The Bible is like a body It is a whole composed of many parts, in the pages of which we find other bodies, identities which even now haunt the Western imagination: like so many dead bodies in a library. The biblical body is not singular, but many: malleable and multiform. St Paul imagined that the Christians to whom he wrote in Corinth constituted a body, whose head was Christ (1 Corinthians 12.12-31). Making Christ head changes the body of the Bible, both in form and in meaning. When the Bible no longer ends with the second Book of Chronicles, as in the Hebrew Bible, but with the Book of Revelation, at the end of the Christian New Testament, and when the Bible no longer witnesses to the Messiah who is to come but to the Messiah who, having arrived and departed, is to come again, then we are dealing with very different books. We are dealing with different textual bodies, and different orderings of the bodies inside them - the bodies who live in the texts as characters and encounter them as readers, the believers who are bound over and into their bindings. And while both Jewish and Christian Bibles open with apparently the same book - Bereshith/Genesis - they are in fact different texts, for when Christ is head all other bodies are ordered to his flesh; they become figures of his physique. And this even includes the Bible's first human bodies, those of Adam and Eve, who, it turns out, were already too late; imperfect copies of a perfect humanity that would succeed them.
In the Bible, God's Torah is written on stone (Exodus 24.12) and flesh, in the hearts of the people (Jeremiah 31.33; 2 Corinthians 3.2-3), and in the Gospels it arrives in a body, in the life of Jesus (Luke 4.16-21). The Bible writes our flesh, its meanings and possibilities. But writing is nothing if it is not read, and the distinction between writing and reading opens a space for movement, for a field of energy. This, indeed, is the field of religion, in which believers are bound (religare) over to the reading, again and again (relegere), of the texts by which they are both bound and set free. The divine Hermes lives in this space, as its energeia, as the movement of bodies who read themselves differently. How we understand ourselves determines our reading of the texts by which we are written.
As already suggested, to think about the bodies in the Bible is to think about the Bible itself, and its hold on our imaginations. This chapter will mention only a few of the Bible's bodies, and offer the merest sketch of their effects on later Western tradition(s). Many of the most significant bodies go unmentioned, or if mentioned, undiscussed, and of those discussed only some of their modalities are explored. As Averil Cameron notes, all "the central elements in orthodox Christianity - the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Eucharist - focus on the body as symbolic of higher truth" (1991: 68). Indeed, for all these elements, the body is not just a symbol of their truth, but the site where it is realized. But this chapter can only touch on a few of these elements. In particular, this chapter does not attend to those biblical bodies whose lives are largely lived outside the texts. In one sense this is true of all biblical bodies, which live not just in the Scriptures, but in their interpretation. But this is more true of some than of others. It is more true of the New Testament's women, especially the Virgin Mary and Mary of Magdala. Moreover, in leaving these bodies out of account, we curtail the lives of those bodies we do discuss, for all biblical bodies are interrelated. Just as one cannot understand Christ without Adam (1 Corinthians 15.20-8; 45-9) - and so Adam without Christ - so one cannot understand Eve without Mary, since in Christian tradition Mary is Eve's repetition, her second life, as Christ is Adam's (Gambero 1999: 51-8). Nor can one understand Christ without Eve-Mary
- from whom Christ takes his flesh, and to which he returns the church (John 19.26-7), which is also his own body as well as his bride (Ephesians 5.25-32), the body-bride that will become Eve-Mary herself (Gambero 1999: 117-18, 198-9, 296-7; see further Beattie 2002). Christian symbolics are utterly incestuous and conceptually vertiginous.
Biblical bodies are never discreet and self-enclosed. There are places in the Bible where attempts are made to police borders, as in Leviticus, which arguably is one of the Bible's most anxious books, being concerned with the ritual purity of ancient Israel's priestly class. The holy is pure and its priests have to be perfect, with undefiled bodies, free of those flows that unsettle the boundaries between one thing and another: between male and female, inside and outside, us and them. Polity and purity were intimately related because the security of the social body was maintained through the due order of the priestly body, as it served the Lord who in turn protected Israel from her enemies. "The Israelites were always in their history a hard-pressed minority. . . . The threatened boundaries of their body politics would be well mirrored in their care for the integrity, unity and purity of the physical body" (M. Douglas 2002: 153). Thus the priestly concern with purity became an obsession with the body's porosity, with the ejaculations and seepages of its fluids, which could cross the borders of skin and country. Human flesh is always traversing and transgressing boundaries; its fluids seeping out, its skin touching other skins, its limbs entangling aliens - human and divine. It leaves one land and enters another, traveling from one book to the next, and, above all, it slips beyond the scrolls on which it was first written, beyond the pages of its inception, to live in the imaginations of those traditions we call religions, and, beyond them, in the cultures they once wrote and still write.
