Whoops, We Ignored Women (Genesis 28-36)

Monday, February 28, 2022


Thank you Kayla G. for your amazing efforts in creating this transcript!

Elise: [00:01:23] Welcome back, everyone. This week, we're covering Genesis chapters 28 through 36 for the dates, February 28th to March 6th. Friends, before we get into the episode, we'd like to issue a content warning here. In this episode, we're going to be talking about sexual assault and rape. So please be sure to take good care of yourself. Check in with your intuition as you listened throughout the episode. Now, maybe if you just happen to be listening to the podcast and you have your Come Follow Me manual open right next to you, you'll notice that we're covering more chapters in this episode than are outlined in the Come Follow Me manual. Which means that there are so, so many stories to cover this week, especially because there are tons of women that show up in the text.

[00:02:09] One of the things that Channing and I have joked about this week is maybe for the last two years, when we studied the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, we were kind of like praying, please, where are all the women, like, why aren't they showing up in the text? And then it feels like this year they have just tumbled out onto the pages.

[00:02:26] And there are so, so many women to work with, which we're excited about, but one of the things that makes it difficult is the speed at which we're supposed to move through the text if we're trying to stay on track with the Come Follow Me curriculum. 

Channing: [00:02:40] Yeah, it's been really fascinating actually. And I think I even mentioned at the beginning of the year, that the manual doesn't like, follow the text chronologically. There is a lot of skipping in the chapters and I think I mentioned like, I'm going to be paying attention to that and like, what stories are skipped and what like, weight and priority the manual places on certain stories. And I think in this way, we can say like, patriarchy, doesn't only show up in the text.

[00:03:13] It also shows up in the way that we read and study the text as well. And so it was really interesting to me this week to see like, okay, we're here. This is the first time so far that we've encountered the manual skipping some chapters, this week where the manual is skipping 34, 35 and 36, and they're really relevant and important chapters.

[00:03:37] So I was getting kind of curious, like, okay, if like, how many chapters does the manual actually skip? And I did the math and some calculations, and I discovered that if members were to read only the chapters assigned in the manual, they would be reading less than half of the total chapters of the Hebrew Bible.

[00:03:57] There are 929 total chapters in the Hebrew Bible, but the manual only assigns 359 of them in case you are not great at numbers like me, that's less than half of the total chapters in the text. And I think that we can extend some grace and some understanding as to why the writers of the manual might've done this.

[00:04:19] We think that the primary reason is probably because the Hebrew Bible is so large and so long that it would take longer than a year to review, but we're not necessarily sure that this is really the most helpful or even the most healthy or respectful way to approach the texts. And we think that there’s a couple of reasons why this might be.

Elise: [00:04:42] First, what we see here is an incomplete understanding of the text. Like when we cherry pick the chapters we're going to study, we miss out on the entire story. And in this case, we miss out on over half of the story. And yet, we know that not all of these chapters will have details that excite every reader, but a responsible reading of the text requires that we read all of it. And  incomplete readings of the text also provide ample opportunity for an incorrect or misinformed understanding of what the Bible is saying. When we study only selected stories of the patriarchs, it becomes much easier to place our focus on what we value and sweep under the rug what we do not. It really allows us to take Bible stories out of context and then weaponize them.

[00:05:28] A good example of this is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. When we take that single chapter out of context, we miss all the ways the Bible builds the reader's understanding of the unrighteousness of Lot and the full context of Sodom’s sins. It also allows us to skirt the discomfort we might experience when we encounter stories, certain stories in the text, it allows students of the text to relegate them to either the realm of ignorance, in which readers sticking straight to the manual assignment will be unaware of the more tricky portions of the text or completely disregard them as if to say, look, if it's not mentioned in the manual, then clearly it's not worth studying. 

Channing: [00:06:06]  Yeah, I think that that's really, really important. And I also think it's just one of the problematic issues with the way that we approach the text as LDS readers. I also think that within like probably the LDS culture and maybe even within like the church institution itself, I think that there is a really kind of unspoken distrust or an attitude of distrust towards the biblical texts.

[00:06:31] I think like, honestly, if I was going to just gonna come right out and say it, I'd say the church has a problem with the Bible. The eighth article of faith states that, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly.” This article of faith asserts that the Bible is not the pure word of God.

