Wednesday, March 05, 2008

De-Genderizing Jesus?

In the doctor's office a week or so ago, I was leafing through a new bible put out by Zondervan Press, one of America's leading religious publishers. Zondervan's offering is called Today's International Version New Testament, and I recall that when it was first published a few years ago, much was made of the effort that went into substituting gender-neutral language for various occurrences of such words as father and sons. This was my first chance to take an actual look at the end result. (And you gotta wonder about the subliminal message of finding a bible in a doctor's office...but be that as it may....)

As I read along, chuckling over some of the awkward-sounding replacement text, I couldn't help wondering what the earliest editorial meetings for such a bible would have sounded like. As luck would have it, I have now obtained a secretly made tape of just such a meeting for a forthcoming Zondervan version of the Old Testament. The meeting, at an undisclosed location, took place between a Zondervan managing editor (Ted), a chief copyeditor (Rob), representatives of various women's groups (Ellen and Marcia), a legal advisor (Leslie), and others. I present the transcript for you here, without further ado.*


TED: I thought we'd begin with a quick read-through. To kind of get us in the spirit of things, as it were. So: "And God said, Let there be…"

ELLEN: I have a problem with that.

TED: You have a problem with what?

ELLEN: I'm put off by the overtones. "Let there be light…" It's such a transparently macho way of speaking. So pontifical. Women don't speak that way.

MARCIA: I disagree. Why can't women be pontifical?

TED: Besides, you wouldn't expect God to be pontifical?

ELLEN: A macho God, yes.

MARCIA: What actually troubles me here is that everyone knows that Edison invented the light bulb.


TED: Ohh-kay….

MARCIA: Well, Thomas Edison was, of course, a man. And if one reads the bible figuratively instead of literally—which as you know is the position taken by many theologians—one might infer that in this opening passage, as written, God was exhorting humankind to take dominion over the world, to improve their lot. And in the case of one of the most important improvements in world history, artificial light, it was a man who—

TED: We're in Genesis here, Marcia. Edison doesn't come along for like a million years. In fact, people don't even come along until—

MARCIA: I still think it's a way of foreshadowing a great male achievement. Thereby putting women in their place from the very beginning.

ROB: We could always substitute, "And God said, 'It's way too dark around here.' "

LESLIE: On behalf of women of color, I am personally offended by that.

TED: Look, maybe reading this line by line isn't such a great idea. What do you say we just go through and try to touch on some of the major themes?

ELLEN: Fair enough. But for the record, I'm not thrilled about this business of, "And on the seventh day He rested," either.

TED: I know, Ellen, I know: It can't be a He.

ROB: "And on the seventh day, rest occurred"?

ELLEN: It's not that simple. I'm curious about daycare issues. If we assume God might just as well be a She, a lot of our female readers may want to know what provisions were made for the children while—

TED: What children?

ELLEN: —while She was out creating heaven and earth.

ROB: Maybe She was a stay-at-home God...?

LESLIE: So again, right away we're curtailing Her options in life.

TED: Can we move on to Adam and Eve, please?

MARCIA: Fine. I am irked by the notion that God made Adam first.

ELLEN: I agree completely. We wouldn't want to leave it that way.

MARCIA: At the very least we should depict some protests. Some outrage.

TED: And who, may I ask, would be leading these protests? [Whimsically] "And God created Al Sharpton…"

MARCIA: Women's groups. I suppose we can have God make Adam first, but then we'll show N.O.W. picketing.

TED: N.O.W.?

ROB: Or we could we put in a clause, "God made Adam first, as there were not yet affirmative-action programs to guide God's decision-making process."

MARCIA: That still leaves us with all this nonsense about how God makes Eve because "it isn’t good for man to be alone, so I will make him a helper..." A helper. I mean, really!

ROB: Why not call her a consultant? Like, "It isn't good for man to be bereft of others' input, so I will make him a consultant"?

TED: He's gonna have sex with her, Rob.

ELLEN: Oh, like men don't sleep with their consultants?!

LESLIE: I've got some issues with the part where they're both standing there naked, prior to eating the forbidden fruit. That's textbook hostile-environment.

ROB: So could we put Eve in a jogging suit?

LESLIE: She still has to look at him.

ROB: Well, maybe he could he wear a jock….

TED: Now where the hell would they get jocks and jogging su—?

