"Walk Like an Egyptian!"
The Season after Pentecost
Lectionary Reading: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 (Excerpts adapted from the Inclusive Bible)
When Joseph's brothers saw Joseph approaching in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to murder Joseph. They said to one another, "Here comes the dreamer! Now's our chance! Let’s kill Joseph and throw his body in one of these pits. We'll say that a wild animal devoured him. Then we'll see what becomes of Joseph's dreams!"
Joseph's brother, Ruben, intervened and saved Joseph from their murdering him, saying, "No bloodshed! It’s one thing for us to throw him into a pit in the wilderness, but let’s not murder him!" Ruben's intention was to later rescue Joseph form the pit and return him to their father.
So when Joseph arrived at his brother's location, they stripped him naked tearing off the highly ornamented robe he wore, and picked him up and threw him into the bottom of deep pit. The pit was empty, and there was no water in it.
As they sat down to eat their meal, they saw an Ishmaelite caravan approaching. Joseph's brother, Judah, said to the others, "What is our monetary gain in murdering him and concealing his death? There's no profit in it for us. Why not sell him to the Ishmaelites? He is, after all, our flesh and blood, and this way his blood will not stain our hands." The others were all in agreement.
So, they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for eight ounces of silver and the Ishmaelites took Joseph with them as a slave to be resold in Egypt.
During the time of Egypt's 5th Dynasty, the 25th and 24th centuries BCE; two men worked, lived, and built a life together within their societal paradigm as a committed same gender family. They were both employed as body servants to the Pharaoh and as such, held positions of esteem within Egyptian society. We know this because the two men, Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, held to the traditional Egyptian after-life beliefs and provided for their life together beyond mortal existence. They built a tomb in which their joint burial as a couple would occur. They outfitted it in the traditional Egyptian funerary ways by stocking it with all the things they would need to continue their lives as a couple beyond the mortal life, including decorating the walls of the tomb with images of themselves as a family. The image at the top of this reflection of two men in romantic embrace is from the wall of their tomb and is depicting the couple, Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, as they appeared in life. In other of their tomb paintings, they are represented occupying the same stances and positions as are those of traditional Egyptian iconography which depicted a married couple. To date, the image is the oldest known image of a same gender couple. The couple’s names are referred to as “chosen names” because at some point during their life, they chose to change the names they received at birth in order to better describe themselves. Niankhkhnum means "joined to life" and Khnumhotep means "joined to the blessed state of the dead,” and when read together their names are translated as "joined in life and joined in death."
The discovery of Khnumhotep’s and Niankhkhnum’s tomb in 1964 astounded Egyptologists and archeologists because prior to its discovery, no tomb had been discovered as being so exactingly representative of that of an opposite gender couple yet the tomb was that of two men. Detractors immediately began to dismiss the evidence of the men being a same gender family and insisted that the men were brothers because, they reasoned, the relationship of the two men, as evidenced in both life and death, was not representative of a “traditional” Egyptian family, and therefore, they could not be a couple. Yet if the way in which they were depicted in the tomb’s hieroglyphs was that of two brothers, then they were guilty of committing incest. Short of hanging a rainbow flag over the entrance to their tomb, the indication of their relationship in representing themselves to the world as a same gender family could not be any clearer. Even the choices of household gods worshiped by the couple were unique in their representation of male sexuality and their pairing of male fertility gods with other male gods.
Approximately 500 years after the passing of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, Joseph, the child of a very non “traditional” family, the 11th son of Jacob, and the 1st son of Rachael, arrived in Egypt after being kidnapped, stripped naked, beaten, thrown into the bottom of a well, threatened with murder, and finally sold into slavery by his 10 older brothers. Needless to say, Joseph's family is NOT the Waltons! If you are looking for an example of "traditional family values," this family, not so much! This isn't the first time I've engaged Joseph's very less than ordinary family arrangement in one of my reflections. Recently in my reflection titled "I'm Getting Married in the Morning!"
(http://therevsisterbishop.blogspot.com/2011/07/im-getting-married-in-morning.html) I reflected upon the fact that within neither the Hebrew nor Christian Scriptures is there a single verse which specifically states that marriage shall be between one man and one woman. Needless to say, when examined, Joseph's family is a model of this being the case. Joseph has four mothers. His biological mother, Rachael, is also the sister of Leah, a second of Joseph's four mothers. In addition to being sisters, both Rachael and Leah are the cousins of Joseph's father, Jacob. This convoluted familial arrangement therefore makes Joseph cousins to both of his mothers and his father. As was the case with the fallacy that marriage is dictated by the authority of Scripture to be between one man and one woman, so too is the fallacy that there exists a standard, "traditional" family arrangement instituted by God.
For the sake of clarity, allow me to repeat:
There does not appear anywhere within the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures a diagram, a standard or an implication that there exists, nor has been Divinely instituted, a "traditional" family upon which a model for family is to be established.