[00:06:51] And Elise and I stand behind that. The Bible is not plain and simple word of God, straight from God's mouth. The Bible is a collection of histories, genealogies, and personal and communal encounters with the divine and with other people. Because of this, and because of its many revisions over its lifetime, the Bible is not plain.

[00:07:12] It is not simple. It's not straightforward. And it's not always true in the sense that it's a text which doesn't ever really behave itself or at least not in the ways we expect it to. In the Bible there are not really very clear, good and bad guys. There's not even a clear, good and bad God. Already this year, we've encountered a God who created the world and then destroyed it.

[00:07:35] Who forgives a murderer, who kills some rapists and protects others. We see matriarchs and patriarchs of Israel who have enslaved other people, deceived and straight out lied, and married their siblings and family members. And so from this, we can see that the Bible is a complex text that Jewish and Christian scholars have spent their entire careers wrestling with.

[00:08:00] But culturally, it's almost as if LDS members understand the Bible to be a tricky text that can't be trusted. I've spoken to this before, where it almost seems that there seems to be a hierarchy of truthful text in LDS cannon with the Book of Mormon at the top, the Doctrine and Covenants next, the New Testament after that, and the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible last.

[00:08:21] I often feel that members suspect the Old Testament before they even arrived to it. And this makes it easy to brush off tricky portions that do not fit the narrative that we think the Bible ought to tell. Unfortunately, when we pick and choose which sections to focus on, we continue the sense of distress of some portions being more relevant or true than others. And therefore, more deserving of our studies. 

Elise: [00:08:44] Another reason this can be difficult is because it reflects disproportionate priorities based on gender. In some ways we’re really grateful to see the way that the text is weighted in the manual because the bias, which values men's experiences over women's experiences become especially clear. This week, we think is an excellent example.

[00:09:03] The manual assigns Genesis 28 through 33. And in these chapters, we have a multitude of prominent stories. Jacob has a vision. Jacob marries Rachel and Leah, and they each have, or struggled to have children. There's a really heavy dose of family conflict. Jacob wrestled with God, Esau and Jacob are reconciled one with another.

[00:09:24] And that is just in the chapters that are assigned. But if we read the next chapter, which is not assigned, we read the story of Dinah, Jacob's daughter. And in chapter 35, we have the closure for Rachel and Deborah's story with the inclusion of their burials and epitaphs. Two of the chapters skipped this week have significant relevance for women.

[00:09:44] It's one thing to say that we value women's stories in the text, but when we don't even include them for study in the curriculum, the assurance that women's experiences and voices are valued is way more difficult to believe. The way the manual weighs the experiences in the assigned chapters is also telling. The heading for this week's study is about the spiritual experiences Jacob had with God in Genesis 28 and 32.

[00:10:10] There's a short paragraph about God helping through trials which mentions Rachel, but other than this single exception, the entirety of the manual references Jacob alone, or the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau only. Like, what message does this send to members? Genesis 29 and 30 have women who are active and speaking in the text and they don't even receive a cursory mention in the manual.

[00:10:37] If we're explicit in our feelings and opinions right now, we feel that this exclusion, though perhaps not consciously intentional, is not only evidence of a patriarchal bias in the authors of the manual and the general church leadership, but continues to perpetuate ignorance and indifference to women and their experiences.

[00:10:57] When we focus solely on men's experiences, even when women's experiences are explicit in the text, that's a choice. It's a choice to study in depth Jacob's vision, wrestle with God and his reconciliation with Esau, and not to study in depth the examples and stories of Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, Zilpah and Dinah.

[00:11:19] Those who wish to study the text responsibly must be willing to unveil and witness the portions of the texts which are hidden or obscured, especially when they are obscured by design. A lens of suspicion is a healthy part of feminist hermeneutics. And when portions of the text are ignored, we want to ask questions, like, why is this not included in the assigned study for the general membership of the church?

[00:11:46] What fears, attitudes or bias might contribute to this exclusion? What is the impact of this exclusion? What would be the impact of its inclusion? If the manual had a feminist ethic, or in other words, truly valued women's lived experiences, how would it weigh and approach these stories different? 

Channing: [00:12:07] Uh, those are really important questions. And I think that there are definitely ones that you and I have held as we've explored the texts this week. And not even this week. These are questions that we've asked about the manual and how the manual approaches the text not only for the Hebrew Bible, but also for the Book of Mormon and for the Doctrine and Covenants.

