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Jesus in Gender Trouble (1).

The seminal question posed by feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Can a male saviour redeem and save wo/men?" (2) sounds like an innocent question, one that could be raised by a child. But it was not a simple question, because it introduced the particular into an area that in Christian thought was considered to be universal: the belief in Jesus/Christ (3) as saviour for all of humanity. That question unmasked both "saviour" and "humanity" and pointed out that these "universal" concepts in reality were gendered and had privileged the masculine. (4) And that was the case not only in the praxis of the church and the world that was shaped by Christianity, but also in the very structure of language, philosophy and theology. Christianity and its formulations of faith with regard to Jesus/Christ and humanity are gendered. And once these terms are gendered, as "male saviour" and "wo/men" it is impossible to return to the previous state of innocence. The net result of this is that the gender issue is not just "an issue" to be added onto the list of issues within ethics and anthropology, but it changes Christian reflection and discourse in a groundbreaking way.

Christology is the most important issue in feminist theology in the 20th century, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza says, (5) and feminist theologians have been engaged in discussing the gender of Jesus/Christ in relations to wo/men. In the process they have been part of the discussion of women's gender, personhood, and identity in dialogue with the most sophisticated literary, philosophical and psychological studies. (6) As a result, "women" in the original question is no longer (if it ever was) understood in an essentialist fashion, as a unified term. Rather, the differences and diversities in context and experience have become important, not least in terms of race and class, so that women speak with very many different voices. (7)

How have "men" responded to this? I write "men" because men are not to be essentialized either, as a singular group; (8) I am speaking of male scholars in the field of Biblical studies and theology. Some have engaged in a critical revising of Christian traditions to employ these traditions in the work for justice for women, and to make women visible within expressions of tradition. But so far there has been a lack of interaction with the rich theoretical works undertaken by many women. Another way to respond is to use the gender perspective to investigate and unmask the male/the masculine from a male position. However, interest in critical studies of masculinity lagged far behind feminist studies. The result of feminist studies was therefore many differentiated positions on women and women's experiences, whereas "the male" often remained a singular category. Thus, it is only belatedly that studies of the constructed nature of masculinity and its many different forms have been taken up and developed, especially in literary and cultural studies. (9)

This study will try to go in this direction. It is inspired by feminist criticism to question the way in which Jesus/Christ and "humanity" has been gendered masculine, but it is questioning from a queer position, i.e. from another marginal male position vis-a-vis a hegemonic masculinity rather than that of feminist/womanist etc. interpreters. (10)

In this essay, I shall first indicate some ways in which male theologians have presented Jesus and wo/men from and within "male-stream" positions, before I give a queer position a try. (11)

I. Jesus/Christ in Male Places

The Historical Jesus as men's place

Historical Jesus studies started in the 19th century as a white man's study, within the context of imperialism and nationalism in Europe. If one looks at historical Jesus studies 150 years later, it is still very much a white men's domain, now with its main centers in North America. (12) Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza has in several books outlined a study of Jesus from a feminist perspective, (13) but has rightly complained that male scholars have not seriously engaged with her position. Her suggestion that Jesus saw God in terms of the feminine Sophia, Wisdom, (14) has not been accepted in full, but elements of a Wisdom Christology has been incorporated in some studies. (15) She has also pointed out how the socalled Third Quest, by emphasizing Jesus' location in a Jewish context, has identified him with traditional male positions. (16) Thus, in New Testament and historical Jesus studies, "woman" becomes "the Other", in complementarity with but also in subordination to men. This becomes visible in the form and structure of many studies on New Testament topics. After discussions of "general", "universal" topics (as e.g. Jesus' relations to his disciples, to the village crowds, to the sinners, his proclamation of the Kingdom etc.) "women" are often added, as a particular issue. This holds true also when Jesus is presented as a feminist who gives equal rights to women.

