Monday, August 27, 2007

A Better Place Than You!

Isaiah 56:3-5

"...nor let the eunuch say 'Here I am, a dry tree". For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths and choose (the things) that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." (KJV)

"And let not any eunuch complain, "I am only a dry tree." For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant - to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off." (NIV)

Again I offer both versions as there is a slight difference, perhaps, between the two. In the King James Version, God's "house" could be the church, or it could be heaven itself. In the New International Version, it more specifically mentions the temple. But remember, this is the same temple from which those with "wounded stones" were to be denied entry. This, then, is completely the opposite suggestion contained in Deuteronomy 23:1. To understand, one must know more about Eunuchs.

In a clinical sense, a "eunuch" is a castrated male, but in ancient times, the term likely also included any male who could not procreate. We have come to believe that the eunuchs were slaves, forcibly castrated, to serve the pharaohs and kings within the walls of their homes and castles. This ostensibly - though medically incorrect - rendered them "harmless" to the women of the court. In fact, there were slaves who were castrated, but there were also those who sought out the positions in the court that were frequently held by eunuchs. They did so under their own need or free will as these were positions of power and respect. That suggests that the eunuchs of the Bible, were in fact, transgenders. It is only better medicine and better surgical skills that distinguishes me from them. Accepting that notion is critical to much of what follows not only in this lesson, but of other verses that also cite the eunuchs.

That said, does this mean what I think it means? A place in Heaven (or at least the Temple) for transgenders better than men (sons) or women (daughters)...everlasting? When I discuss other faith beliefs, we'll learn that many hold transgender souls with some sort of mystical esteem. Perhaps this is what Isaiah wishes to impart as well. In a strictly theological view, Heaven is Heaven - there aren't areas or partitions or some places that are better than others. Still...it is an interesting promise nonetheless!

Of course, this segment falls flat if you do not accept the notion of eunuchs being the ancient word's transgenders. And thus this definition from the Bible itself:

Matthew 19:12

"For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from (their) mother's womb; and there were some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuch's for the kingdom of heaven's sake." (KJV)

Could this be any more plain? "So born from their mother's womb", to me at least, indicates an acknowledgement of the Intersexed. Intersexed people existed then as now. Certainly the people of the time were aware of them. "Made eunuchs of men", to me, speaks to those who were forcibly castrated to serve the powerful. "Made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake", to me, means me - and all other transgenders. Recall the earlier lesson in which I argued that it is impossible for the transgender to be whole and authentic - thus fulfilling God's plan for us- without transforming our gender role and presentation. In fact, there are many that would offer that "from their mother's womb" also pertains to transgenders in addition to the Intersexed, since the condition of gender identity is felt to be from birth.

Initially I wasn't going to include both KJV and NIV texts for each verse - that would help shorten the essay - but when I went to read the NIV version of Matthew a glaring discrepancy arose: "For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." This is why it is extremely difficult to accept the Bible in literal terms. "Renounced marriage" is not something that is part of the definition of the eunuch. There was many who "renounced marriage" in that day...and there are certainly plenty of modern day people who have "renounced marriage", or are not married, who are not also transgender. This translation clouds the text and alters its meaning dramatically. On the other hand "because they were born that way" is a much more direct explanation than "from their mother's womb". Yes, transgenders are "born that way".

Taken together, these verses from Isaiah and Matthew (the KJV text especially) seem to contradict, if not completely negate, those of Deuteronomy. Both come much later in the Bible, Isaiah being near the end of the Old Testament and Matthew is the initial book of the New Testament. There are other instances where "newer" verses are said by many theologians to supplant, or override, "older" ones.


1 comment:

Lawrence said...

These essays are remarkably well organized and persuasively argued in the absence of formal 'theological' training. I'd want to add a clarifying thought to the business of using different Bible versions -- which is actually a very good thing, because there is NO version that we 'moderns' today can reliably conclude is absolutely true and correct (therefore 'literalism' -- word for word inerrancy -- is an impossibility). No person alive today -- and in fact, no person ever alive throughout history -- has ever seen all of the 'books' of the Bible in their original versions. First, they were written over a period of several thousand years; second, there was not a consensus until hundreds of years after Christ's time as to which writings were 'Biblical'; and third, every version we have today is a translation of a translation of a copy of an edited copy of a rewritten and 'improved' version of the original author's work (whoever he -- rarely she, but not impossible -- was). And I don't accept the idea of God standing over the shoulder of each author, editor, scribe, copyist, translator, etc. to guarantee that the subsequent edition would be as true and accurate as the preceding ones. If that were so, there would be no instances of books that are obviously intended to justify the actions of the current king, or to explain why there is often no historical or archeological evidence that agrees with or supports Biblical accounts. But more important, if God were personally applying exacting and literal standards to the transmission of the Bible through the millennia, there would not be differences in the wording between one version or another -- and there would not be versions in different languages, because some words and terms and phrases are simply not accurately translatable from one language to another. Yet there is a proliferation of Bibles in hundreds of different human languages and dialects, while some fundamentalists continue to insist that ONLY the King James Version can be considered literally true -- as if Jesus himself spoke 16th century English, not 1st century Aramaic (which only appears in the Second Testament in occasional single words and phrases, a mere handful) while the entire remainder of the Second (or New) Testament was written in Greek -- a style of Greek, in fact, that is no longer spoken anywhere in the world. So it is wise to consult a variety of translations, consider the differences carefully, refer to 'experts' when they seem too different to reconcile, and then, ultimately, rely on the meaning that God gives you in your heart.

Lawrence