[00:12:27] It just seems to be crystallized, I think, when we're looking at the way the manual approaches the Hebrew Bible. Finally, the last reason that we feel like this cherry pick approach to the Hebrew Bible is problematic is we feel it's an appropriative way of approaching the text. By not embracing the full text, the manual suggests that the readers can ignore entire chapters and in so doing kind of cuts the Hebrew Bible up into little pieces. We really feel that this is potentially an attitude of disrespect. It essentially says, we'll take what we want from the text and ignore that, which does not serve us. LDS members might really benefit from the attitude that some in Judaism have for the Hebrew Bible, which is their primary spiritual text.

[00:13:15] Jewish people have been wrestling with this text for centuries, their tradition, both on exegesis and on Midrash of the text, is vibrant, alive, deep, and revered. Christian readers of the Hebrew Bible have a responsibility to a text, which was appropriated from Judaism into Christianity. The Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament is a document that can and does stand on its own as a significant, important, and relevant spiritual document.

[00:13:44] If we are going to read it, it deserves to be read fully, not just as an interesting add-on to our other texts. This doesn't necessarily mean that we have to resonate with and revere or even understand every chapter, but to not even read entire chapters feels dishonest and disrespectful. So as we examine this problematic approach of picking and choosing which portions of the text will work with a question that we might want to ask is what could we do differently with the Hebrew Bible? 

[00:14:15] And for us, we feel like there's so many options, but the first one, it's probably one that you've heard a salute to every week is if we were going to study this text effectively, we have to slow down. Everyone needs to, but especially feminist readers. The Hebrew Bible, like we mentioned before, is huge. It is the largest portion of text in the LDS cannon. For context, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the New Testament all have less than 300 chapters in total that makes the Hebrew Bible, at more than 900 chapters, more than three times as long as the rest of our books.

[00:14:53] Even when we were reading the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, we felt like the text moved way too quickly. So with the Hebrew Bible, studying it in this way is even more difficult for us. It feels less like feasting on the word and more like a timed, hot dog eating competition. It does.

[00:15:20] We really feel that it would make a world of difference if perhaps we were to study the Hebrew Bible over the course of two years, instead of trying to make it fit into just one year. We really feel that the sheer amount of material justifies this extended approach. This is also a good opportunity to remind our readers and listeners that the manual doesn't have to be authoritative.

[00:15:41] If you can, read the unassigned chapters. If it feels right to you, you could ignore the manual entirely and let it lap you two or three or five times. Maybe you could be in Ruth in 2030, and that's a totally cool way to read the text. If you did that, you would probably discover treasures that everyone including us might miss because you walked and the rest of us drove the freeway to get to the end quicker. Remember that the LDS church is not the authority on the Hebrew Bible. It doesn't have the corner market on correct or true exegesis and interpretation. In fact, Jewish rabbis and feminist scholars have been working with this text for a long time and can offer a beautiful and expansive reading of the text.

[00:16:28] One that is rooted in its culture of origin. For example, some listeners have contacted us since our episode about Lot's wife and his daughters. The episode titled the salty women of Sodom and asked why we didn't include the Joseph Smith translation for the verses in Genesis 16. I wanted to address this really quick because we've gotten a large handful of comments and questions about this. So I just wanted to go over that really quick. The Joseph Smith translation for Genesis 16 shows Lot as defending his daughters instead of offering them up to be gang raped. We didn't include the Joseph Smith translation for two reasons. First, we felt that it was an inaccurate translation as it doesn't account for Lot’s entire character arc built by the Hebrew Bible in prior chapters.

[00:17:18] And secondly, it didn't function well in the entire context of Genesis 16, from a literary perspective. Additionally, the Joseph Smith translation is uniquely redemptive of Lot where most other contemporary texts are not. For a feminist reader, the Joseph Smith translation not only distracts from the original narrative, but places Lot, the masculine figure of power, in the role of victim.

[00:17:42] Which again is not correlated either by the text itself nor by scholarship of the text and is more likely a result of patriarchal defensive men than actually about protecting women. For me, I believe that LDS exegesis of the Hebrew Bible should be considered secondary to Jewish exegesis, because we, as LDS members, are borrowing their text from their language, culture, and tradition.

[00:18:08] So, all of this is to say that the way the Come Follow Me manual outlines the study for this week's chapters doesn't necessarily have to dictate how we approach the text. For the podcast it does, because we're primarily a Come Follow Me podcast and we are by design required to follow the schedule, but for our listeners and readers of the Hebrew Bible, this is a text that people can and do spend a lifetime studying.