MARCIA: Wait just a minute, Ted. Are you implying that anything that makes a woman less subject to a man's prurient sexual interest comes from hell? Because if that's what you're trying to say, I'm not sure this dialog—

TED (sighing): It's a figure of speech, Marcia. I'm just looking at the overall body of the text and trying to see—

MARCIA: Hmmm, interesting, interesting…. Are you aware that you just used the words figure and body in the same sentence? It makes a person wonder where your thoughts are.

ELLEN: While we're at it, maybe we should just get rid of that stuff with the apple and the tree of knowledge and the like. It makes Eve sound so calculating. So shrewish.

MARCIA: Indeed. And gullible, too. We can't have the woman duped by the serpent—which, I'm sure you're all aware, is a classic phallic metaphor.

TED: A wildebeest, then?

MARCIA: Ted, I'm sensing passive-aggressiveness from you.

LESLIE: While we're on the subject, this whole section about Eve having to bear all this intense labor pain as a punishment for the forbidden-fruit episode—again, that's clearly sexual discrimination on God's part. After all, we don't see any special pain inflicted on Adam for his role in the birth.

MARCIA: I'd be willing to compromise if we added something about Adam having trouble with his prostate. Or perhaps we could make him impotent.

ROB: You know, I was thinking—the part where Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel? We should have her take family leave.

LESLIE: Excellent!

ELLEN: But about the children themselves. Shouldn't one of them be a girl?

ROB: So...Cain and Mabel?

ELLEN: Speaking of which, I know this doesn't come up till much later, but what are we going to call Christ? Jesus is a man's name.

MARCIA: I've already given considerable though to the matter. I'd argue for going with "Jesse." It's nicely androgynous.

LESLIE: Can we stick with Cain and Mabel for a moment? We might have another problem. Now, which one slew the other again?

TED: That would be Cain slaying Abel. Or Mabel, as the case may be.

LESLIE: Now, you see, I don't think I'm comfortable with that. It sets a very early precedent for domestic violence.

MARCIA: Yes, and notice, by the way, if we have Mabel getting slain, it's always the woman who seems to lose out in these things.

LESLIE: We could have her get a restraining order.

ELLEN: Cain pretty much beats the rap, too. That's a terrible message.

ROB: How 'bout something like, "And Cain slew Mabel...and got six-to-10 at Riker's Island"?

DEREK: Excuse me, but I want to go back to something from earlier. Why is it assumed that it's Adam and Eve? Why can't it be two men?

TED: Didn't you get the memo? That's the next bible, Derek. We meet tomorrow....

* Remember, this is just humor people, or at least a good-faith attempt at same. All thin skins must be checked at the door. ;)


MM said...

That sir, made my day.
I applaud you.

ourfriendben said...

Sounds like it's time for God to hit the "Smite" button.

mikecane2008 said...

Seriously, that was sick. Just sick.

And a perfect reflection of some people (be they male, female, straight, gay, of any or no color, transgendered, or even pre- or post-death).

Elizabeth said...

You investigative journalists and your inside sources.

I know Ellen, Marcia and Leslie personally. But Ted needs to be sent back to the bible school. He should know that people were created, oh, about 6,000 years ago or so, along with dinosaurs and the rest of the living kingdom. Just ask Mike Huckabee.

LOL. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for next week's installment about Adam and Steve...

Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of a short story called, "Moses Wasn't Democratic Enough." It was so funny!

Anonymous said...

Steve, just quickly you missed a bet here. You should've had them say "life coach" in that spot where you used "consultant". Would've made it funnier and improved relevance, too!

Steve Salerno said...

I stand corrected, anon. That's a good one. Especially since, as I point out in SHAM (pp. 116-117), people do indeed sleep with their life coaches.

Steven Sashen said...

I wish there were an emoticon for "bowing down to the master"


Are you going to get to the typo that was recently discovered, revealing that Jesus was conceived in Virginia?

ourfriendben said...

Good one, Steven! And here I'd heard it was Missouri. But maybe that was the location of the Garden of Eden...

roger o'keeffe from nyc said...

One of your better ones, Steve. You say it all without really saying any of it, at least in your own essayist's voice. To my mind, humor trumps sanctimony every time.

Personally I'm gratified that we appear to be moving beyond political correctness as a nation, albeit often in baby steps. One grows weary.

The Crack Emcee said...

I already told you how I feel about it but (in case you're ever feeling down again) I still wanted my name in this love-fest:

Brilliant, dude.