara. And they shared these next lines with me, which they wrote in response to the writings of Henri Nouwen, and I will carry these words with me this week:

“If has all got to do with the healing of the community. Without each other, we are dead…

What I have learned … is that God loves me exactly – and I mean exactly – as I am. We must accept the pain of being broken. Salvation is a process, and will not be complete during our lives here on earth.”

All of you who are reading this: You never know what the story you give to the world may do, or what it might mean to another.

May we become, through hearing each other’s stories and passing those stories on, a more compassionate people.

Peace be with you.

Stant Litore

“The Lost Secrets of the Mathwitches”

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This is an excerpt from Lives of Unforgetting.

I think to me the really haunting thing about The Odyssey is where it comes from…an oral tradition of stories about the heroes and civilizations of the past. This oral tradition persisted for centuries, but it told stories of earlier ages when Greek-speaking peoples had big cities, vast networks of trade, and a system of writing. The civilizations of the Minoans and the Mycenaeans collapsed, and the peoples of the Aegean lost the technology of writing and their networks became more temporary, contingent, and ever-shifting. Even when they picked up a new system of writing at last from the Phoenicians (probably) centuries later, and began writing down the stories of Troy and Mycenae and Ithaca, they remained scattered, loosely connected, competing peoples. There was no more Minoan civilization; Mycenae was near mythical. They didn’t think of themselves yet as Hellenes. There is no word for a unitary Greek people in Homer. They thought of themselves as many different peoples. What haunts and intrigues me are the intervening centuries, the centuries without writing, when highly trained rhapsodes recited the tales not only of heroic ancestors but also of great palaces presided over by women like Penelope or Arete, palaces containing wealth barely imaginable to the listening audiences.

Imagine if much of our world collapsed in the near future, perhaps under the pressure of climate change (which some believe was a key factor in doing in the Mycenaeans.) Suppose our descendants lost stable contact and trade with each other and lost the technology of writing. Suppose there were no “Americans” anymore, and for seven hundred years, every city and its environs became its own culture with its unique dialects of English, Spanish, and other languages. The cities fight, establish trade or see trade crumble, raid each other, get overpopulated and send out colonizers to another region. Trained storytellers stand in the square or at the bar or at the pulpit reciting aloud the stories of past legendary people, Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. and all their exploits. They tell stories of women who wove spells out if arcane numerical symbols to send boats into the sky to the deserts of the moon, and of how an angry god smacked one of these Challenger boats out of the sky, furious as its intrusion. They’ll tell stories of the freeing of slaves and stories of people whose spirit left their body to talk to thousands of other people at once through tiny mirrors they carried in their garments. They’ll tell stories of wars fought over oceans by impossibly united tribes that launched fleets of a thousand ships, and fleets that sailed the sky and not only the waves.

And then one day, some people on another continent create a system of writing again. Perhaps in Nigeria or Brazil. Vast new empires awaken on other continents. Through piracy or trade, a writing system makes its way to the shores of this continent, and someone or someones, somewhere between the years 2800 and 3100, writes down a few epics, perhaps the Lincolniad (a story of warfare between kindred and the liberation of slaves) and the Apolliad (an odyssey across a star-filled sea to find the moon, with the explorers threatened by hungry space monsters, either aided or hindered by seductive and brilliant mathwitches, and harassed by the fury of an angry moon god). Audiences ooh and aaahh at the stories of a legendary past of unimaginable splendor. And the Lincolniad and the Apolliad become foundational texts of new civilizations, read and translated and studied for thousands of years.

Stant Litore

Photo by: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash.

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This post is an excerpt from Lives of Unforgetting:

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

The Misleading Translation of “Wives, Submit,” … and a Tale of Battle-Ready Women

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Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!

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Now on to the post…

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A few weeks ago, I suggested that the usual translations of Ephesians 5:22 are too glib and misleading in modern English. You may see translations like “Wives, submit to your husbands” (KJV) or “Wives, be subject to your husbands” (NRSV) followed by a brief statement about how “the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.” And this all sounds very cut and dry in modern English. We read it and hear something rather like: Wives, do what your husband says, much as you would if God were speaking.