If nothing else, this chapter is intended to show that the Bible as body inhabits the bodies that come after it and live within it. Present bodies - in the West but in other cultures also
- become biblical bodies, and biblical bodies become present lives. And sometimes this is for good, and sometimes for ill. The Bible can irradiate flesh with God's glory and condemn it to hell's fires. It was Eric Auerbach who imagined the Bible as a voracious, all-consuming text. "Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history" (Auerbach 1953: 13). But the Bible does not do this by itself. It has to be fed by those communities - Jewish and Christian -upon which, in a sense, it feeds.
As bodies changed over the centuries, formed and reformed by changing cultures, different biblical texts were written (read) upon them, or old texts in new ways. Thus, when homosexual bodies were discovered in the nineteenth century, and, in their wake, heterosexual ones also - in 1869 and 1887 respectively (Foucault 1990-2: I; Halperin 1990: 15-40)
- the Bible had to be newly read, its writing of flesh descried anew. Before there were homosexuals there had been sodomites - whose predilection, sodomia, was first coined by Peter Damien in the eleventh century (Jordan 1997) - and, before the sodomites, in the ancient Greco-Roman world, there had been molles and tribades, soft men and hard women. The soft men were passive when they should have been active, enjoying penetration rather than penetrating; while the women were the reverse, assuming an inappropriate, dominant role in sexual relationships (Brooten 1996: 143-73). But though these sexual "characters" bear some relationship to the modern "homosexual," it is a very distant one, for the determining criterion was not whether you desired your own sex, but whether you desired to be the other sex, and the other sex was never just a biological form, but always also a social role. It was reprehensible for a man to (want to) be penetrated, but not for him to penetrate a boy, since a boy's standing - until he became a man - was akin to that of a woman, and woman was made for penetration. This ancient way of thinking - which always understood sexual congress to be asymmetric, between a dominant and a submissive, with one using the other, and their relationship coded as that between man and woman (Halperin 1990: 29-38) - is even further removed from modern conceptions of gay and lesbian people, who understand themselves as wanting to be their own sex, while also desiring members of it. Gay men are thus very different from those men in Leviticus who sleep with other men as if with women, as also from the malakoi and arsenokoitai in Paul (1 Corinthians 6.9-11; 1 Timothy 1.9-10), whose sexual practices - whatever they were - may have resembled modern ones, but which would have had very different meanings, and so have been different acts.
Past biblical bodies are continually being written into present gay and lesbian ones, while at the same time the latter are being read back into the Bible. Thus homosexuals appear in the Bible, but only in modern, twentieth-century Bibles, as when the New English Bible finds "homosexual perversion" in Corinth, or the New Revised Standard Version discovers "sodomites" in the same place (1 Corinthians 6.9). These are careless, ideological translations, passing off modern personages as ancient, biblical bodies, which thus seem to appear in the present, or rather, not so much the ancient bodies themselves - which have been replaced with modern ones - as the ancient, Levitical, and Pauline antipathies to those past bodies.
The chief focus of this chapter, however, is the body of God and its sex. It is often asserted
- in both Jewish and Christian traditions - that God has no sex, and that concern with God's gender, as raised in feminist thought and theology, is beside the point. And indeed one can use the distinction between sex and gender, as between biological and social categories, to argue that God has no sex but is gendered, and gendered predominately, though not exclusively, as male in both Jewish and Christian traditions. But while the distinction between sex and gender, biology and culture, serves a purpose, it rests on the fallacy that biology escapes its mediation, and is not itself a social category: the myth that science is not a cultural product. But biology is cultural, and our ideas of sex are gendered, and God's gender affects his sex, and this becomes all too evident when divinity is used to underwrite certain human orderings, and most notably those that exclude women from certain kinds of power. It is then that we discover that women are not fully human because not really divine - in the way that men are. We discover that gender neutrality is a ruse of male partiality. This is the legacy of the biblical tradition with which Western culture - both religious and secular
- is now engaged, and it would seem that only the Bible's hesitations and indeterminacies will allow it and its culture(s) to think God beyond gender, and so free the bodies that live within it for a more fluid life (Loughlin 1998a).
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