The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Built on the four pillars of our Dominican life – preaching, prayer, study, and community – Godzdogz offers many resources for exploring the Catholic Faith today.
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Women in the Old Testament: Ruth

Friday, August 17, 2012
Thus far Godzdogz's series on the women of the Old Testament has often had cause to draw attention to the courage and leadership shown by the women of Israel in furthering God's plan of salvation. These virtues are once again on show in the book of Ruth, yet it is striking that they are conditioned and to a certain extent distorted by the context of extreme vulnerability in which they are manifested. A famine drives Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and his two sons from their home in Bethlehem into the plains of Moab - beyond the Promised Land. Here the family settles, and Elimelech dies. His sons,  by now married to Moabite women, die ten years later leaving their mother Naomi and their wives Ruth and Orphah as unprotected widows. Alone and isolated, Naomi decides to return to Judah and gives her daughters in law leave to return to their families. Orpah departs, but Ruth refuses to abandon Naomi declaring: 'Your people will be my people and your God will be my God' (Ruth 1:16). Ruth the Moabitess refuses the security that a return to her own family would offer and risks becoming an unprotected and unsupported young women in a foreign land, all so she might herself support the now-elderly Naomi.  Read more

Women in the OT: Naomi - widow and match-maker

Monday, August 13, 2012
Naomi is a major character in the Book of Ruth. This short book is an endearingly told account of how Ruth, a Moabite woman and widow of a Jew (Naomi’s son Mahlon) commits herself to the Jew Naomi, helps to provide for Naomi and finds a Jewish husband, Boaz, who thus provides for her and continues the family line of Naomi as well as his own. It is a finely constructed story, and has a higher dialogue-to-descriptive-action ratio than any other historical book in the Old Testament. All this helps to give us a sense of human realism and a more developed sense of the main characters (Naomi, Ruth and Boaz) than in many other texts. Lots of theological issues are thrown up in the narrative, showing it to be rich and subtly suggestive religious text, not just a romantic novella. The developments in Naomi’s life are inextricably bound up with the actions of Ruth (see next blog post) and Boaz, so it is artificial to look at her in isolation, but I will attempt some comments.  Read more

Women in the Old Testament: Delilah

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The history of Samson and Delilah has fascinated readers throughout the ages. Peter Paul Rubens found the motif of Samson lying in Delilah's arms worth  spending twelve months finishing a painting.

In this picture, the atmosphere in the room contains all that we feel when we hear about the deceitful intentions of Delilah, as, having failed three times, she finally discovers the secret of Samson's strength. By cutting off his hair, the Philistines are free to do with him as they like. What happened to Delilah afterwards the story does not tell. We only know that what seems to start out as passionate love story - possibly with mixed motives - ends up with Samson being blinded, tortured and put to a slave's work before the grande finale when he tears down the columns of the temple, resulting in the death of 3,000 men and women. From this perspective, Samson is the good guy, falling for the conspiration executed by Dalilah and her fellow people. This is what Neil Sedaka sang about in the sixties, when he composed the hit Run Samson, Run:

Oh Delilah made Sammie's life a sin
And he perished, when the roof fell in
There's a moral, so listen to me pal
There's a little of Delilah in each and every gal

Neil Sedaka makes it sound so simple, so straight forward. Delilah is the femme fatale who through seduction and betrayal becomes responsible for Samson's death. But the story suffers from some logical weaknesses that forces us to pose some embarrassing questions.

Dalilah tries repeatedly to uncover the secret of Samson's strength. And every time he has given her an answer, she follow the instructions and then tests out his strength in order to see if he has revealed the truth. Was Samson so naive that he did not know what was at stake? Of course Samson is aware of what is going on. He has many enemies. Giving up the secret of his strength is surely risking his own life. Why should Delilah want to know from where Samson had got his strength? Her question to Samson even says explicitly that she wants to know how he may be bound in order to be controlled (16.6). And why does Samson finally reveal the secret? He must have known that by revealing the secret he is risking it all? He has been cheated before, when his first wife told the men of her people the answer to the enigma about the lion and the honey (14.10-20).