But: this ancient letter to a church in Ephesus wasn’t written in modern English, and much of what we assume when we translate it is quite a bit off. And this is sad – not only because we translate this verse in ways that reinforce traditional gender hierarchies in our culture, but also because what we are losing in translation is really a lovely idea about spousal relationships that came with a shock to the Greco-Roman culture and that might potentially come with a bit of a shock to our modern American culture, too.

Specifically, I suggested that rather than submit, “in context, υποτασσομαι (hupotassomai) probably means to deploy yourself in support of your spouse against the enemy.”

In fact, I would suggest that a better translation might be something like one of these:

“Wives, support your husbands.”
“Wives, deploy yourselves in support of your husbands.”
“Wives, arrange yourselves for battle for your husbands.”

Or even, less literally:

“Wives, go to battle for your husbands.”
“Wives, defend your husbands.”

This new post (for those who requested it) is to make the case for why I and some others think this. It will be a long post, but hopefully interesting!

Now, I’m interested in this partly because I nerd out about ancient languages, but also because how we translate passages like this one has an enormous impact on our often very religious culture. (To say the least.) That means that translating verses from the New Testament isn’t just a matter of academic interest or scholarly quibbling; it matters to the lives of real people.

To understand what may have gone amiss in the translation of this often-quoted passage, we need to look at three things:

1. The etymology of the word that we’re translating as “submit” or “be subject to.”

2. The larger context of the letter in which this passage appears. This is not a standalone verse that we can just pluck out of context without altering its meaning; it is embedded inside of an extended metaphor.

And:

3. The meaning of the word that we’re translating as “head.”

Here we go. This is going to be exciting!

PART ONE: ETYMOLOGY

So let’s look first at “submit.”

The word being translated here is the Koine Greek verb υποτασσομαι (hupotassomai). This is a combination of the verb τασσο (tasso) with the prefix υπο (hupo). What we miss right away in English is that this verb was a military term for arranging soldiers in ordered formation to confront an enemy. τασσο could be translated “set,” “arrange,” “order,” or “deploy.” The grammar is important, too. The ending of the word tells us we’re in the passive/middle voice. “Deploy -yourself- under.” What we’re talking about is not an ancient Greek word for abstract obedience but a concrete metaphor of military support.

Now this is about to get more nuanced and interesting, but first, here is a quick link to Strong’s, where you’ll see references to commentators noting that τασσο is “primarily military” and offering an array of possible English synonyms for that root verb:

– “/tasso (place in position, post) was commonly used in ancient military language for designating/appointing/commissioning a specific status…”

– “tasso was primarily a military term meaning ‘to draw up in order, arrange in place, assign, appoint, order…”

See Strong’s concordance #5021 for τάσσω:
http://biblehub.com/greek/5021.htm

Now, you -could- read the verb that appears in Ephesians 5:22 as “place yourselves under your husband” and you might be -technically- correct, and then you might look, as past translators have, for something like “be subject to,” in order to render the verse in better, quicker English.

But … if you do that, you lose the military context of “hupotassomai,” which is about forming up for battle and about deploying or stationing yourself to support. And you also risk losing the context this passage is embedded in and the main thrust of the argument in which this verse appears. For that reason, this translation would be a bit misleading. It would also be too glib, inviting us to read the passage lazily (especially when reading the verse by itself, without the surrounding text). We might be encouraged to read into this passage confirmation of the norms of our own culture, rather than paying close attention to the context the ancient writer is speaking to and what they may be advocating.

So, now let’s look at the context…

PART TWO: CONTEXT

The phrase in which the KJV and some modern translations give “submit” for the verb “hupotassomai” is embedded within a passage that provides an extended military metaphor. It immediately follows sentences about forsaking the “bondage” of the ways in which people in their culture have lived in their past (Ephesians 5: 1-20) to live joyously instead in new ways, “singing and making melody…giving thanks for everything.” Then, following the bit about husband and wives, the passage goes on to build toward this closing argument of the letter, a few lines later: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm…” etc. (Eph 6:10-13ff., NRSV).