Jesus/Christ-the "modern man"

Male systematic theologians have mostly shown little awareness of gender issues in discussing the humanity of Jesus/Christ. (17) A few, mostly from within a liberal, white male theological establishment, have tried to accommodate the criticism against a "male Jesus" within the paradigm of gender complementarity. The binary oppositions of male and female are taken for granted, as a given. Thus, they have emphasized that biologically, Jesus' maleness is a sexual "fact" (something also accepted by many feminist theologians), but his "personhood" appears to be read as "gendered," i.e. as culturally constructed, even at the level of the individuality of Jesus. He is portrayed as integrating both masculine and feminine character traits. (18) However, since his male sex is not questioned, this use of a binary gender system serves to emphasize both the masculine priority in personhood and its heterosexual normativity. This picture of Jesus has its parallel in modern representations of the "new father" (or "new man"), who integrates (motherly) care concerns in his relations to children, while at the same time preserving his pre-eminent masculine position. Thus, by integrating female characteristics the heterosexual role pattern is confirmed.

Jesus/Christ from white man's place to shifting geographies

A search in the catalogue of a theological library will show that a large number of recent books on Jesus Christ are written by scholars from Africa, Latin America and Asia. Thus attempts to locate Jesus/Christ in particular contexts represent the most challenging forms of historical and hermeneutical studies today. These studies present a criticism of the "universal" personhood of a similar kind as the feminist criticism, but from the perspective of race, class and power. As Latin Americans, South Africans, Indians, etc. the authors represent "the others." From the position of the dominant, Western theological paradigms they are characterized as "contextual", i.e. theologians of the "particular" not of the "universally" human. However, these theologians have unmasked the "universal" theology and anthropology as one that expropriated the title "universal" for white, Western theology. (19) They have turned anthropology on its head: Jesus is placed among and identified not with men in a dominant position, but the victims, the oppressed, even as the crucified among the many crucified ones. (20) But in a similar way as much white feminism has been blind to the issue of race, (21) much of this predominantly male liberation theology has been blind to the issue of gender and sexuality. (22) In many cases there is not even the representation of women as "the other" or the "particular," they simply are an absence in the texts. (23) A feminist theologian from Latin America, Maria Pilar Aquino, states this explicitly: "the christology done by male theologians .... has failed to give the relationship between Jesus and oppressed women the importance it should have in liberation hermeneutics and which is present in the gospel itself. This means that systematic work on christology today is not automatically inclusive: it is necessary that the person doing it consciously choose that it should be so." (24)

Ma(i)nly anxieties?

So far most male theologians have not made this conscious choice. The attempts by feminist scholars to dislocate Jesus and man from the position of a "personhood," where the masculine and the universal are conflated and taken for granted, have so far been met mostly by silence. When the challenge has been taken up, the response has often been to integrate women into a heterosexual and masculine order that is naturalized, taken for granted as "the way things are." And it is striking that within the context of the other great challenge to the traditional, dominant paradigm of "universal humanity," from the position of race, class and power, gender is mostly left out as that which is unrepresented. Moreover, the representations of Jesus as Black, as mestizo, as Native American, etc., appear to be much less threatening to white, Western theologians than the challenges to the masculine Jesus. It may be that the Western global supremacy is still so strong that the African, Asian, mestizo "faces of Jesus" can be regarded as "local," "particular," to be treated with a benign tolerance.

But such tolerance cannot be extended to challenges to the masculinity of Jesus that also appear to challenge the masculinity of Christian men. (25) That anxiety about sex and masculinity is more deeply located in the subject than the anxiety about race may have a long history. It might have been no accident that Paul, who claimed that "in Christ" there is "neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:28), offered a strong argumentation for the breaking down of boundaries between Jews and non-Jews, whereas "neither male nor female" remained a slogan, with little supporting argumentation. (26) This fear may have been an undercurrent in male writings about sex and gender during history. From a modern period, when studies have focused on this issue, we find that the anxiety about masculinity surfaced concomitant with the history of the emancipation of women in the 19th century, exemplified in writings about "the manliness of Christ" and "muscular Christianity." (27) Maybe as a reaction to the "new (soft) man" images as a response to the feminism of late 20th century, men's movements like the Promise Keepers bear witness to a very different response with their strong defense of "traditional" masculinity. (28)

