Tuesday, 12 March 2013

2 Nephi 8: Heavenly Father and Heavenly She That Bare You

Jacob is still preaching from the brass plates (Isaiah 51 and the beginning of 52). I have to say that the opening of this chapter is comforting to me. God is speaking here: "Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged" (v. 1). As I read this, I'm not entirely sure of what Jacob and Isaiah are referring to. I'm not sure if God is referred to as rock for quarrying anywhere else. I like the idea that I'm made of the same stuff as my Heavenly Parents, though I'm disappointed that the church doesn't explicitly teach that women are made in the image of Heavenly Mother. (If I am wrong about this, please correct me in the comments and post an appropriate link).

Jacob/Isaiah goes on to say "Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him" (v. 2). This verse is kind of a double-edged sword, because it mentions the righteous as descending from Abraham and Sarah, though I wonder why the text calls Sarah "she that bare you" instead of "mother".

I'm wondering about the different Hebrew meanings of "father", "mother" and "she that bare you", but Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and new Testament Words is no help. And so I turn to Wikipedia for an explanation of the word father. Now I have to say that this Wikipedia article doesn't specifically discuss fatherhood in Judaism during the time of Isaiah, but it does discuss fatherhood in Ancient Greece. (Yes, I know that scholars of Ancient Greece and/or Ancient Judaism are rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at an art historian trying to explain that info from one culture might explain the other, but just hear me out for a minute. And if Vine's had an explanation of these terms, I wouldn't be employing bad comparisons from Wikipedia.)
"We find an enlightening example of this social development in Aeschylus's tragedy The Eumenides. The Coryphaeus of the Erinyes blames matricidal Orestes for having shed his own blood, but God Apollo replies that this is absolutely untrue because the mother is only a wet-nurse and not a progenitor of the child, whose blood derives from his/her unique parent: the father." (emphasis added) 
I realize that I could be completely wrong here, I'm guessing that the ancient Jewish idea of fatherhood wasn't all that different. Having read the Old Testament a bunch of times, the OT prophets have no great affection or reverence for mothers. Really, the article's explanation of motherhood vs. fatherhood sheds a lot of light on Jacob/Isaiah's words. The father is the true ancestor of a child and the mother is just the vehicle through which the child is given life. This is explained somewhat in the statement "I [God] called him [Abraham] alone, and blessed him" (v. 2). "She that bare you" is not called or blessed in the same way.

While I was initially excited to see Sarah's name mentioned, the balloon of my enthusiasm has been popped. I appreciate that the text is Jacob's version of Isaiah's recording of what God said, and perhaps not word-for-word what God said, but it hurts that God doesn't call Sarah "mother". But I don't believe that God is the misogynist here. We don't often refer to Heavenly Mother in the church, we certainly don't refer to her as Heavenly She That Bare You. That just sounds insulting. Deep breath. Prophets are men of their time. Prophets are men of their time...

If you are a scholar of Hebrew, please tell me that I'm wrong.

Cross-posted at http://nickelonthenacle.blogspot.com

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