The passage goes on from there to describe the armor of God in detail, in which each piece of armor metaphorically represents a particular skill or attribute that the early Christian must “put on.” For example, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, etc. Whether the early Christian is male, female, or child, or whether master or servant (all are addressed in the preceding lines of the text), all are invited by the author to put on the full armor of God and deploy themselves against a spiritual enemy that is imagined as “the powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

This is significant. The relationships being described here (spousal and otherwise) aren’t being described in the abstract or in isolation; the passage is about how to abandon the “darkness” and “bondage” of the past and how to support each other in standing firm against the forces of evil, fully armored and fully ready. That’s why the writer is using military verbs like τάσσω (“deploy” / “arrange in formation”).

Now let’s zoom out and look at a broader context: the larger epistolary literature that the original audience of Ephesians would have been familiar with. There are other passages in the New Testament about marriage, using similar metaphors. 1 Corinthians 7, for instance, in which husbands and wives are described as radically interdependent. In 1 Corinthians 7:4, Paul argues that each spouse yields authority to the other, using a military term for delegating power (ἐξουσιάζει, “exousiazei”); he also notes that he says this “not as a command” – something we often glide past in reading it. A few lines later, in 7:12-16, Paul suggests that when married to someone who is not a believer, the spouse shouldn’t discontinue the relationship for that reason but should do all they can to support their unbelieving spouse – because God has called them to εἰρήνη (“eirene”). We translate that “peace” – but it’s really different from the Roman peace, the “pax” that we’ve inherited in phrases like “rest in peace” or “restfulness.” It comes from the verb eirō – to tie or weave together. The idea is that we are to be woven together (elsewhere, in Romans, Paul asks all people to weave themselves together in love). For more on eirene, see Strong’s #1515: http://biblehub.com/greek/1515.htm

So in these passages about interdependency and support, the epistolary writers of the New Testament are addressing either the plight of Christian women with unChristian husbands and how to face the world together and speak your faith to a Greek or Roman husband who believes you’re property (this is the topic in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16) or the need for husband and wife to put on the armor of God and resist the devil (in Ephesians 5-6). Remember that at the time, these letters were being written to challenge hierarchy, not support it, and to propose a radical egalitarianism in human relationships, and that most Christians in first-century Europe were women. The teaching that we are all one body in Christ was a harder pill to swallow for men in the Roman Empire than it was for women. Their culture tells husbands to own their wives and rule them; the letter to Ephesus says instead to “love them” as they love their own selves (Ephesians 5), and the first letter of Peter says to treat wives as “fellow heirs in the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). Fellow heirs! That was a radical idea, especially given inheritance laws and expectations in the Roman empire.

So husbands who become believers in that first-century world are urged to love their wives and treat them as fellow heirs. As for wives – many of whom have husbands who have not converted – they’re being encouraged to deploy themselves in support of those husbands. Unbelieving husbands are pictured as vulnerable, still in bondage to old sins and old ways of thinking, half asleep and like soldiers blundering into enemy fire. In 1 Corinthians 7:16, Paul writes, “Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband.” And he adds, “Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife” (NRSV).

The verb “save” there is σῴζω (sozo), to rescue from destruction and bring the rescued to refuge or safety; we get the Greek word for “savior” from it. See Strong’s #4982: http://biblehub.com/greek/4982.htm

In the first century, there is no need for anyone to tell wives to obey their husbands; obedience is already an expectation in that culture. No, what the epistle-writers are arguing for is a radically interdependent relationship, yielding to and honoring each other. Husbands who have material power over their spouses in the Greco-Roman world are asked to love their wives (Ephesians 5), listen to them “with understanding” (1 Peter 3), and regard them as “fellow heirs.” Wives (many of whom in the early church have unconverted husbands) are encouraged to deploy themselves against “the powers of this present darkness” in support of their husbands who remain in bondage.

In review: I don’t think this passage is about “obedience.” First-century Christian women are being asked to deploy in support of their spouses because many of their spouses were not Christian, and Christian wives of non-Christian men had to figure out how to deal with that situation. 1 Corinthians 7 provides situationally specific advice about not trying to convert the spouse but instead bring love to the table. And Ephesians 5-6 emphasizes: Stand firm against the enemy. Support your spouse in the conflict. Who knows, but through your steadfast love, they might break free?

