Category Archives: Church

Exegesis of Deborah and Barak


I finished my first semester in the at Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkeley in the Master of Arts in Social Transformation degree program. I am heading to Mexico soon for a two week immersion course in Spanish and Social Justice. At PSR, I am learning a great deal about social justice, spirituality, race and ethnicity, and exegesis – the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture.  Exegesis is a new skill for me and I am enjoying it, even if I have to become expert on using the Turabian bibliographic citation style, and learning to use words like pericope (an extract from a text) and hermeneutics (theory and methodology of interpretation).  Here is my first exegetical paper from the Rhetorical Use of Texts course taught by Professors Aaron Brody and Sharon Jacob:


For my first exegetical paper on Judges, I have selected the passage about Deborah and Barak, in Judges 4:1-10. In this pericope, Deborah is presented in a way that is unique in the Hebrew Bible, and yet both the Bible and scholars seem to underrate her importance. She is introduced as a prophetess and a judge, and we soon see that she is, in addition, an insightful war leader who successfully reverses the declined fortunes of her people. In this analysis, I will primarily use a feminist hermeneutical lens because Deborah’s story is such a contrast to that of most women in the Bible, whom J. Cheryl Exum describes as being “…in a subordinate role, usually as someone’s wife or mother or daughter…”[1] Deborah is indeed the wife of Lappidoth (Judges 4:4) but he is only referenced that once in the Hebrew Bible. She is also said to be a mother (Judges 5:7) but her individual children are not mentioned. As a feminist and professional today, I admire Deborah for fulfilling her traditional female roles (wife and mother) while at the same time being successful in three capacities usually reserved for both men in the ancient world and today (prophet, judge, and general).

Before moving into a deeper review of this pericope, it is important to reflect that the men who wrote the Bible did not consider Deborah important enough to be a referenced elsewhere as a role model. This is an example of institutionalized patriarchy, as described by Exum.[2] Three men in the pericope, Israelite enemies King Jabin and his commander Sisera, and Deborah’s hesitant colleague Barak, are celebrated outside of the Book of Judges but Deborah is not. Jabin and Sisera are found again in 1 Samuel 12:9 and Psalm 83:9. Barak is included in 1 Samuel 12:11 and Hebrews 11:32. It seems that it is more notable to be an enemy or a cowardly man than a successful woman. Or, as J. Cheryl Exum writes, “…the gender code operates independently of the question of who is on which side or which side is the ‘right’ side…”[3] Even Jesus’ ancestor Ruth is only mentioned once outside of her own book, in Matthew 1:5.

Of the three non-traditional roles Deborah fulfills, being a prophet is the least common duty for a woman in the Bible. In his essay on narrative criticism, Richard Bowman presents a table called “Attributions of Divine Presence” in which he lists three options: “The Lord is with X,” “Spirit of God,” and “Acknowledgement by Character.” In the table, Bowman only accords Deborah “Acknowledgement by Character.”[4] He does not mention that Deborah and Gideon are the only two persons in Judges called prophets. Deborah is indeed only one of five women in the Hebrew Bible to be called a prophet (or prophetess). The five honored women are: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Naodiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and an unnamed prophetess in Isaiah 8:3. Lists of female prophets in Judaism can also include Sarah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther but those women are not explicitly called out as prophets.[5] It seems that Bowman underrates Deborah and her status of prophet. Being a prophet is important, someone worthy of speaking on behalf of God, as in Deuteronomy 18:18, “I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.” Yet, Bowman only writes, “The narrator does not explicitly state that the spirit of God is given to either Ehud or Deborah… Yet, both successfully deliver Israel from the oppression of its enemies, and both voice their conviction that God gave them their victories.”[6] Ehud only mentions God once when he quips to King Eglon, “I have a message from God for you.” Compared to him, Deborah does a great deal more than simply express conviction; she performs as a true prophet, confidently speaking on behalf of God, saying, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you…” (Judges 4:6), and “…the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9), plus two references in Judges 4:14.

