TABITHA’S DAUGHTERS, LLC
“Every woman has a story AND every woman’s story matters to God.”
We have heard it said many times before, “There are (at least) two sides to every story.” It may be a cliché; but, it is also why this aphorism holds so much truth. Each one of us has had the experience of hearing one side of a story, told by the first person, and thought to ourselves, we knew and understood the entire situation UNTIL, we heard the other side of the story told by the second person. Amazingly, the same event is presented in a completely different way – so whose “truth” do we trust?
History, including biblical history, often operates in the same way. Each side, and sometimes, each person/writer, views the event from a different perspective. Depending upon the power and privilege of the storyteller within history; one perspective becomes truth, as told; while the other perspective is either dismissed, minimized, or lost within the long arc of history.
The biblical narrative for our consideration is found in the book of Jeremiah, the great major prophet of the Old Testament. Jeremiah, the author of the book named for him, writes of the stories of ancient Israel, within his time, from his perspective. Until recently, within the past forty five years, the story in Jeremiah, chapter 44: 15-19, was read, understood, and accepted, as Jeremiah intended; however, contemporary feminist and womanist scholarship changed the game. There is a new way of thinking about an ancient biblical narrative, and now, we must wrestle with which perspective we will choose.
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor………………………………….(Jeremiah 44:15-19 NRSV)
“Then all the men who were aware that their wives had been making offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you. Instead, we will do everything that we have vowed, making offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her, just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials, used to do in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. We used to have plenty of food, and prospered, and we saw no misfortune. But from the time we stopped making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her, we have lacked everything and have perished by sword and famine. ” And the women said, “Indeed we will go on making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her; do you think that we made cakes for her, marked with her image, and poured out libations to her without our husbands’ being involved?”
A little known and acknowledged fact is the people of ancient Israel were rarely monotheistic in their belief system. Because they lived, worked, and married within the cultures of other Near Eastern Semitic people, Israel was continuously influenced and swayed by the presentation and worship of other gods. The Old Testament narratives are fraught with stories about Israel’s apostasy and pagan ways. The entire corpus of Old Testament prophetic books underlines this consideration.
At first glance, this narrative seems to be evidence of the pagan ways of Israelite women, who have decided to worship “the queen of heaven.” These stubborn, stiff-necked women give the deity a title; but omit her name. Traditional scholarship assumes the deity is one of many Near Eastern goddesses: Anat, Isis, Astarte, Asherah, or Istar to name a few.
Herbert Cohn, a Jewish scholar, surmises the same in an article from the Jewish Bible Quarterly entitled: “Is the Queen of Heaven” in Jeremiah The Goddess Anat?” Though the name Anat never appears in the bible, Cohn surmises the Jeremiah text refers to her. He builds his thesis around extra-biblical sources, and cites documents in the article, from Canaanite excavations, between the periods of 5th century to 13th century B.C.E., that reference Anat’s name. (Jewish Bible Quarterly, vol. 32. No.1, 2004) Dr. Cohn has plenty of company within biblical scholastic circles, as most theologians posit “the queen of heaven” refers to a pagan female deity.
It is feminist and womanist scholarship which takes a departure from the traditional read of the text, to offer an alternative theory about the women who were baking cakes and pouring libations to the “Queen of Heaven.” Perhaps it starts with a distinctly different perspective – an unorthodox way of viewing these ancient women. This is called “the hermeneutics of suspicion.” Since we know there are places within the bible where the Divine is imaged as female (Genesis, Deuteronomy, Job, Hosea, Isaiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Matthew, and more….) an alternative perspective suggests the women of the text were rejecting the idea of an exclusively male God, and imaging God as a woman.
Consider the unique phrase in the narrative, as the women retort: “do you think that we made cakes for her, marked with her image……..?” This unique phrase, “marked with her own image,” occurs only once more in the entirety of Scripture, within the book of Job (10:8) The word in Hebrew is l’ha’asibah. Here, when Job is speaking, he is implying that God created him in God’s image. Could it be, as feminist/womanist scholars suggest, the women are inferring they too are made in the image of God, and that image is the feminine Divine: She, Her, instead of Him, He, His?
Consider one of the oldest references of the name of God in Scripture– El Shaddai. This name for God is traditionally translated in Hebrew as: ” God Almighty, God of the Mountains” (Hebrew) or the Greek translation – “God of Heaven.” Yet, there is another (minority) translation for the term, suggested by biblical scholars, which translates the title as: “the Big Breasted God or God (is) my Breast/s.” This is a definitive feminine imaging of God, and it is (El Shaddai) also one of the oldest known Hebraic terms for God in Scripture. (blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com)
The Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, a radical thinker, biblical scholar, and womanist extraordinaire is helpful here, as she adds her own “flavor” to this controversial text:
[These are] “marginalized women who challenged Jeremiah and the Deuteronomistic tradition. Disengaged, demoralized, and disoriented, Jeremiah butts heads with these hard-headed women as they do their own theology….There is a missing element in monotheism. Something is missing when women are not imaged in the Divine. Something is missing when the Divine is so gendered that the other gender is unimaginable and inferior. [The women] engage Jeremiah in a battle for God.” (from the Lyman Beecher Lecture Series – Dr. Renita Weems – 2008/Yale Divinity School – “Preaching from the Underside of the Book of Jeremiah”)
“In a contest of wills,” as Dr. Weems observes, “God does NOT give the answer.”
Instead, we are left to our own devices, understanding, and search for the truth. Could it be, we ask ourselves, like these ancient women, who took what they knew, cakes and water, and offered them to “The Queen of Heaven,” we too have the right, as do our male counterparts, to see the Divine in our own image – the image of She?
So, we come away from the text with more questions than answers, perhaps; but, hopefully encounter a new way of thinking about women who decided that God could be, for them, the Big Breasted God – the Queen of Heaven!
MORE ABOUT Libations and The Queen of Heaven
In the Roman Catholic tradition, Mary (the mother of Jesus) is often referred to as “Queen of Heaven.”
The book of Revelation 12:1-3 makes reference, via symbolism, to the “Queen of Heaven.”
Pouring libations is both an African and biblical tradition. In African cultures, the significance of libation offerings is an ancient ritual illustrating “the journey of journeys.” Its meaning is connected to the celebration of life and the acknowledgement of the Mother Continent as the birthplace of humanity, with the water symbolizing the great rivers of Africa, such as the Nile.
In biblical tradition, the Water Libation Ceremony was part of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is found in 1 Samuel: 16:13, 1 Kings 1:45 and John 7:37-38. Jesus used the pouring out of libations to make a bold statement of his Messianic assignment: “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”
OUR LIBATION CEREMONY BEGINS…………………………………………………………………………………………………