The story of Samson and Delilah is not a story of an honest (but incredibly stupid) man and a wicked woman. It is more a story of a game where passion, sex, power and control is the key motivation. In the book 'Sacred Witness - Rape in the Hebrew Bible', Susanne Scholz cites Lori Rowlett' view that the story of Samson and Delilah is a tale of bondage and degradation. Samson is playing with fire, knowing that the game with Delilah might become deadly. We find ourselves face to face with some of the darkest forces that live in us human beings. Because as the human nature carries within it an almost limitless will to live, it also consist of a hidden side, a death wish that might be suppressed but rarely not totally removed. The story of the relation ship between Delilah and Samson is a reminder of forces sometimes life-threatening, sometimes beyond our control. It is these same forces that Lars Von Trier wanted to expose in his theatrical movie Antichrist. Interpreting the Biblical story about Samson and Delilah in this way brings the human reality to the surface. Not always pleasant. Not always calming and comforting. But it certainly gives an ever valid presentation of the forces that lives in us, sometimes strengthening us, sometimes threatening us.

As for Neil Sedaka, I think he should have added another last verse in his song, making the story of Samson and Delilah complete:

Oh Samson felt tempted by a dark desire
At the sight of Delilah his blood went on fire
So listen to the truth my friend, and don't be shy
There's a little bit of Samson in every guy.
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Women in the Old Testament: Deborah

Thursday, July 26, 2012
We are told relatively little about Deborah in the Old Testament. However, the little we do learn comes to life when we see Deborah in context, as part of a broader picture of God guiding and teaching his people. The book of Judges begins with two prologues. The first is more historical in tone and gives an account of the conquest of the Promised  Land after the death of Joshua. In broad brush-strokes it summarises how the twelve tribes, strengthened by God, claimed one victory after another over the local Canaanite tribes. However, rather than dispossessing these conquered peoples as the Lord commanded, Israel instead enslaved her neighbours and subjected them to forced labour. For this disobedience, Judges tells us, God withdraw his support for Israel's armies. Instead, the nations became Israel's "oppressors" and their gods "snares" (Judges 2:1-5). Read more

Women in the Old Testament: Rahab the prostitute

Monday, July 23, 2012
Joshua 2:1-24, 6:17-25. (See also Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31 & James 2:25.)  Read more

Women in the Old Testament: Miriam

Saturday, July 21, 2012
We meet the sister of Moses three times in the course of the Pentateuch: her first appearance is perhaps her best known, when she keeps watch over the baby Moses in his basket in the Nile, and then volunteers her own and the baby’s mother as a wet nurse when Pharaoh’s daughter decides to adopt him. The girl is not in fact named at this point (Ex 2: 4-8), but tradition has identified her with Miriam, the sister of Moses, whom we come across in two more episodes later on in the story of the Exodus. Read more

Women in the Old Testament: Tamar

Monday, July 16, 2012
Genesis 38 Read more

Women in the Old Testament: Dinah

Monday, July 09, 2012
The dramatic story of Dinah is one where hermeneutics will have much to say for our understanding of what really happened. First, let us begin with the narrative as we find it in New Jerusalem Bible translation.

Dinah is the daughter of Jacob. We read in Genesis chapter 34 that Dinah went out to visit some of the women of the region, but the story suddenly takes a dramatic turn as Shechem meets Dinah:

‘Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, headman of the region, saw her, seized her and forced her to sleep with him. He was captivated by Dinah daughter of Jacob; he fell in love with the girl and tried to win her heart.’ (Gn. 34.2-3, NJB)