PART 3: “HEAD OF THE WIFE”

But, someone might ask, doesn’t the next phrase after “hupotasso” talk about the husband being the head of the wife?

Well, yes … and emphatically no.

The word used here in Greek is κεφαλή, “kephale.” It does mean “head.” In English, we understand that to –also– mean “authority” or “leader,” because “head” can mean both things in our language. The same is true in Latin – the word for head also means a commander. But that Latin idiom (which we inherited) doesn’t exist in ancient Greek, as far as we know.

κεφαλή in Koine Greek does have two meanings: “head” and “origin.” Origin, like the head of a spring or the head of a river. A “source.” Marg Mowczko summarizes some fairly extensive research documenting that κεφαλή did not mean “leader” or “ruler” or anything of that kind in Greek until long after these letters were written, and you can find that summary of the research here:

https://margmowczko.com/head-kephale-does-not-mean-leader-1-corinthians-11_3/

In the first-century letter to the Ephesians, when calling the husband “kephale,” the author may be alluding to one (or both) of the following:

1. The Hebrew lore, recorded in Genesis, that the first woman was formed from the side or rib of the first man.

2. The logistics of Greco-Roman society, by which the husband in the house is the provider and source of the house’s income and resources. The breadwinner. But the same word does not, by itself, mean “master.” That’s a different word in Greek.

So Ephesians 5:22-23 may be saying that just as Christ is the source and the provider for the church, husbands in Ephesus are the source of the provisions in the house. I don’t think either of these two statements is a new assertion; both are stated in the text like givens that the hearers or readers already understand. The writer uses these givens as points of support for the recommendations that follow: for husbands to love (not rule) their spouses; for husbands to act sacrificially on behalf of their spouses (even as Christ does for his community), and for wives to arrange themselves, like a battle-regiment, in support of their spouses.

CONCLUSION (OR RATHER, AN INVITATION TO LOOK DEEPER)

I suggest that the thrust of these passages is not that the husband is the boss, but that the husband in a Greco-Roman world is vulnerable. And it’s not that wives are to “obey” and “be subject” to their husbands, as we have it in modern English. Rather, it’s that wives are to go out to battle for their husbands’ souls.

I mean, really think about that for a moment.

These first-century writers are using an explicitly military term to describe the actions of wives. Rather than acting as passive vessels and subjects of male rule, the ideal of the Christian wife is the woman who issues forth in spiritual battle, dressed in “the full armor of God,” an agent by which Christ might “rescue” (from the verb σῴζω) others on the battlefield.

That’s what I believe we lost in translation.

I would propose that better translations of Ephesians 5:22 than “submit” or “be subject to” might be phrases like:

“Wives, support your husbands.”
“Wives, deploy yourselves in support of your husbands.”
“Wives, arrange yourselves for battle for your husbands.”

Or, less literally:

“Wives, go to battle for your husbands.”
“Wives, defend your husbands.”

Stant Litore

POSTSCRIPTS AND POST-POSTSCRIPTS

P.S. For some fascinating textual evidence on the gender dynamics and the roles of women in the first 2-3 centuries of the early church, refer to God’s Self-Confident Daughters by Anne Jensen.

Or, for a shorter, less academic, and perhaps more startling introduction to the lives of women in early Christianity, this article entitled “The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers” is a good read: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-rebel-virgins-and-desert-mothers-who-have-been-written-out-of-christianitys-early-history

P.P.S. “Submit” doesn’t mean what we think it does, either, by the way. Centuries ago, we borrowed that word from Latin. It’s “sub” (under) plus the verb “mittere” (to send forth). We get the word “mission” from the same word. It’s a Roman military word — to send someone out, to deploy them in support. “I submit” once meant “I deploy myself” or “I support,” or “I send myself in support.” We’ve seen that word evolve over the centuries to mean “obey,” but it was originally a more nuanced word than that. We still retain faint echoes of that prior meaning in specific, formal circumstances. For example, I could conclude this post by writing this sentence:

[I submit to you that the translation “Wives, arrange yourselves for battle for your husbands” may be closer to the sense of the Greek than “Wives, submit to your husbands.”]