There are no "natural" male/female places

Feminist criticism questions what appears to be the underlying presupposition of male Christology, namely that the binary division of genders represents a "natural fact," or a metaphysical essence that is "given." Fiorenza claims that it has a much more practical reason: (29) "the notion of the two sexes is a sociocultural construct for maintaining wo/men's second class citizenship rather than a biological given or innate essence." The social, political and economic consequences of this predominance of the heterosexual, masculine paradigm are enormous, easily visible both in workplaces and in homes. But these consequences are often hidden under a web of culture and ideology. On the political and religious right the ideology of heterosexuality and masculinity is cloaked in terms of "values," as in the proposed amendment to the US Constitution in defense of heterosexual marriage. And most of the Democratic opposition to the amendment was in defense of states' rights to determine the issue, and not a defense of the right to same-sex marriage. This shows how pervasive the heterosexual and masculine paradigm is, so much that one can speak of a "heteronormativity," not only in the US but in many other societies as well. Another example is the violent protest from African Anglican bishops against the ordination of gay priests and bishops within English and North-American Anglican/Episcopal dioceses. This is a position that is hegemonically heterosexual, in that sex in terms of homosexuality is either not represented, it is a taboo that is an absence in the texts, or it is violently denounced.

It was from a position of non-representation or absence that Judith Butler wrote her groundbreaking book Gender Trouble. Here she suggests how this web of culture and gender ideology is formed and why it is so dominant: "To the extent that gender norms (... heterosexual complementarity of bodies, ideals and rule of proper and improper masculinity and femininity ...) establish what will and will not be intelligibly human, what will and will not be considered to be 'real,' they establish the ontological field in which bodies may be given legitimate expression." (30) Butler self-consciously wrote her book exactly to provide trouble for the way in which these gender norms exert control and even perform violence. Thus, she considers it a normative task of her book, "to insist upon the extension of this legitimacy to bodies that have been regarded as false, unreal and unintelligible."

II. Reading and Re-Reading Masculinities

It is this kind of "gender trouble," of questioning gender norms, that I suggest we find in a word by Jesus in Matthew 19:12 on "eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." (31) One might say that to start a study of "personhood" with a passage about the eunuch is to start "off center", but I think that starting at the margins will reveal what ideas one holds of "normal" and "normative" masculinity. I will propose a "deconstructive" reading of Matthew 19:3-12 inspired by Butler, and suggest that the passage presents a questioning of a heterosexual, masculine definition of personhood.
 Matthew 19:3-12:
 (3) And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it
 lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" (4) He answered,
 "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning
 made them male and female, (5) and said, 'Therefore a man shall
 leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and
 they shall become one flesh'? (6) So they are no longer two but
 one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man
 separate." (7) They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one
 to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" (8) He
 said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you
 to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (9)
 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual
 immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." [1]

 (10) The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with
 his wife, it is better not to marry." (11) But he said to them,
 "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it
 is given. (12) For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth,
 and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there
 are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the
 kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this,
 receive it."
 (English Standard Version)

Eunuchs as a negation of "a man's place is in the home."

The text in Matt. 19:3-9 represents one of those foundational texts within the Christian tradition that has the function Butler described as gender norms: it presents (in modern terms) heterosexual complementarity of bodies, ideals and rule of proper and improper masculinity, in short, it establishes the "ontological field" for what is possible and what is not possible. The challenge presented to Jesus is that of divorce procedures, exclusively from the side of the male: are there rules, i.e. restrictions on his right to divorce his wife (19:3)? In his riposte Jesus presents his opponents with a position based on the creation narrative: the complementarity of male and female, and their union to "one body". This divine unity forbids humans, i.e. husbands to divorce their wives (19:4-6). But this position is countered by Jesus' opponents with a reference to the divorce procedures prescribed for husbands by Moses (19:7). In his second riposte Jesus attributes this right "for you to divorce your wives" to the hardness of their hearts (19:8). This emphasis upon creation as male and female, and upon the union that a man is not allowed to break at will may amount to Jesus' defense of women's rights within a heterosexual system of complementarity. However, 19:9 puts the woman in the position of blame: a woman's porneia is valid reason for divorce. Read in modernity as a "foundational text," it confirms all the feminists' descriptions of a (Christian) male gender system: The masculine dominance in marriage is taken for granted, although circumscribed in various ways. Moreover, what we would speak of as a normative heterosexual structure is presented not only as a given, but as part of a cosmological system. And the male/female complementarity that is introduced, is limited by a male superiority that puts the blame on woman as "the sinner" (19:9).