In her second non-traditional role, Deborah is a judge. Professor Brody said that those called judges in Judges are “Charismatic leaders, ‘judges’ rise to lead in times of trouble then return to former occupation.”[7] In addition to being a charismatic leader, Deborah uniquely functions as an actual judge, “She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:5). Bowman writes, “…Gideon doubts his own ability, Jephthah doubts the ability of God, and Samson overconfidently abuses his talents.”[8] Unlike many of the other leaders in Judges, Deborah is wise, and her opinion is respected and sought. However, her wisdom is not celebrated outside of the Judges 4:5 passage, perhaps because good counsel is expected of a capable wife in a patriarchal society, as we see in Proverbs 31:26, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”

In her third unusual role, Deborah is a war leader or general. Exum credits Deborah as “…an example of the exceptional famous woman – prophet, judge, and military leader…”[9] However, surprisingly for a feminist scholar, Exum devotes most of her detailed analysis in the section “Deborah/Jael (Judges 4-5)” to Deborah as a good mother figure. Exum criticizes Barak and Sisera for falling short of being hero-warriors but does not go on to laud Deborah for her bravery or wisdom.[10] And yet, Deborah is capable as a general and her actions are worthy of celebration. In Judges 4:6-10, Deborah, who is from the tribal area of Ephraim (in the middle of Israel), summons Barak from the far northern area of Naphtali, north of the Kishon River and Mount Tabor. That is, she wisely picked for her colleague a man who knew the area where they would fight and who could bring an army of ten thousand from the northern tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Deborah’s original battle plan is to split her forces, saying “’I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and troops; and I will give him into your hand’” (Judges 4:7). However, when Barak refuses to go without her, she patiently changes her plan to make it succeed despite his trepidation. At this point in the story, we get a glimpse of what it must be like for Deborah to be a woman war leader when she says, “’I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman’” (Judges 4:9). I envision Deborah saying this in a patient and sardonic tone, as a strong woman who must make a partnership work despite the shortcomings of her male partner. Her words can be taken either as a foretelling (that is, Deborah sees the future of Sisera being killed by Jael, in Judges 4:21), or a simple statement that if Deborah is with Barak, he will not win glory. In either case, Barak’s accomplishments are dimmed.

At the beginning of the pericope, because of doing evil, the Israelites are oppressed like slaves by a foreign ruler based in the tribal area of Naphtali, “So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera…” (Judges 4:2). At the end of the pericope in Judges 4:7, Deborah prophesies that the Lord will sell Sisera, that is, the tables will be turned and Israel will triumph. At the very end of Deborah’s story, it says simply “And the land had rest for forty years” (Judges 5:31). That is, she did her work and did it well. Deborah is surprising not only because of her success in both traditional and non-traditional women’s roles but also because her story was recorded in detail and survived from a time when, as Exum writes, “…the writers of history [were] men, and men have recorded only those events they considered important and have interpreted them from their point of view.”[11] I would argue that feminists and feminist critics of the Bible today should celebrate Deborah as one of the few multi-faceted and exceptional women of the ancient world.

Footnotes

[1] J. Cheryl Exum, “Feminist Criticism: Whose Interests are Being Served?,” in Judges and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, ed. Gale A. Yee (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 66.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Exum, “Feminist Criticism,” 70.

[4] Richard G. Bowman, “Narrative Criticism: Human Purpose in Conflict with Divine Presence,” in Judges and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, ed. Gale A. Yee (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 36.

[5] Tracey R. Rich, “Prophets and Prophecy,” Judaism 101, accessed 26 October 2018, http://www.jewfaq.org/prophet.htm.

[6] Bowman, “Narrative Criticism,” 38.

[7] Aaron Brody, “Ugarit & The Late Bronze Age – Circa 1300-1200 BCE; prior to Iron I, period of the Judges” (lecture, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA, 4 October 2018).

[8] Bowman, “Narrative Criticism,” 28.

[9] Exum, “Feminist Criticism,” 66.

[10] Ibid, 70-74.

[11] Exum, “Feminist Criticism,” 65.

 


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Jail Classes Thriving

The two classes I mentor at Elmwood Jail are thriving. The Education for Ministry (EfM) class has been going since 2015, and the Transforming Literature of the Bible (TLB) class started this year. Both will be recruiting new inmate students this month for the next sessions.

The Rev. Canon William Barnwell created TLB in the early 1980s at the University of New Orleans, and continued its development for many years at National Cathedral. Between May and August 2018, in consultation with Canon William, I revised the 36 sessions in the Hebrew Bible and Christian Testament, kept some of the original literature, and added more diverse selections appropriate to jail ministry in California. The literary selections are included to provide a diverse context in which to understand some of the major themes in the Bible passages under consideration. In May, I started the first TLB Hebrew Bible pilot class in a minimum security men’s dorm. This TLB program is in addition to the EfM program also presented weekly, in a medium security dorm at Elmwood.

We finished the first full (two term) TLB pilot class in October – graduating our first students. The overall rating for the class is 93% Excellent, with 93% of students reporting that they would Definitely recommend the class to others.  One student who just graduated turned down an early release date so that he could finish the class. Thirteen signed up for the third TLB term that started in October.

I am grateful to my Co-Mentors Diane Lovelace and Joel Martinez, and my husband, John Plocher (with the Rev. Peggy Bryan as backup). This program is supported by the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy  (CIC), St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and the University of the South – School of Theology, EfM Program. Thanks to Collette Lynner of CIC for supporting TLB production.

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Photos Copyright 2018 by Katy Dickinson

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Interfaith Panel on Religion and Environment

Today, the Islamic Networks Group (ING) presented an interfaith panel discussion on Religion and the Environment at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Saratoga, California (the Silicon Valley).  I was honored to be the panelist representing Christianity, joined by other certified interfaith speakers who are Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim.  Some of the questions we answered, in addition to those from the audience:

  • What texts or traditions in your religion speak to the relationship of humanity to the natural world and the importance of caring for the environment?
  • Stewardship can be interpreted as living in harmony with the earth: careful and responsible management of shared resources; or dominance and making the most out of an owned resource. How does your faith tradition interpret stewardship of the earth? Does your religion have a formal position on this?
  • What personal or community practices have you observed in your faith group with regard to these teachings?
  • How do adherents of your faith consider climate change? Do people in your religious tradition feel a responsibility to respond to climate change? What have you observed in this area in your faith community?
  • St. Andrew’s holds an annual Faith and Innovation Conference. Technology and innovation have had both positive and negative effects on the environment, for example: reducing transport emissions on the one side, and on the other side using developing countries as a dumping ground for e-waste. Does your religious tradition have a point of view on this? What have you observed in this area?
  • How can religious traditions and groups work together for the good of the planet?

Each of us researched and brought notes to the panel.  Part of what I said was about Christianity and Environmentalism in the Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox branches, and part about the ongoing tension between Stewardship and Dominion. My materials included:

  • From St. Andrew’s Prayers of the People
    • (2 Sep 2018) “Creative God, we pray for the earth. Keep watch over those who rescue endangered species and repair scorched landscapes. Make us good stewards of creation.”
    • (16 Sep 2018) “Creative God, quarks and galaxies bear witness to your imagination.  Inspire scientists, naturalists, and conservationists who work to conserve precious natural resources. Grant us the wisdom to be good keepers of the earth.”
  • From 1982 Episcopal Hymnal – 14,161 hymns include “earth” – 5,274 include “sky” – and 5,254 include “stars”
    • “For the beauty of the earth” – “For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies. Christ, our Lord, to you we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise…”
    • “The Holy Trinity” Verse 4 – “Holy! holy! holy! Lord God Almighty! All thy works shall praise thy Name, in earth and sky, and sea…”
    • “Earth and all stars” – “Earth and all stars, Loud rushing planets, Sing to the Lord a new song! Hail, wind, and rain, Loud blowing snow storm, Sing to the Lord a new song! God has done marvelous things. I too sing praises with a new song!”
  • Book of Common Prayer: Prayers and Thanksgivings, Prayers for the Natural Order pp.827-828
    • 40. For Knowledge of God’s Creation
    • 41. For the Conservation of Natural Resources
    • 42. For the Harvest of Lands and Waters
    • 43. For Rain
    • 44. For the Future of the Human Race
  • “Steward” in the Bible, 20 mentions in NSRV. The steward’s job: Manager of house and lands and workers – Master of the Household (Isaiah 22:15)
    • “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” 1 Corinthians 4:2
    • “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain” Titus 1:7
  • “Dominion” in the Bible, 50 mentions in NSRV – Ruler, owner, in control over
    • “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”” Genesis 1:26
    • “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Genesis 1:28
    • “Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Psalm 103:22
    • “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” Romans 6:9

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Photos Copyright 2018 by John Plocher

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Collect from Jail

I am getting ready to go to my Education for Ministry (EfM) seminar at Elmwood Jail in Milpitas tonight. Before driving from San Jose to Milpitas after dinner, I make printouts of the varied information the guys requested during the last class. Today, I am bringing in:

Each term, the students write at least one Collect together at the end of a theological reflection. A collect is a prayer meant to gather the intentions of the people and the focus of worship into a succinct prayer.  Their group prayer last week was:

Dear God: holy, righteous, omnipresent, all-knowing, superstar, elusive, father of lights, love…

You are: so cool, great, ever-powerful, gracious, miraculous, creative…

We pray that you: forgive us for our sins, bless us, reconcile us with those we have hurt, make us more humble in spirit, make us happy, will illuminate our hearts and minds…

So that we: can forgive ourselves, live what we confess with our mouths, can live our lives in a state of grace, can be your hands and feet in the world.

Amen.

I have from time to time posted other collects written by earlier Elmwood classes.

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Photos Copyright 2018 by Katy Dickinson

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Starting Master of Arts in Social Transformation, Finished Revising TLB

Today is my first day of orientation at Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkeley for the Master of Arts in Social Transformation degree.

Yesterday, I finished editing and revising the final document for the “Transforming Literature of the Bible” (TLB) program. I have been working on TLB since May 2018 and have finished two books, 36 sessions, 604 pages total.

This has been a busy few days but I wanted to finish TLB before starting studies at PSR.  Literary selections are included in TLB to provide a diverse context in which to understand some of the major themes in the Bible passages under consideration.  In addition to readings in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), the students of Book One also read:

  1. “The Welcome Table” story by Alice Walker (1973)
  2. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1955)
  3. “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears” poem by Mohja Kahf (2003)
  4. “The Son from America” story by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1973)
  5. “The Big Red Apples” story by Zitkála-Šá  aka Red Bird (1900)
  6. “My Last Duchess” poem by Robert Browning (1842)
  7. “I Have a Dream” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King (1963)
  8. O Pioneers! excerpt by Willa Cather (1913)
  9. “The Family of Little Feet” story by Sandra Cisneros (1984)
  10. The Gangster We Are All Looking For excerpt by Lê Thị Diễm Thúy (2003)

In Book Two, in addition to New Testament readings, the literary selections are:

  1. “At the Arraignment” poem by Debra Spencer (2004)
  2. “A Private Experience” story excerpt by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009)
  3. “Sonnet XXVII” by William Shakespeare (1609)
  4. “Under the Poplars” poem by César Vallejo (1919)
  5. “The Grand Inquisitor” excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov, by Feodor Dostoevsky (1879-1880)
  6. Farewell to Manzanar excerpt by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston (1973)
  7. “XVI” poem by Emily Dickinson (circa 1890)
  8. “Limits” poem by Jorge Luis Borges (circa 1961)
  9. “A Discreet Miracle” excerpt by Isabel Allende, from The Stories of Eva Luna (1989)
  10. “The Fullness of Time” poem by James Stephens (circa 1900)

I am collaborating on the revision of TLB with the Rev. Canon William H. Barnwell who wrote the original course. In addition to revising Canon William’s 2008 course materials, I am running a pilot version of the class itself at Elmwood Jail (Milpitas, California). I am grateful to my Co-Mentors Diane Lovelace, and my husband, John Plocher (with the Rev. Peggy Bryan as backup). This program is supported by the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy  (CIC) and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.  Thanks to Collette Lynner of CIC for supporting TLB production.

More pictures from my PSR Orientation week:

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Photos Copyright 2018 by Katy Dickinson.

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The Way of Love – in Jail

Joel Martinez and I are Education for Ministry (EfM) Co-Mentors for a weekly class at Elmwood Jail in Milpitas, California.  We were recently part of a class to renew our mentor accreditation in the University of the South – School of Theology‘s EfM program.  During the training, Joel and I discussed how we could extend the theological reflections and discussions with the jail inmates.  We decided to use the structure of “The Way of Love – Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life” – a new program of the Episcopal Church, by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Canon Stephanie Spellers.

Joel reviewed the published material and prepared a handout about The Way of Love.  I edited the handout and added more Bible quotes and passages from the Book of Common Prayer.  We distributed the handout as homework to the EfM seminar on 15 August 2018.  With permission of the inmates, Below is some of what they said in class 22 August 2018 about what they found valuable and world continue to work on in their lives. This EfM program is supported by the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

More: Joel’s blog on 26 August 2018, discussing The Way of Love with St.Andrew’s Youth.

TURN

Meditating on issues, problems, and God – alone, without distractions when possible EfM, having a solo-cell, quiet time Pay it forward, doing nice things for others without expectation of reimbursement
Praying Spiritual discussions, joining EfM Meeting with spiritual advisor, EfM, prayers at night
Will continue to work with priest, other EfM students and mentors Pray at night and daytime – for other people and for my family .

LEARN

Compare scripture stories and verses to life experiences See an action that reflects what God wants us to do – doing the right thing for the right reason. Know that I am doing OK in this situation Reading scripture in a more modern context – seeing Jesus in the world today – “new age Jesus” – even among non-Christians
Imagining scripture scenarios inspires – look for wording to break down meaning – how it is presented Share with EfM classmates, cellie, my Mom Referring to prior Bible passages that were meaningful when I read them before

PRAY

Remember to pray at meals and certain times of the day – thank God throughout the day A single cell helps – quiet time Use the “Catholic Prayers” book – favorite prayers tied to times of day – grace at meals – say guardian angel prayer when I wake up
Grace before meals, thanks throughout the day Read “Daily Bread” every morning, pray with EfM class Devotions before dinner

WORSHIP

Saturday chapel, Sunday mass, read the Bible after church, read biographies of saints EfM weekly – being part of the class Only regular service in the jail dorm is Catholic, go to Episcopal service when available

BLESS

Talk about God a lot – show my faith through kindness and love, smiling, laughing Give people hope – spin negative to positive Opportunities to advise, counsel, bless, help feed when I can, give wisdom and encouragement – do what I can
Can try to advise but can’t always convince, bless the hungry and those truly in need, choose to help based on real need – try to be smart and not be taken advantage of Never say no – follow the example of St. Francis – learning when to set barriers .

GO

Programs  help – like RRR (Re-educate, Recovery, Re-entry), and MRT (Moral Recognition Therapy), and Enneagram, and EfM Outside programs for recovery – letters and certificates help to get in EfM, thanking God during the court process, talking with other inmates when in transit
Sometimes have good conversations in the holding tanks Coach and guide new inmates – scared people – reassure them .

REST

Meditation, working out, stretching Exercise, sleep, daydream Stopped being a dorm Trustee so could get more sleep
Rest in God’s grace – know he is sufficient – pray for help to get through this (not to get out of it) Meditation – close my eyes and breathe – meditate lying down: pull energy through body into the world Use “Be still and know that I am God” prayer for meditation, to quiet my mind – still trying

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The Way of Love image is from The Episcopal Church, 2018.

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Finished Shakespeare’s Henry VI

Since the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California) Shakespeare Reading Group started meeting in 2012, we have read almost all of the Bard’s plays at least once.  We meet about every two months for a potluck dinner and to read a play – taking turns hosting.  Since April, we have been reading one of Shakespeare’s early hits, the three play history series on Henry VI and the Wars of the Roses.  Our group of 13 last night ranged in age from 92 to 16 years.  I am the group Mentor – sending out recommended reading and movie links in advance, assigning roles, and giving an overview on each play before we read.  The Rev. Stephenie Cooper prepares a role analysis to keep us from having too many readers being assigned roles who speak with each other. Melita Thorpe is in charge of the theater program for the parish. Some of us read from paper books and others from iPads.

The favored roles in our group are the evil characters.  Our 16-year-old reader of Richard of York (the future Richard III) enthusiastically murdered most of the other characters. John Watson-Williams, our 92-year-old reader, asked to read the role of the classic politician Warwick the Kingmaker.  I read King Edward IV whose unwise marriage to Elizabeth Woodville changes his reign.  My husband John Plocher read all of the messenger roles in his usual energetic and irreverent style.  We had a delightful evening!

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Image Copyright 2018 by Katy Dickinson.

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