Posted by: smstrouse | July 1, 2017

Revisiting the “Texts of Terror”

dcfc437727d7b7fe98dc10c9904c28e3I was in seminary when Phyllis Trible’s book Texts of Terror was released in 1984. Feminist theology was just beginning to seep into our awareness – at least on our Lutheran campus. Feminism was discussed among women in a dorm room, not in any of our classes. My eyes were quickly being opened to new ways to read the Bible – and one of those ways was to recognize the violence toward women inherent in patriarchy.

One of the “texts of terror” that Trible brought to our attention is the story of Hagar. I was reminded of the book because Hagar appeared in last week’s assigned scripture reading (Genesis 21:8-21), part of the dysfunctional Sarah and Abraham family saga. But the story started back in chapter 16. Sarah couldn’t have kids, so she gave Hagar, her Egyptian slave, to Abraham so Hagar could produce a child in her place. Does this sound like an ancient version of The Handmaid’s Tale? It should.

In the first place, Hagar was a slave. Then she was given to Abraham so she could be raped and forced to bear a child for him. She then undergoes abuse from Sarah – with the permission of Abraham – and runs away. God finds her and tells her to go back and submit to Sarah. But – don’t worry, Hagar; you will have a son named Ishmael and all will be well. Finally, because of Sarah’s jealousy, Abraham banishes Hagar and her son into the desert. But an angel appears to Hagar and saves her and her child from death.

So all’s well that ends well, right? Keep reading. Trible continues with the stories of the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-22); the rape, torture, murder, and dismemberment of an unnamed woman (Judges 19:1-30), and the sacrifice of the daughter of Jephthah (Judges 11:29-40). Texts of terror indeed.

Hagar is the only one of these women who appear in the lectionary cycle of readings. But this patriarchal blight of the use and misuse of women is embedded in our sacred texts. And it is incumbent upon us to recognize and understand these stories – and how they continue to contribute to the misogyny that still exists today.

Especially now. Like it or not, we have a president who gets away with bragging about grabbing women by the pussy and body-shaming women he doesn’t like. We have entertainment personalities like Bill Cosby getting away with abusing and raping women for decades. Female students complain about the rape culture on college campuses. Women clergy continue to share stories about inappropriate remarks and physical contact from men in churches. The texts of terror continue.

Those of us who are still in the church must take these biblical stories seriously. We must allow Hagar and Tamar and all the unnamed women speak. And we must stand up on their behalf – and on behalf of all the women who are still terrorized by a patriarchal system that has got to go.

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