But what shall we then make of Jesus' words in 19:12, to male disciples who seemed to despair at the problems he caused them with his words about divorce: "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."

What is the meaning of this saying about the eunuchs? Eunuchs were well known in the ancient Middle East and Roman empire, in all the forms described in the saying by Jesus. Castration of slaves, particularly young ones, was a common practice, and in various cults, e.g. for Cybele and Dea Syria, there were men who castrated themselves and banded in groups of followers with special tasks for the goddess. So what could have been implied by the description of those who had "made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven"? Did it refer even to physical castration?

This saying has caused difficulties to exegetes throughout history, not just with the rise of modern biblical scholarship, but also in antiquity. (32) Rather than going into exegetical details of these interpretations, I suggest a discussion in light of the passage from Butler presented above. One alternative is to read the saying along with Matt. 19:3-9, viz. a reading within the established ontological fields of heterosexuality, marriage and masculinity. The other alternative is to read it in contrast to that established ontology, in Butler's words, as a saying causing "gender trouble" by extending legitimacy to "bodies that have been regarded as false, unreal or unintelligible."

Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of interpreters have chosen to read the eunuch passage within the parameters set by 19:3-9, a text dealing with marriage between man and woman, and with divorce and remarriage. The context for interpreting "eunuch" therefore becomes "marriage" within a heterosexual paradigm, and the only possible interpretation therefore becomes "nonmarriage": a eunuch is somebody who does not enter into (heterosexual) marriage. A typical position is to say that "made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" is "of course" (German naturlich) to take it in an allegorical meaning, as "to make a decision for an unmarried state or for sexual asceticism." (33) The word "of course" here gives away the presupposition: the normative structure of heterosexual marriage is naturalized and taken for granted. Therefore "eunuch" must be related to a voluntary decision not to enter into marriage, not to castration, an act which would remove one from the context of marriage altogether, as totally unfit to fill that role. This interpretation is not just the majority position among exegetes, it has also worked itself into many modern Bible translations that take marriage as the "obvious" context for the eunuch passage. (34) Understood in this way the saying places eunuchs outside of marriage, but it actually confirms marriage as the ideal ontological structure. (35)

"A man's place" and a eunuch misplaced

Within the context of the normative structure of marriage in Matt. 19:3-9, we noticed also the androcentric focus on the husband and his rights. In modern terms, heterosexuality goes together with masculinity. And masculinity is even more important than marriage. That was a characteristic aspect of the interpretation of "eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom" among male theologians in the early church, and it is still pervasive. (36) A recent interpretation illuminates this concern for masculinity. That eunuchs were men who voluntarily abstained from marriage is again "naturalized" as "the plain meaning of Mt 19:12." But then the explanation turns on the masculine character that this decision represented:
 The eunuchs that Jesus defended were those who, as heralds of the
 coming kingdom, had as little time for marriage as for business.
 To leave all for the sake of the grand cause was to leave behind
 the world and its attendant affairs once and for all. If the
 discipline of the Spartans was to prepare for war, and if the
 exercises of the Greek athlete were to prepare him for the
 athletic contest, the asceticism of the pre-Easter Jesus movement
 was similarly a strategy to meet a specific goal. (37)

In this interpretation the eunuchs of Jesus' sayings have their parallels and counterparts in the Spartan warriors and the Greek athletes, champions of masculinity in the ancient world. Thus, the eunuch is included within the "ideals ... of proper masculinity," ideals that "establish what will ... be intelligibly human." But can this pass as an explanation of eunuchs? Being castrated they had lost the very sign of their masculinity, their sexual virility, and therefore they could not fill the masculine role within the heterosexual system of family, property and descent. One can virtually see how the author here struggles against the idea that behavior and identity that Jesus proclaimed as "for the sake of the kingdom" might represent "improper masculinity," that which "will not be intelligibly human," that which could not have "legitimate expression" within the established ontological field.