If I were to write that sentence, I would not be offering to obey you. I would just be saying that I am sending this idea out, respectfully and earnestly, for your consideration. I am placing this idea “under” you for your review and pondering.

That’s how slippery words really are. They don’t stay put for long. And in some cases, the slippages and the differences may seem subtle at first glance, but that doesn’t mean they are merely trivial.

P.P.P.S. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. I offer it in a spirit of fascination. If there is a “message” I would like to convey, that message is twofold:

1. When diving into a sacred text – especially a very old one -take little for granted. (For the religious among us, reading humbly and assuming from the start that we and others have missed important things in the text is not a stance that questions God but a stance that can glorify God and humble man. It is a way of approaching the kingdom of heaven “like little children.” I talk more about this here: https://stantlitore.com/2014/12/12/why-christians-shouldnt-ignore-derrida/) For that matter, in offering a reading of Ephesians 5:22 that is focused on what I think some have left out, I may have left things out. There may be evidence I didn’t consider. The next reading of this text may be far deeper and more useful or more beautiful or more informed than this one. Take little for granted.

2. If you are reading this particular holy text, and what you are reading sounds like it confirms the traditional customs and fears of your culture, then take a second, hard look. We have inherited a lot of very Roman ideas about the Bible thanks to many centuries of filtering it through Latin and through English translations deeply influenced by the Latin. As I wrote in an earlier post, when you translate radical or subversive texts into the language of Empire, you eventually get Imperial texts.

Take that second, hard look … because the New Testament did not originate as an Imperial text. The New Testament isn’t about celebrating the status quo or about settling on a final, comfortable interpretation. It isn’t about affirming or building up a culture. It’s about cracking culture open – every culture, from Israel to Syria to Greece to Rome to Ethiopia – and letting the healing light of God pour through. It’s about turning all expectations upside-down, whipping money-changers out of the Temple, and challenging Pharisees on traditional and literalist interpretations of sacred texts. It’s about learning to live as the hands and feet of God — hands that feed the poor, liberate captives, and touch the faces of lepers; feet that carry good news to the downtrodden and that get pierced with nails by the powerful and the comfortable and the oppressors, as His feet were. It’s about reading everything in the light of the greatest commandments (love God and love your neighbor).

Remember the Bereans of Acts 17, who “received the Word with alertness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily to see whether those things were so.” Any time the Bible starts to sound really comfortable and … expected … it might be a good time to read it more uncomfortably and more awake, with “alertness of mind.” The Bible is packed with stories of God waking people up, uncomfortably, in the middle of the night, and, like a troublesome guest, rearranging all the furniture of their lives. It’s what he does.

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Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

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No, Mr. Sessions, the Apostle Paul Does Not Tell Us to Stand Quietly By While You Put Children in Concentration Camps

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Now on to the post…

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While on their way to a protest, someone wrote me a kind note asking me what I thought of Jeff Sessions’ take on Romans 13 (which Sessions is using to insist on respect for authorities, specifically in regard to letting our elected officials do as they please with the children of immigrants seeking asylum). Man, I could give you an earful. Interpretations of the opening verses of Romans 13 are controversial and there is a LOT written on them.

But look. The United States is not and I hope to God will never be a theocracy. Many of our founders fought and bled and died for the right to live in a country that would NOT be governed according to one faction’s particular interpretation of any religious text. I mean that: our predecessors fled Europe, fought wars, and died for this. So when our federal government starts quoting Scripture to dispel dissent, I get quite angry. This is still the United States of America, not the Republic of Gilead, and a good many of our ancestors died to keep that so. I wish more of our citizens would remember it.

As for what I think, as a Christian, of Jeff Sessions’ use of Romans 13, I’ll answer, since I was asked. Maybe these notes will help someone pull the wool from off a neighbor’s eyes and will be useful for that reason. But I urge you to call and write to your congresspeople before bothering with this post or any other like it, because Sessions is quoting Scripture at us specifically to delay some of our people in arguments and hesitation. I do not want to add to that hesitation.

If it is useful, you can read my notes. If it isn’t, skip it. But regardless, go call your congresspeople. Do that first!