[00:18:35] If you want to slow down and look more closely at different chapters and portions than what the manual assigns by all means, use your personal revelation and go for it. There are innumerable resources out there to support you. If you need some, we have a feminist theology reading recommendation on our website and Google has always been more than helpful in our research. 

Elise: [00:18:57] With all that said, today we're going to do something a little bit different. We will move through Genesis chapters 28 through 36 chronologically. And instead of focusing on Jacob's experiences that are highlighted in the manual, we will instead favor the experiences of women and explore the potential avenues for further study that each of their stories introduces.

[00:19:16] We will share our thoughts on their stories and how they have moved and influenced us. We will discuss what impact the focus and or inclusion of their stories might have or can have when we allow them to be present in our minds, hearts, lessons and communities. Starting in chapters 28 through 29, here is a SuperSpeed summary.

[00:19:36] Jacob is off to find a wife in the land of Aram which is the land of his mother, Rebecca, and he's going there to stay with her brother Laban. On his journey, he has a vision of a ladder reaching up to the heavens and he makes a covenant with God. In chapter 29, when Jacob finally gets to Aram, he meets Rachel, Laban’s daughter at a well. Jacob falls in love, and he agrees to work for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, when the seven years passed though, Laban deceives Jacob, by having him marry Leah, Rachel's older sister.

[00:20:08] Instead, Jacob agrees to work another seven years in order to marry Rachel. At this point in the story, Leah is able to have children and Rachel is not. Some of the things that stick out to me in these chapters. First, we see Rachel as a shepherdess. Wil Gafney, author of “Womanist Midrash” writes, “shepherding in the Bible is a powerful and dominant metaphor for leading the people of Israel and for God's own care of God's people. Civic and religious shepherding are combined in descriptions of messianic leaders in the biblical text.”

[00:20:44] A possible avenue for exploration is the relevance of Rachel as a shepherdess. What this means about her, her character and her personality, what effect it has on her story, potential connections with other shepherdess women in the text. And with the addition of Sarah and Rebecca, can we see an example of prophetess figures in the text here?

Channing: [00:21:06]Some other questions that we have about this chapter is where are Rachel's women kin. In Rebecca's story, which we covered last week, we encountered Rebecca's grandmother as a very active, if not the head of household role in Rebecca's childhood home. Laban is Rebecca's brother, but somehow a shift between the matriarchal structure in Rebecca's childhood home has shifted to a patriarchal one in her brothers.

[00:21:32] Where is Rachel's mother? Where is her grandmother? What shift occurred socially or in the family dynamic so that just a few chapters later in the text, Laban rules over his household with domination and deceit? And the daughters in this chapter appear at least in a literal reading of the text to not have a say in who and when they will marry. Which is in contrast to Rebecca's story from last week.

[00:21:59] Another question that we could ask about this text is, does Rachel love Jacob? We're not really sure because the text never says if she does. It only ever says that Jacob loves Rachel. I'm not sure that this question can really be answered since we don't have Rachel's voice here, but many feminist readers have tried their hand at imagining Rachel's feelings anywhere on the spectrum between devotion, passion, love, and even indifference. 

Elise: [00:22:27] Something else you might think about in these chapters is who betrays Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. Again, there are lots of different ways of seeing this portion of the story. The text presents Laban as the mastermind, who asserts that the tradition is the eldest daughter must marry before the younger and therefore he's the one that tricks Jacob into marrying Leah. His potential motivations for this are greed. Perhaps Laban knows that by marrying Leah, not Rachel, Jacob will be willing to work another seven years for Laban, which means earning him more wealth in all of that time. This interpretation does hold up when looking at Laban’s story as a whole. The text doesn't really present him as honest or forthcoming and all moments. And yet there are other perspectives which, where we could see Rachel and Leah in on the deception, possibly even deceiving Laban himself and coordinating the marriage on their own sister to sister.

Channing: [00:23:24] So with this super quick summary and some of these questions and potential avenues for exploration, we'll move on to chapters 30 through 33. In these chapters, we see Rachel distraught in her infertility so she gives her slave woman Bilhah to Jacobs so that she can have kids through her. Then Leah gives her slave woman Zilpah to Jacob in order to have kids through her.