This is verified by Jesus within the narrative of the Christian Scriptures. In the Gospel attributed to Matthew (Chapter 22: 23-33) there is recorded a discussion with Jesus by individuals, who in an attempt to trick Jesus in regard to the validity of the Laws of Moses, question Jesus in regard to one of these very unusual, completely non-traditional (by implied Western, Christian paradigm) familial arrangements. Within the narrative, the antagonists of Jesus, relate how the Laws of Moses allow for a woman, whose husband has died but without producing any children, to be passed on to the woman's brother-in-law in order to become impregnated. In this particular passage, the woman is passed not to one brother-in-law, but to numerous in-laws. One Bride for Seven Brothers! The woman has no say so in the matter. As each brother dies, she is handed off to the next brother-in-law as a piece of inheritance property. A conveniently overlooked, and only one of many, examples of there not being within the pages of the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures any paradigm, model, standard or dictate as to what is referred to in the West as the "traditional" family. Just as with the invented-out-of-whole-cloth idea that "marriage is between one man and one woman," the idea that there has ever existed in all of human history a Divinely based standard for what constitutes a family is wholly fantasy, an invention of the heteronormative power majority.
As I began my preparation for this reflection, I kept encountering a very tired homophobic falsehood (one of many) regarding the “Gay Agenda.” Supposedly, one of the items on this fantasy of homophobic minds agenda is “the destruction of the family.” As I hold my head in pain in regard to the complete and utter absurdity, I wonder how this idea could ever be perceived to be possible in that if non-heteronormative, non-gender specific, same gender loving individuals are seeking the legal recognition of their partners as being both a marriage and a family, how then does the construct of a family destroy family?
It is not the legal recognition of the union of same gender loving individuals as being married, nor is it the legal recognition of their unions in constituting families which is destructive. Instead, the single most destructive and intrusive institution in all of human history, which has caused more harm and pain to any definition of family, is the Christian church.
Through its tools of shame and fear, the Christian church has forced countless individuals into loveless marriages. Throughout much of the history of the Christian church, men and women who, having been denied the freedom of developing their innate same-gender loving sexuality entered into, for the sake of safety and appearance, marriages of misery.
The Christian church stood by endorsing the institution of human bondage: slavery. Children were torn from their mother’s and father’s arms, women and men were separated by force, all because the Christian church said that the sale of human beings was blessed by God and the Scriptures.
In the history of the North American west, the Christian church was the accomplice in the destruction of indigenous families. The Christian church promoted and endorsed, for the sake of empire, the twisted theology of Manifest Destiny. As the American empire expanded toward the Pacific Ocean, the Christian church established boarding schools whereby the children of the indigenous peoples of North America were forcefully removed from their families and sent away to be “civilized” by the Christian church. The children were denied their language, traditions, culture and families all in the name of Christian missionary zeal.
The traditional message of the Christian church has been repentance: Because human beings are intrinsically evil from birth, they must repent (turn away) from their sinful natures and turn toward God thereby insuring the eternal salvation of their soul. Yet, the message of repentance has been lost on the Christian church as an institution. The institutional church has lost its soul. The Christian church as an institution has not repented of its sin of destroying people’s lives, of standing by endorsing the sale of human beings as property, of the persecution and death of anyone who questions the power and authority of the institution. The institution of the church has not repented of its sin of denying and, at best, perverting the teachings of Jesus Christ.
If the Christian church wants to remain relevant in modernity, it must cease its insatiable hunger for the power and control of people’s lives. It must “turn from its wicked ways.” The Christian church has become an afterthought in much of the West. Cathedrals have become museums. The average age of Christian clergy in the West is advancing upward as the people of younger generations no longer see the relevance of the institution of the church in either society or their lives. Churches built just a few decades ago to hold hundreds on Sunday mornings are nearly vacant now as the fading refrains of pipe organs and hymns echo off of cold walls and empty pews. The grasping for the control of individuals and the power of being the arbiter of society’s morality will be the institution’s own demise.
Whether the endorsement of slavery, the destruction of indigenous peoples and cultures or the persecution of non-gender conforming and same gender loving individuals; the theme has always been the same: Dehumanization. The people of the African continent were deemed less than human so their enslavement was advanced. Indigenous peoples were not “civilized” so the destruction of their culture and lives was justified. Same gender loving people are reduced to animalistic sexual acts – abominations - and therefore their persecution is legitimized. Sexually driven animals don’t have families, therefore, the denouncing of their unions as being non-families is pronounced.
There is repentance needed: Repentance from the sin of dehumanizing the children of God.
Unique family arrangements are, literally, as old as the pyramids. Individuals who did not meet the Western paradigm of "the traditional family" have existed for all of human history. Families can be biological or they can be chosen. Yet, the single defining characteristic has remained constant throughout all of history: People who love one another.
May you this day, and every day of your life, strive to see every child of God through the eyes of Jesus Christ. For it is in seeing every human being through the eyes of Christ which allows us to be able love all of humanity as did Christ.
“Walk Like an Egyptian!”