Eunuchs outside men's place

But maybe we should entertain this possibility, and follow up on Butler's suggestion: might Jesus' Kingdom proclamation extend legitimacy even "to bodies that have been regarded as false, unreal and unintelligible" within the established ontological field?

Let us first consider the possible range of meanings for the eunuch saying if it does not conform to the heterosexual marriage/ non-marriage pattern of the preceding verses. It is possible, even plausible that this verse was later added on to this context, and that it originally might have been a saying of Jesus in response to a slanderous accusation against Jesus and his followers from critiques: "You are just a bunch of eunuchs!" (38) This might not necessarily refer to an actual castration on the side of Jesus and his group of male disciples, but was a way to accuse them of not being "real men." (39) To unsympathetic critics Jesus and his group might have just enough in common with the groups of male castrates, galli, associated with Dea Syria and Cybele, who roamed the countryside, begging and proclaiming the goddess, for the accusation to stick. Moreover, Jesus and at least some of his followers had left their households, their responsibilities as men, their male places in society as upholders of traditions, family loyalties and access to power. In terms of sexuality, male social roles and power they had left their "male place"--just as eunuchs had. So was Jesus here deliberately taking up the accusation and turning it around, instead presenting the eunuch as an ideal figure for the Kingdom, although or because he did not conform to the role patterns of binary genders? (40)

Thus, I am not arguing that Jesus and some of his disciples were eunuchs, i.e. castrated. If that had been the case, I think there would have been much more controversy around it. But I think that the saying is one that causes "gender trouble" because it presents a challenge to the masculine role taken for granted by most interpreters. In the Greco-Roman world the eunuch was an ambiguous person. He represented sexual renunciation, but at the same time also a renunciation of masculinity, and that made it difficult to find a defined place for eunuchs. Critics found it difficult to ascribe to them an "essence" or identity, they were described as that which they were not: they were not "real men", but semivir ("half-men"), and when they were described as "soft" or "feminine," they were actually compared to another identity that they were not, viz. women. In Butler's terms, eunuchs were not "real," since they had no fixed identity, and they were outside "the ontological field in which bodies may be given legitimate expressions."

Interestingly, there is one author in early Christianity who seems to be aware of this, and that is Tertullian. He is the only writer to use the term eunuch about Jesus, using the Latin word spado, a common word for a castrated or impotent man. In a statement that must have sounded shocking to his audience, he says: "For the Lord himself opened the Kingdom of heaven to eunuchs, He himself being a eunuch." (41) And Tertullian was aware that eunuchs caused "gender trouble." In the context of a discussion of levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-6), he gives as a reason for that historic custom that "eunuchs and the unfruitful were despised." But that command was no longer valid, Tertullian argued, and one of the reasons he gave was that "Now no longer are eunuchs despised; rather they have merited grace and are invited into the kingdom of heaven." (42) That is, with Jesus words in Matt. 19:12 the eunuchs had "come out of shame", or again, in Butler's words: legitimacy had been extended "to bodies that had been regarded as false, unreal and unintelligible."

The Kingdom of heaven as no-man's land

In this reading of the passage, the "eunuchs" are not forced into the normative pattern of hegemonic, masculine heterosexuality that dominates modern interpretations of Matt. 19:3-9. For these interpretations it seems to have gone unnoticed that also "the Kingdom of heaven" has been forced into the same "ontological field" as the heterosexual family. But is the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus' preaching a confirmation of the existing ontological fields of sex and gender? Is it not rather a reversal, an opening up of fields? Matthew's gospel itself appears to suggest as much, when it combines the eunuch saying with the story of how Jesus reverses the position of children (19:13-15): "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (19:14). Not the disciples, the adult males are the keepers of the kingdom, the roles are reversed, the kingdom is for children.

Read not within the "ontological field" of the marriage and divorce passage (Matt. 19:3-9), but within the ontological field of the passage about the children and the kingdom (19:13-15), a saying about the place in the kingdom for males without an acceptable masculine identity makes good sense. Not just eunuchs, but also children are causing trouble for male prerogatives. And in another breaking of boundaries Jesus blesses the "barren women," (Luke 23:29; Gos.Thom. 70), pitied figures in Jewish scriptures, who did not conform to the ideals of a childbearing mother in the patriarchal family. They were in a way a feminine parallel to the eunuch, living in shame. Jesus' words about barren women and eunuchs therefore amount to, again in Butler's terms: extending legitimacy to bodies that were previously regarded as unreal and unintelligible.

With his sayings Jesus gave a picture of people and life in the Kingdom that was very different from the ideal patriarchal household. The male world in which "everybody know their place" is turned upside down, the eunuch, the barren woman and the child without status are all lifted up. It is those least valued, those of little status, "the others," who are lifted up, blessed and accepted into the Kingdom.

III. Gender-trouble as possibility

What is the gain of reading the Jesus-saying that links "eunuchs" and "Kingdom of God" against the grain, unmasking the hegemonic heterosexual and masculine gender in Christian discourse on God and humanity? Does it in any way contribute to a response to the question wherewith we started: "Can a male saviour redeem and save wo/men?" Can a woman more easily identify with an image of Jesus/Christ as a eunuch than with a virile, powerful man? This is difficult for me to say, (43) but in addition to Butler, another queer critic has been helpful for my reflections on the implications of this Jesus-saying. The literary critic Lee Edelman discusses the rhetoric used by the Queer movement protesting against the discrimination of gays and lesbians in the US in the wake of AIDS, i.e. a situation where understandings of gender and sexuality came into play. Edelman says that this movement did not choose a consistent form of politics, rather, "its vigorous and unmethodical dislocations of 'identity' create ... a zone of possibilities in which the embodiment of the subject might be experienced otherwise." I find this statement useful since it seems to run parallel to what the Jesus' eunuch saying performs. Thus, if we substitute Jesus for the Queer movement, we might say that his "vigorous and unmethodical dislocations of (masculine) 'identity' create ... a zone of possibilities in which the embodiment of the subject might be experienced otherwise (even as a eunuch)." (44)

Here I see three aspects that can help to see the importance of the Jesus' saying for the larger question of how one can speak of salvation after the loss of gender innocence (or maybe with a second naivete). First, it has the critical edge of questioning "the hegemonic gender frame" for Christology with regard to its rhetorical and socio-political power. The figure of the eunuch represents the male in a non-hegemonic position, who is in a position similar to women. (45) If one holds, as I do, that the image of (the "historical") Jesus must always serve as a criticism of Christology, the image of the eunuch destabilizes all male images of Jesus/Christ in terms of power and reign. This image stays in front of us to keep alive the ambiguity about Jesus/Christ in the gospel narratives; he is not "fixed" in a defined or self-declared position. Thus, the most adequate modern term for such a protest against fixed categories may be "queer." (46)

Second, in analogy with the Queer movement, this image of Jesus creates a "zone of possibilities" for those who belonged to positions not only of gender and sex, but also of race, class and ethnicity that were not in power. For Butler, too, "possibilities" is a key word when she describes the aim of her text in Gender Trouble. It was "to open up the field of possibility of gender without dictating which kind of possibilities ought to be realized." Butler notes that some might find this vague, and asks "what use 'opening up possibilities' finally is." Her response sounds similar to Jesus' cry after the eunuch saying: "He who is able to receive this, let him receive it" (Matt. 19:12d), when she continues: "no one who has understood what it is to live in the social world as what is 'impossible,' illegible, unrealisable, unreal, and illegitimate is likely to pose that question."

Might we see "possibility" as another term for what in Christian terminology is called with various names: "calling", "salvation", "hope"? In Edelman's statement about "dislocation" and creating "a zone of possibilities." I find a similarity to Christian terminology of "calling" or "conversion": of leaving one location of identity to enter into a new position. In the narratives where Jesus calls disciples to follow him (and most of the times this is men!), they are called out from fixed places, from household and family, from work and established responsibilities--and called to follow Jesus, without any clear directions. They were called out from male spaces, from specific, normative ways of being men into unsettled positions, and into company where their male role expectations about power and honor were constantly questioned and put down (e.g. Mark 8:32-33; 9:33-37; 10:35-40). Thus, they were called, not into secure positions, but into "possibilities," that were open-ended, pointing towards something new, unknown and unexpected.

And third, this unmasking, followed by possibilities for those who previously had been without possibilities, is presented as an "opening," an experience that can be "otherwise." It is not closed into another dogmatic scheme, but genuinely open. It conjures up the very idea of something that can be expected, that spurs fantasy and imagination of something different from that which is known and experienced in the now. Thus, it has some of the same imaginative qualities as Jesus' Kingdom sayings: they never explain what the Kingdom "is," they shatter preconceived notions and understandings of existence, they represent the "other" in contrast to that which is known. (47) Other interpretations of Jesus include images that like the eunuch break with the "natural" and "given" in attempts to get at the non-fixed, non-definable characteristics of Jesus. Eleanor McLaughlin tries to explain this quality about Jesus by means of the hermeneutics of "cross-dressing," and she concludes with a description of space that also serves as an image of the Kingdom: "This 'transvestite' Jesus makes a human space where no one is out of place because the notion of place and gender has been transformed." (48)

Critical investigations can--I hope--contribute to relativize the masculine images of Jesus/Christ and the way they place us according to gender (and race and class), but in the end we must put our hope in the possibility that place and gender, race and class will be transformed.


1. This article was written during my period as Coolidge Fellow at the CrossCurrents 2004 Colloquium. I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this exciting and stimulating colloquium, and for ideas and suggestions from my colleagues in the discussion of this paper.

2. It is raised in many of her works, see e.g. "Can Christology be liberated from Patriarchy?" in M. Stevens (ed.) Reconstructing the Christ Symbol (New York: Paulist, 1993), 7-29.

3. I prefer to use the term Jesus/Christ to indicate that much of the criticisms as well as the attempts at positive constructions of Christology are built on the presentations of Jesus in the Gospels.

4. E.Schussler Fiorenza, Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation (NY: Continuum, 2000), 145-49; and Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet (NY: Continuum, 1994), 67-96.

5. E.Schussler Fiorenza, Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation, 148.

6. See e.g. the works by E. Schussler Fiorenza and Rosemary Radford Ruether; among younger scholars e.g. Ellen T. Armour, Deconstruction, Feminist Theology and the Problem of Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999) and Serene Jones, Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000).

7. For a brief overview, see L. Susan Bond, Trouble with Jesus: Women, Christology and Preaching (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999), 75-107.

8. Cf. the criticism by Farid Esack, "Islam and Gender Justice," in J. C. Raines and D. C. Maquire (eds.) What Men owe to Women (New York, SUNY, 2001), 187.

9. See e.g. Michael S. Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York: Free Press, 1996); H. Brod and M. Kaufman (eds.) Theorizing Masculinities (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994).

10. For related studies, but more directly based on gay and lesbian experiences, see e.g. Robert E. Goss, Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus Acted Up (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2002), 113-82; Lisa Isherwood, Liberating Christ (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 1999), 89-109.

11. As a gay New Testament professor I find myself in an interesting and sometimes challenging place, situated between "male-stream" theology and a minority position.

12. In the US e.g. E. P. Sanders, J. D. Crossan, J. P. Meier, M. Borg; in Europe G. Theissen and J. Dunn.

13. Especially Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet and Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation.

14. Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet.

15. Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1995), 161-96.

16. Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation, 40-41.

17. See e.g. J. Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993); J. Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions (San Fransisco: Harper, 1990); H. Schwarz, Christology (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1998). One of the few exceptions is Elmar Klinger, Christologie in Feminismus (Regensburg: Pustet, 2000).

18. A very early example is Carl Ullmann, who in 1828 wrote a book titled Die Sundlosigkeit Jesu. More recently, see Gerald O'Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 318-21.

19. See the illuminating study by a young male scholar from Tanzania, Andrea M. Ng'weshemi, Rediscovering the human: the quest for a Christo-theological anthropology in Africa, Studies in Biblical Literature 39 (New York: Peter Lang, 2002).

20. See Jon Sobrino, Christ the Liberator: A view from the victims (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000).

21. See Ellen T. Armour, Deconstruction, Feminist Theology and the Problem of Difference, 7-44.

22. That is the case e.g. of Sobrino, Christ the Liberator.

23. Cf. J. Butler's comment that language can be so "pervasively masculinist" that women "constitute the unrepresentable," Gender Trouble. New ed. (N.Y.: Routledge, 1999), 14.

24. Our Cry for Life: Feminist Theology from Latin America (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993), 140.

25. Cf. how the Promise Keepers combine heightened masculinity with racial plurality; Mike Hill, After Whiteness. Unmaking an American Majority (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 75-133.

26. H. Moxnes, "Social Integration and the Problem of Gender in St. Paul's Letters," Studia Theologica 43 (1989), 99-113.w

27. Donald Hall, Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

28. Dane S. Claussen, The Promise Keepers. Essays on Masculinity and Christianity (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000).

29. Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation, 149. Likewise in Armour (Deconstruction, Feminist Theology, 32.), referring to Butler: the sexual binary reflects not attention to nature, but the interests of a heterosexist and phallocentric culture.

30. "Preface 1999," Gender Trouble, 1999, xxiii.

31. For a discussion of the historical context and the history of interpretation of Matt. 19:12 in the Early Church, see my Putting Jesus in His Place: A Radical Vision of Household and Kingdom (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2003), 72-90. The reading in light of Butler is new and developed during the CrossCurrents colloquium.

32. Elizabeth A. Clark, Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 90-92.

33. Ulrich Luz, Das Evangelium nach Matthaus. Vol. 3, (Neukirchen-Vlyn: Neukirchener, 1997), 103-11.

34. Notice Bible translations that introduce this meaning (, for instance New International version: (12) "For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage ([1]) because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." Contemporary English version: (12) "Some people are unable to marry because of birth defects or because of what someone has done to their bodies. Others stay single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who can accept this teaching should do so."

35. In some instances the meaning of the passage is totally turned on its head in defence of marriage, cf. especially the translation of the exhortation in v. 12d in The Message: (12) "Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked--or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you're capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it."

36. M. Kuefler, The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity, and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

37. Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 202.

38. First argued by J. Blinzler, "Eisin eunochoi," Zeitschrift fur die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 48 (1957), 254-70.

39. Moxnes, Putting Jesus in His place, 75.

40. There may be an analogy here to Jewish traditions that saw Adam as a hermaphrodite, combining male and female; Midrash Rabbah VIII:1 on Genesis 1:26. I owe this suggestion to my Colloquium colleague, Zion Zohar.

41. Mon 3.1.

42. Mon 7:3-4.

43. It is possible to contemplate this, see C. Leon, "Simon de Beauvoir's woman: eunuch or male," Ultimate Reality and Meaning 11 (1988), 196-211.

44. Lee Edelman, Homographesis: Essays in Gay Literature and Cultural Theory (New York: Routledge, 1994), 114.

45. Cf. E. Schussler Fiorenza, 2000, 4 n.10: "I write wo/men in this way ... also to signal that when I say wo/men I also mean to include subordinated men."

46. William B. Turner, A Genealogy of Queer Theory (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), 1-35.

47. See J.D. Crossan, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).

48. Eleanor McLaughlin, "Feminist Christologies: Re-Dressing the Tradition," in M. Stevens (ed.), Reconstructing the Christ Symbol (New York: Paulist, 1993), 144.
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Author:Moxnes, Halvor
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Date:Sep 22, 2004
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