Shechem then wanted to marry the girl, but as the brothers of Dinah heard of this, they laid plans to betray him, saying that in order to accept the marriage, he and all his men need to be circumcised. On the third day, still suffering from the circumcision, two of the brothers of Dinah, Simeon and Levi, slaughtered all the men in the town, and ‘they took all their children and wives captive and looted everything to be found in the houses’ (Gn 34.29). When Jacob opposed to his sons, seeing that they had jeopardised the relation to the peoples in the region, Simeon and Levi answered: ‘Should our sister be treated like a whore?’ (v. 31)

The story is often interpreted as being about the relation between Israel and the surrounding peoples, and the Israelites’ attempt to establish social boundaries for marriage. In this view, the main concern in the relation between Shechem and Dinah is more a question of formally social acceptance than of violation. Since sexual intercourse should only find place within the marital bonding, it is shameful for an unmarried woman like Dinah to have sex. We end up with a story about an inner conflict in Israel, where we find on one side those who advocate an inclusive perspective to the surrounding people where mutual respect, cooperation and bonding is advocated (represented by Jacob and Dinah herself -- the fact that Dinah stays in the house of Shechem may indicate that she freely chooses to stay with him (v. 29)). On the other side, we find separatist tendencies which fight against intermarriage by all means, as the dramatic outcome of the story shows.

It may all sound plausible, but the key question remains: What really happened in the first contact between Shechem and Dinah? The interpretation we have presented seems to tone down the violation committed against Dinah to a degree where this is no longer the real issue. Against such an interpretation, Susanne Scholz, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Perkins School of Theology, US, presents an alternative interpretation with a closer reading of the first verses of chapter 34. Here it is no longer a question of various viewpoints on intermarriage among the Israelites. It is a story about a rape.

In an article called ‘What “Really” Happened to Dinah’ (see link below), Scholz analyses closely the Hebrew language which brings her to a very different way of expressing the original text. Here, we do not find the ambiguity that might be read into the first translation we have looked at. After Shechem has seen Dinah, the story continues:

And he took her, and he laid her, and he raped her,
And he stayed close to Dinah, the daughter of Jacob,
and he lusted after the young woman,
and he tried to soothe her.
(Gn. 34.2-3, translated by Susanne Scholz)

Here, we are confronted with a story of a raw and brutal rape, followed by desire, lust and an attempt at manipulation, where the rapist finally forces her to stay in his house. The following story is then a response to the injustice committed to Dinah, and the radical revenge underlines the severity of the initial crime. Shechem cannot buy his way out of the rape he has committed, and the brothers argue that if they accept the marriage, Dinah will be treated like a whore.

There is no time to go further into the various arguments for the different interpretations. But I believe we should reflect on one aspect that is just as relevant in our contemporary time that it is in this story: it is remarkable to observe how easy we turn our focus from the initial violation that sets of this story, turning the assault into something hardly significant at all. Even in the first translation, an injustice has definitely been committed. Still, we lose sight of the story of Dinah, forgetting what she has gone through, and when we try to bring her back in the front of the narrative, there seems to be many creative arguments opposing to it, both by biblical scholars and by ourselves.

We find the same when it comes to the question of rape in our time. A recently released survey (see link below) reveals dramatic figures: statistics shows that one in 20 women in England and Wales say they have been raped at least once since they were 16. Now, the interesting thing is that this shockingly high number of violation is often met with the question: ‘Yes, but this is surely not only street assaults?’ No, the report shows that most attacks have been carried out in their home by someone they knew. Nearly half of the rapes involved a husband or boyfriend. And so what? A rape is an extreme violation of basic human rights, no matter how, no matter who. There is reason to raise a warning to a tendency which undermines the dignity of the women and of humanity. The narratives of such situations found in story of Dinah may help us to reflect critically on a culture that too easily accepts this kind of injustice in our society.

Susanne Scholz: ‘What “Really” Happened to Dinah’

DailyMail article 7th July 2012: One in 20 women are rape victims

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Women in the Old Testament: Rachel & Leah

Friday, July 06, 2012

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Women in the Old Testament: Hagar

Monday, July 02, 2012
Readings: Genesis 16-17, 21Read more
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