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FOUR POINTS

…on Sessions’ use of Romans 13:1-5 as a bulwark against protest or civil disobedience:

1. First, the context in which Romans 13:1-5 was written matters. Romans 13:1-5 is not a standalone passage!

What Jeff Sessions has done, as many have done and as many always do, is pluck a short quote out of its context so that it can be used to say the exact opposite of the overall message of the text it came from.

Remember that chapter and verse numbers are arbitrary, and where punctuation appears in a translation of a Greek sentence is itself often an interpretive choice. If you want to read the opening verses of Romans 13 seriously, you need to read the section before it and the section after it, rather than just pluck part of a Greek text out and treat it like a standalone manifesto. It’s in the middle of an argument about how the first-century Roman church might conduct itself while beset with internal division and oppression from external authorities (the word is “exousia,” which is “powers,” those who have ability and force). Many scholars believe that the passage is a response to a dispute in the early church over how to handle taxation under Nero. (You can read a quick paraphrase of some of the different takes on the historical and rhetorical context here. This article is not at all comprehensive but it will give a starting point and it comes with a list of references.)

In brief, some in the early underground church were calling for the radical act of refusing to pay taxes – an issue that Paul addressed directly in Romans 13:6-7. Paul is cautioning the church to pay its taxes and not provoke an oppressive government. Such provocation will lead to punishment on the church from that government, he warns in 13:2 (“those who resist will incur judgment”). People who are reading the KJV here may get the wrong idea and think that God will punish those who resist governing authorities, because the KJV translates “krima” as “damnation.” Seriously!!! “Krima” means a verdict or a judgment in court. Paul is counseling the Roman church to avoid a situation where their members (some of whom probably lacked the protections of Roman citizenship) are hauled into the courts for refusing to pay taxes and are then fined, imprisoned, or sentenced to execution.

This is important.

There is no evidence that the first five verses of Romans 13 were intended by their author to be read as a universal creed for submission to state authorities. Paul is responding in a personal letter to a specific and local issue about taxation in Rome. He is advocating not stirring things up by withholding taxes – an act of rebellion that he judges to be without purpose. In this he echoes Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees: render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, etc.

2. Second, who is speaking also matters!

“Be respectful to the Empire” means something very different when the authority is saying it (Sessions) than it does when the rebel is saying it (Paul)! Context matters!

And by the way, can we please stop translating “hupotasso” as “submit”? Hupotasso = “deploy under,” a military term for deploying oneself, like a regiment, in support. (Latin sub + missio also means to “send under,” and I think it once had a similar connotation of battle support, but in modern English “submit” has specific and different connotations than it did in classical Latin.) A better translation in this context may be “Maintain your support for the authorities.” Paul is building the argument that the Roman church should continue to pay taxes. Context.

3. The larger message of the speaker also matters!

These five verses are so often taken by themselves as if they’re a standalone manifesto and used to silence dissent – as if Paul is advocating against civil disobedience rather than advocating for caution. But if you read the rest of the letter – and, for that matter, the account of Paul’s life in Acts – you will realize quickly that the idea of Paul preaching against civil disobedience is ridiculous. Paul is literally under house arrest for civil disobedience while writing some of his letters. Again and again in Acts, Paul ends up punished or imprisoned by the authorities for choosing civil disobedience when disobedience is necessary.

Just because Paul is saying in Romans 13 that refusing to pay taxes to Caesar is not a battle worth picking does not mean that Paul is saying that no battles are worth picking.

Consider the verses that follow later in that chapter – the ones Sessions didn’t bother to quote even though they are the summation of Paul’s argument on the subject.

Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Romans 13:10 — “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Paul is making the argument for obeying taxation law within the larger context of making sure nothing is obstructing the church from its principal work: loving one’s neighbor. Getting in a financial dispute with the Emperor and getting your members killed would definitely get in the way of that. In fact, in Romans 13: 6-7, Paul contends that the only actual impact that refusing to pay taxes is likely to have is that the tax collectors won’t get paid and won’t have food on the table. Whatever the good intent of those Christians who want to refuse to pay taxes as a form of resistance, the impact will be that they’ll get tried and convicted (krima) and their neighbors who are tasked with the collection of taxes will go hungry. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor,” Paul urges. Paul appears to suggest that refusing to pay taxes to Nero is a fruitless resistance that is also not the most effective way to love one’s neighbor.