[00:23:49] This type of competition around fertility and childbirth continues between Rachel and Leah. Later on, Jacob decides to flee Laban’s estate and takes his entire family and all of their flocks with them. After a few days, Laban catches up to them and is concerned that someone stole the family gods and Rachel, who did take them, keeps them hidden. After some tense words, Jacob and Laban, covenant with each other that Jacob will take care of Laban’s daughters and Laban will not pursue Jacob anymore. As they travel one night, Jacob wrestles with an angel and is left with the limp and a new name, Israel. And finally in chapter 33, Jacob and Esau are reunited in a scene that shows both incredible hospitality and a surprising maturity and change of character on Esau's part.

[00:24:37] It's a lot of love through and through. Some things that stick out to us in this chapter, the first one that we come across is apparently the God of Jacob has power over women's wounds. We see in the beginning of the chapter, and also like at the end of the prior chapter that God opens Leah's womb and God also is responsible for the closing and later opening of Rachel's womb.

[00:25:01] And both of these cases are directly attributed to God in the text. And this is fascinating to me for many reasons. But my first question about this is I wonder what it means that a male God controls women's reproduction. If I were to ask the next question about this, I would wonder, especially in the context of modern day readers, what would focusing in on this part of the story offer?

[00:25:25] Would it give us room to discuss women's reproductive rights? Would we be able to ask who acts as God today to open and close women's wombs? Do some women have more say than others? 

Elise: [00:25:38] Yeah, that was one of the things that stood out for me too. Maybe we could use these chapters to speak explicitly about reproductive choices because women throughout history have made many different choices about reproduction. In Diane L Neu’s book “Women's Rights: Feminist Liturgies for Life's Journey” she writes, “Some choices about reproduction have been made against our wills. Others, we have chosen ourselves. Unfortunately for many women, choice is a luxury and coercion is more the norm. It is important for all women to be aware of our reproductive options. Of those choices made by our family and friends, as well as others in our community and around the world, politically and personally, women need to stand together to ensure that each of us can make the reproductive choices that are best for us.”

[00:26:27] So maybe within this framework about reproduction and reproductive choices, you might consider gathering together with friends or family or neighbors or people you want to be friends with and share stories where we can celebrate women's decisions. Or we can listen with compassion and empathy to the stories of those struggling with infertility or to those whose decisions have been stolen from them and forced upon them.

[00:26:52] We also might spend time trying to affirm someone's choice to have an abortion. We might try to untangle the knot between womanhood, motherhood, and fertility and ask some difficult, do I believe I or others are more or less worthy of love and value if I have kids? Or even if I don't consciously believe motherhood to be a woman's highest calling, how do my actions or passing thoughts and judgments reflect differently?

Channing: [00:27:18]  One of the other questions that I also have about God having the power over women's reproduction, based on my background knowledge of women’s traditions and also the knowledge that Goddess traditions were especially concerned with fertility and reproduction. I really wonder about this seemingly masculine God very overtly concerned with fertility and reproduction. 

[00:27:41] To be more explicit, what I'm gently hinting at here is a potential masculine overlay onto a divine figure who is intimately involved with the day-to-day aspects of fertility and reproduction, which is practiced nearly worldwide, including in the Middle East as a goddess matter and in the realm of the feminine divine. Other questions that I think you, Elise, really brought up so nicely is about motherhood.

[00:28:06] We can see in these chapters that motherhood is the primary form of power that is available to the women in this chapter. Some questions that we could ask about this might be what impact does a primary focus on motherhood have on modern day readers, especially women. What message do women who do not have children, whether by chance or by choice, what do they receive when the text and its interpretations place such a high value on the ability to have children?

[00:28:32] How can Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, andBilhah’s story in Genesis chapter 30, create opportunities for women to discuss and share their experiences and challenges of motherhood. For example, what would it be like to be part of a lesson which made space for women who resonate with Leah's experience to share what it means for them to be in a relationship, maybe with someone who does not love them. To be a mother to many children and the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burdens that she carries with that role. What would it be like for women to be able to share their feelings of regret or invisibility, their entire being reduced to mothering and not have ample time, energy, or opportunities to explore or contribute to their communities in other meaningful ways? We wonder what would it be like to be part of a discussion which made space for women who resonate with Rachel's experience, who have tried for years and years to have a baby without success all while suffering the heartbreak of watching friends, sisters, nieces, and cousins carry pregnancies to term?

[00:29:38] What might it be like to not be a mother in a culture which values motherhood as the highest and holiest calling like Elise said, what might it feel like to not feel like a real woman because they might have had great difficulty in conception? What might it be like to feel as though their prayers go unanswered and that God does not remember them?

[00:30:00] Or what might it be like to share in a discussion which honors women who resonate with Bilhah and Zilpah’s story. The women who have given their children up to adoption, who didn't have the say that they'd like to and how, or to, or with whom their children were conceived and born and given. What would it be like to have an opportunity to speak and hear openly of the grief, the guilt, the anger, and the regret that these women might feel?

Elise: [00:30:26] Something else I noticed in these sections is that we're confronted with a story of competition between women and sisters. If we highlighted their stories in our study and in our lessons and curriculum, we'd have to ask questions about why these women feel they must compete against each other for love, recognition and status.

[00:30:45] Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, but it's Leah who bears him children at first. So when Rachel gives her handmaid slave Bilhah as a surrogate, this should remind us of the same way that Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham. The child becomes Rachel's child as Bilhah has no power of consent, refusal or right to her own son.

[00:31:07] Then Leah shows up and gives her handmaid slave Zilpah to Jacob, who then also bears a son. In an article titled, “My sister, My enemy” by Autumn Reinhardt Simpson, they write, “One by one. The sisters seek to gain power over each other, using their slave women as ammunition. The slave women, the women who birth these children, are as nothing. Leah and Rachel are seeking power within the confines of the principle of hierarchy. One must fall as the other rises.” In this way, thinking about competition in hierarchy also invites us to move from looking at this story on an individual level to zooming out and looking at the patterns and larger systems at play.

[00:31:52] We might ask, how does patriarchy thrive when women compete against each other? What does patriarchy have to gain from women being jealous and divided from one another? Like we talked about a few weeks ago, if patriarchy can keep us silent and separated, more concerned about power and safety for our own selves at the expense of others, then the system of patriarchy can both diffuse collective power and distract from the larger systemic issues at play.

[00:32:24] Also, when we downplay the roles of men and patriarchy in conflicts between women, it can make us believe that women oppress and fight with each other because it's in their natural nature. As if to say women are always catty and we have to compete with one another for attention and love because there's only so much that we have access to.

[00:32:45] However, when we focus on individual experiences and fights, we miss larger patterns at play that are spurred on by a patriarchal system and culture. I'm reminded here of stories of the stories of Sarah and Hagar, or Mary and Martha, even if we see these stories of women competing against each other and using each other for, like in an attempt to gain bits of patriarchal power, we miss the ways that patriarchy sets up paths of least resistance, which is to say patriarchy makes it easy and almost effortless for women to compete with one another, because that's what patriarchy wants.

[00:33:23] In fact, it requires more imagination, more love, and more resistance for women to actively reject patriarchal separation and competition and move towards solidarity and shared action among women across class, race and fertility. 

Channing:[00:33:39] Elise, I think you picked up on a really important thread too that I also had in my notes where we notice in this story that Rachel and Leah continue a pattern that was started by Sarah of offering their handmaids to their husband, to bear children.

[00:33:54] And one of the questions that I wanted to ask about this is where are we so consumed with our own grief? Or maybe even like you said, our own competition, that we continue to perpetuate patterns of oppression and harm to others. Instead of working toward our collective liberation. Other questions that I wanted to ask more generally about competition between women and especially the competition that we see between Rachel and Leah in this story is, does their story potentially contain blueprints for repairing the disconnect that that patriarchy puts between them? What might happen if Rachel and Leah were on the same team? How would the story have changed or what things would have gone differently. And is there a potential lens that allows us to see Rachel and Leah be reconciled with each other like we get to see with Jacob and Esau?

Elise: [00:34:42] I'm glad you brought up that reconciliation between Jacob and Esau and I know that we're not going to spend lots of time focusing on them, but one of the things that really stood out was the super powerful story of Jacob wrestling with an angel or wrestling with God and how can we use this story as a map for encountering terror, sadness, pain, and really awful stories within the text. Phyllis Trible, author of “Texts of Terror” writes, “To tell and hear tales of terror is to wrestle demons in the night without a compassionate God to save us. In combat we wonder about the names of the demons. Our own names, however, we all too frightfully recognize. The fight itself is solitary and intense. We struggle mightily only to be wounded, but yet we hold on seeking a blessing. The healing of wounds and the restoration of health. If the blessing comes and we dare not claim assurance, it does not come on our terms. Indeed, as we leave the land of terror, we limp.” I find this a powerful bit of reassurance and almost encouragement that wrestling with the text is part of the work. That's part of engaging with complicated, messy stories of people trying to make sense out of their lives by doing the only thing that we all know how to do, which is tell stories, even if they're full of terror, even if they're full of sadness.

Channing: [00:36:11] Elise. I love that story. We both love that story. We both love that story so much. So I was really excited to hear you share some of your thoughts on that .Before we move on to our final section, one final question that I wanted to ask about these chapters is can we see Rachel as a foremother for women who practice traditional or folk practices, of herbalism magic and deity worship?

[00:36:36] Some questions we might ask about this is why might it be important to point out that this mother of Israel kept likenesses of her family's idols and protected them even at cost of her life? Why might it be important to point out that she used folk medicine, like mandrakes, to help her conceive? How might these questions be relevant in the context of witch trials and persecutions, both historical and in modern times, where white women are more able to reclaim the word witch today with less fear for their lives and in the past, black women, women of color and indigenous women still face disproportionate persecution, and even death for their folk practices under the title witch.

[00:37:18] How are we more apt to see women's use of folk practices as witchcraft, and therefore evil, but when men like Jacob use them later in this chapter, we ignore it and we're willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, and perhaps even call it godly. 

Elise: [00:37:34] Moving over to the next few chapters, chapters 34 through 36, some of which aren't covered in the Come Follow Me manual. Here's what happens. Jacob and his family moved to Shechem. One day, Dinah, the daughter of Leah, goes into the city of Shechem where the prince, “Saw Dinah, took her and lay with her and defiled her.” Shechem then wants to marry Dinah, so he and his father tried to negotiate with Jacob. However Dina's brothers were wrathfully angry about what happened.

[00:38:05] So even though the marriage agreement is made that all of the men in Shechem will be circumcised, the brothers, Simeon and Levi, come into the city and murder all of the men. Take all of their animals and all of their wealth, all of the children and all of the women. In the next chapter, God tells Jacob to go to the land of Bethel and make an altar and put away the strange gods which are among them.

[00:38:28] On the journey, Deborah, which is Rebecca's nurse that we talked about a few weeks ago, dies and she's buried. Rachel becomes pregnant again and dies while giving birth. On her deathbed, she names her son, Ben-Oni, but Jacob ends up changing his name to Benjamin. When they arrive to Bethlehem, Jacob’s son Reuben rapes Bilhah. Finally, Jacob learns that Isaac is dying and he returns home with Esau to bury Isaac. 

Channing: [00:38:56] This is a really big chapter, especially chapter 34, but also chapter 35 as well. And it was shocking to me the first time, four years ago when I came across it and I was like, wait a second, what? Back then the manual skipped it then too.

[00:39:12] So I wasn't entirely surprised to see that it was skipped this time. But I am very disappointed because the story is really important and meaningful to me. One of the questions that I have about this chapter and about this section was inspired by an article titled “Is Dinah Raped? It isn't the Right Question” by author Alison L Joseph.

[00:39:39] Joseph writes that the Hebrew word translated to defile and the text can't be accurately equated to what our modern day understanding of rape is. Joseph argues that rape was not really a concept in biblical times, as women did not have an opportunity for consent. Joseph argues that defilement in this context is more accurately understood as a dishonor done by Shechem to Jacob, because Shechem did not obtain permission from Jacob prior to his lie with Dinah. An entire midrash tradition is built around this chapter and scholars hotly debate, whether or not Dinah was truly raped.

[00:40:21] As a tangent that is not really a tangent, there is a book titled “The Red Tent” by author Anita Diamant. I've said it before, but this book is one that opened my eyes to feminist hermeneutics and interpretation. It opened my eyes to the possibility that in taking the text at face value, I might be missing an entire background of stories.

[00:40:42] Diamant imagines the story of Dinah both before and after her appearance in the text and pieces together her story in an unexpected, but shockingly, very textually supported way. Diamant’s midrash is controversial for many reasons, but I deeply appreciated her retelling. And I say that with life experience, as a survivor of sexual assault.

[00:41:03] But Alison Joseph who wrote the article that I mentioned earlier, questions whether the focus on the problem of whether Dinah is raped or not wonders if that's really the most helpful approach to the chapter. I appreciated Joseph's article because it cuts right to the bone of the issue and its final sentence, which reads, “We can use critical tools of linguistics, archeology, and contextual readings, but we have ethical obligations beyond the historical critical method.” Essentially, what Joseph argues is that we could spend our time debating the text, or we could spend that same time concerning ourselves with mourning, with comforting, and caring for survivors present in our everyday lived experience. An ethic of care would argue for the latter.

[00:41:51] One of the questions that we could ask about this story is what does this story teach us about rape? For us, we think it's a good example, again, like we talked about in the salty women of Sodom, that rape is about power. Levi and Simon's response to kill all the men and Shechem and steal all the wealth does not seem to be one of care for the victim of the alleged rape.

[00:42:13] Instead, their vengeance is about power. It's about restoring a family name and the family honor. But it is absolutely clear that it was never about Dinah. If it had been, the chapter would have probably ended differently, like potentially rewrite the entire rest of the Bible differently. 

Elise: [00:42:33] Yeah, I appreciate you saying that. One of the things that came to mind for me was very similar. Like how are our understandings of rape and sexual assault filtered through the lens of men’s stories and men's experiences. In this chapter, Dinah is there, but she's not active. It's Shechem and his father and Jacob and his sons who are acting and shaping the story. They speak over and around Dinah.

[00:42:58] I think we could also even examine patriarchy as a system that's obsessed with domination and control and power, like you said. Which is really showcased in these chapters. We see brothers wanting to dominate and murder other people. Jacob wants to wipe out and control Shechem's customs by making everyone be circumcised.

[00:43:18] We might ask, how does patriarchy rely on cultural beliefs of women's passiveness and men's aggression? How does patriarchy rely on women's needs to be avenged and protected and men's immovable strength and determination that knows no bounds? We can also ask how does rape show up as a cultural practice that both offers men control and power, and then in turn objectifies women and violates them.

Channing: [00:43:44] Further questions that we want to ask about this story is in what ways does ignoring this chapter and also the story of Rubin raping Bilhah, because it's uncomfortable to discuss, how does our ignoring of these stories contribute to rape culture? Does ignoring these stories do more harm or more good? And for us, we kind of feel like it does more harm because the next question is what opportunities could the inclusion of this story create for survivors of rape and sexual assault?

[00:44:16] What would it be like to have a lesson taught by a licensed mental health professional about identifying and resisting rape culture. About rape prevention, compassionate care for and service to survivors. Or community resources for survivors and appropriate ecclesiastic ministry for survivors of rape and sexual assault.

[00:44:35] And another question that I have is why aren't these stories included? It could be that they're messy. These stories paint some of the tribes of Israel and potentially even Jacob in a really bad light. There's also some argument about whether or not the story, especially the story of the rape of Dinah was edited and added in at a later point and this was brought up in Wil Gafney's book, “Women’s Midrash”. And finally the last questions that I have about these chapters and these sections are, is this story a tragedy for the women involved? And finally, what is there to be gained from sitting with these stories and looking at these women's stories and holding space for them?

[00:45:19] And this is a question and a practice that we've explored on the podcast many times before. Last night, as I was preparing for this episode and thinking about all of the things that I wanted to say about all of the incredible women in the text, I was fixing a hole in my son's pants and trying out some new, like mending skills cause I've never done it before. And as I was fixing the holes and weaving the thread in and out of each other and trying to basically reshape the fabric in the hole of my son's pants, I had this realization that I'm like getting emotional about it, but that's exactly what feminist interpretation does.

[00:46:05] It sees a hole in the text and it fills it. Tiny thread by tiny thread. By spending time with these women and looking at the details of their lives and imagining their faces, their heart, their wants and wishes and desires, and their hurts, and their tears, and their pain, and weaving it into a story that retains its wholeness. Where there are no holes to be found. And the most beautiful part about finally finishing my son's pants cause it really was a giant hole,was afterwards just running my hand over the threads and the handiwork. Being really proud of myself and feeling really grateful that my son was going to be able to wear these pants and literally be wrapped in the threads of his mother who really, really loves him.

[00:46:54] And I think that in that same way, we can look at these stories and allow ourselves by weaving our threads in with their stories and remembering them that we can be wrapped up in their love as well.

Elise: [00:47:14] Friends. Thank you so much for joining us today. For another episode of the Faithful Feminist podcast, we know your time and space is sacred and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify, so other seekers can find us 

Channing: [00:47:33] Financial donations support the many hours of research work and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast. You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram, as the Faithful Feminist, we are deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.

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