Saturday, October 07, 2006

"Put Your Finger Here" Part 2

Rating: QGT

Related post: "Put Your Finger Here" Part 1

Lo, the Metanoia: Turning Around

Norman Jewison's film of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar draws upon the Gospel according to John for its depiction of Caiaphus and the priests of the Sanhedrin:
He's just another scripture thumping hack from Galilee!
The difference is they call him King, the difference frightens me!
...Put yourself in my place
I can hardly step aside
Cannot let my hands be tied
I am law and order9

No one in his/her right mind would try to pass off Tim Rice as a biblical scholar; neither will I. Still, I will postulate that the libretto and production of Jesus Christ Superstar reflects some common, even classical, understanding of the passion story.

The fear of "difference" Caiaphus articulates is a fear that is both external and internal. He fears the "difference" of Jesus, who is external to him; but he also fears being "different" than he has been. Quite frankly, he identifies as a top who has always been a top: he "cannot let [his] hands be tied." Jesus is not only a threat to his political power: for Caiaphus, Jesus represents his submissive side, the part of him that is vulnerable--perhaps even wants--to be tied, to give over, to experience passion, and it is deeply terrifying to him precisely because it is so powerful.

Foucault writes of "[t]he omnipresence of power: not because it has the privilege of consolidating everything under its invincible unity, but because it is produced from one moment to the next, at every point, or rather in every relation from one point to another. Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere."10 It is this understanding of power that finally makes sense of the synoptic Gospel stories of Jesus beginning his ministry by receiving baptism from John (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-23); his encounter with the hemorrhagic woman (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48), in which Jesus knows "that power had gone out from" him, and then tells the woman, "Daughter, your faith has made you well"11; and the Syrophoenician/Canaanite woman, who teaches Christ compassion (Matthew 15:22-28, Mark 7:25-30).

This paper has been accepted for publication in Theology and Sexuality and the final (edited, revised and typeset) version of this paper will be published in Theology and Sexuality, Volume 13 Issue 2, January 2007 by Sage Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © Sage Publications Ltd, 2007.

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Jesus' deeds of power--the kerygma--take place almost without exception within the realm of the human body and its functions. Those signs that do not involve the body directly are not deemed miraculous in the text until they participate in bodily functions: the miracle at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) is revealed after the water-turned-to-wine is tasted (John 2:7-10); the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-14) is perceived after everyone has eaten his/her fill.

Ingrid Rosa Kitzberger makes an argument for "the essential message of the [Fourth] Gospel that the Word became flesh, was incarnated, and can therefore 'only' be experienced in concrete reality."12 Concrete reality--whether created or constructed--demands that Jesus' body participate in the imperative--whether divine or social--of sexual differentiation subject to gendering. But participation does not necessarily mean acquiescence. Resistance is not only an option for participation in power discourse; it is an essential component of it. Without resistance there is no power.13 Indeed, the kerygma may be seen as a series of acts of resistance pointing to the reign of God by altering the power constructs within which they were performed. Worldly powers are not negated by these acts; rather, these worldly powers are transformed as they participate in the very events that resist them.

The worldly power of the Roman Empire expressed certain characteristics of an essential "masculinity" whose chief attributes are solidity, immutability, and impenetrability: for example, a fixed location--Rome--as the center of power; a fixed hierarchical structure; penetration of territory and conquest of peoples. By way of contrast, essential "femininity" was marked by fluidity, mutability, and receptivity. Women, in this taxonomy, are changeable, penetrable, and mobile. The dynamic of power as it flows through women is flexible and adaptable; that flexibility and adaptability is feminine power. Because it is so, woman's power is not tied to a particular place; rather, she accesses whatever power she may engage from wherever she happens to be.

Imperial colonialism--be it Roman, British, Statesian, or otherwise--is dependant upon a fixed center from which it goes forth to conquer. When the seat of power is penetrated--in other words, when the empire's "essential masculinity" is violated--expansion halts and control over colonized territories weakens as forces are drawn back to the center in order to rescue the seat of power. Empires expand and contract; empires rise and fall; but they do not move.

In the Gospel accounts, Jesus' deeds of power were accomplished in many places and under a variety of circumstances. Like the power of women, the power that Jesus accessed appears to be--as Foucault might say--everywhere and nowhere, not residing in a place from which it issues, but flowing through acts of human will in response to the need of the moment. Jesus' public displays of that power, like the public display of women's power, tended to transgress both civil and religious hierarchy. Jesus' transgression, like female transgression, threatens not just those individuals in positions of localized power, but the very structure and center of the hierarchy itself which is founded upon the impossibility of such transgression.

According to Anne Carson, "Female transgression begins in social fact... Woman is a mobile unit in a society that practices patrilocal marriage (which Greek society is generally agreed to have done), and man is not. From birth the male citizen has a fixed place in the oikos ('household') and polis ('city-state'), but the female moves."14 From the beginning of his ministry as recounted in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus' mobility aligns him more with the feminine than the masculine in the common worldview of the Greek society to which the narrative is addressed.

Could the geographic mobility we see in Jesus' ministry function as a beginning expression of Jesus' gender mobility? Consider this: In Making Sex, Thomas Laqueur makes the point that according to Aristotle, human genitalia--being essentially the same in both male and female--are secondary sexual characteristics.15 In other words, one's essential femininity tends to cause the genitals to be physically expressed in a particular way, while another's essential masculinity tends to cause the genitals be expressed in another way.

Jesus, in the gospel accounts, is a "man"--one whose essential masculinity is expressed in his body--who acts and is acted upon in ways that are increasingly expressive of femininity in the ancient Greek ontology described by Carson and Laqueur. In addition to the synoptic examples cited above, Jesus' submission to crucifixion by a male-identified empire can be seen as the ultimate act of gender mobility. In this context, it is possible to understand the crucifixion as an act of rape, in that it is constituted of a series of violent penetrations of the body to which the victim submits but does not consent.

Rebecca Ann Parker writes,
To say that Jesus' executioners did what was historically necessary for salvation is to say that state terrorism is a good thing, that torture and murder are the will of God. It is to say that those who loved and missed Jesus, those who did not want him to die, were wrong, that enemies who cared nothing for him were right. We believe there is no ethical way to hold that the Romans did the right thing. We will not say we are grateful or glad that someone was tortured and murdered on our behalf.16

In Brock and Parker's Proverbs of Ashes, we see the salvific event as one that occurs in history and therefore within a specific context; otherwise it is not salvation, but merely a folktale, an urban legend, a pot of gold at the end of a vanishing rainbow. Salvation is not easy, and submission does not equal consent in the perpetration of crucifixion any more than in the perpetration of rape. Both are horrible, hateful, death-dealing, abusive, terrible and terrifying acts of the human will. The crucifixion of Christ is the pure embodiment of everything in humanity that requires salvation.

As previously stated, submission in ancient Greek society is the "natural" expression of femininity. Given Aristotle's contention, as interpreted by Laqueur, that genitalia are only secondary results of one's essential masculinity or femininity, we may speculate that it is possible that submission trumps the penis as signifier of the subject's sex. We may further speculate that these constructions would have influenced, at least subliminally, the early Greek Jesus-believing communities in their perception of the crucifixion event.

yours in the struggle,

9Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice.
10Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I, 93.
11The words in quotes are identical in both Mark and Luke; Matthew lacks reference to "power [going] out from him" and reports Jesus saying, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well."
12Ingrid Rosa Kitzberger, "'How Can This Be?' (John 3:9): A Feminist-Theological Re-Reading of the Gospel of John," in "What Is John?" Volume II: Literary and Social Readings of the Fourth Gospel, ed. Fernando F. Segovia (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998), 39.
13Foucault, 95.
14Anne Carson, "Putting Her in Her Place: Woman, Dirt, and Desire," in Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, ed. David M. Halperin, John J. Winkler, and Froma I. Zeitlin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 135-136.
15Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990, 28-29. Laqueur writes that Aristotle "insisted that the distinguishing characteristic of maleness was immaterial... What we would take to be ideologically charged social constructions of gender--that males are active and females passive, males contribute the form and females the matter to generation--were for Aristotle indubitable facts, 'natural' truths. What we would take to be the basic facts of sexual difference, on the other hand...were for Aristotle contingent and philosophically not very interesting observations about particular species under certain conditions."
16Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, Proverbs of Ashes. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003, 49.


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