The obvious corollary to this is that there may be other cases where loving one’s neighbor requires civil disobedience. When loving one’s neighbor and doing no wrong requires that you disobey or protest unjust laws, Paul is very much in support of doing so. Loving each other comes first. In that, the law of God is fulfilled, Paul insists.

The letters in the New Testament are frequently unequivocal in telling the church to shelter the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant. It is that which James tells us is “true religion.” So for us to take a line out of context to mean “shut up and let your government put children in concentration camps” when the early church was specifically tasked with providing sanctuary for the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant – is patently absurd. That’s not Paul. That’s not Peter either (he told the exousia that “we must obey God rather than man” – Acts 5:29). And that’s definitely not Jesus.

For a Christian, the first directive is always to love one another as selflessly as God loves us, and THAT is what will either drive obedience or disobedience to authority. That is why Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted Paul in support of civil disobedience in his Letter from Birmingham Jail!

And that’s an apt reference because this warping of a few lines of text to mean the exact opposite of what the text as a whole is advocating is not just something Sessions does to Paul. It’s the same move when Sessions or others quote the “I Have a Dream Speech” to suggest that Martin Luther King, Jr. — of all people!!! — would have urged today’s citizens not to protest in the street or march on the capital. That, of course, is absurd, since Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on the capital himself. Just as it is absurd to suggest that Paul would advocate against civil disobedience against a government committing atrocities — as, again, Paul was under arrest for civil disobedience!

This kind of rhetorical gymnastics to justify blind obedience to a federal government that is carrying out atrocities is worthier of the Third Reich than of the nation we’ve been insisting that the United States is or could become, and it is insulting to our intelligence, our conscience, and our shared humanity.

4. Finally, the type of ‘authority’ matters! The “exousia” (“powers,” those with ability and force) in Romans 13 refers to the oppressive leaders of Rome: Nero and those Nero appoints. Now, Paul may believe that Nero was “deployed” (tasso) in that position by an act of God, but that is manifestly not the case with the elected officials of the United States of America. Trump and Sessions are not Nero (though I concede that Mr. Trump at times acts like Nero). Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions were not “deployed” (tasso) to their position by an act of God. Our officials are either elected by us or appointed by those we elected, and are therefore answerable to us in a way that Nero was not answerable to the underground Christians in Rome.

When Jeff Sessions quotes Romans 13, he is saying that we should obey our elected officials in the same way and for the same reasons that we would obey an emperor or dictator, those who rule by force. And that is an appalling thought.

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IN RECAP:

– Elected officials are not the same as dictators deployed by an “act of God.” Our officials are our laborers (whom we hired), and by definition are not the “exousia” to which Paul refers. In the U.S., Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions are not “exousia” (“powers” ruling by force), and we the people are literally the government. I have the sense that many of us keep forgetting this. We need to unforget it.

– Taking Romans 13 out of context to say “never protest the government” is not compatible with a larger read of the New Testament, which is packed with countless stories of people protesting the government in cases of atrocity or racial/religious oppression.

– Paul insists that our first duty is to love each other. The writers of Hebrews and James remind us that this means sheltering the orphan, the widow, the immigrant – the vulnerable among us. When children are put in concentration camps, our Christian duty, our American duty, and our human duty to put a stop to this trumps any duty we might have to Trump.

Finally, Sessions’ Bible-quoting is purely a distraction and silencing tactic. It is meant to get citizens who are practicing Christians to be complacent or slow in acting. It is an abuser’s tactic. This is not a time to be slow in acting. This is a time when children are being concentrated in camps within our borders, and it is our duty as the people of the United States, to whom our elected representatives answer, to stop it. Those of us who are Christians, it is our duty as imitators of Christ and lovers of our neighbors to stop it. It is our duty as human beings to stop it. There are a lot of gray areas in religion, politics, and human action. This isn’t one.

So, for the love of God and your neighbor and your country, be LOUD until our federal authorities cease this inhumane, cruel, and ungodly practice of kidnapping children from asylum-seeking parents.

Stant Litore

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Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore