Saturday, August 22, 2009

Holy Transvestisism

I have just finished reading Joan of Arc by Mary Gordon. The author provides abundant historical background for many events in Joan's very short career as a visionary military leader and political prisoner.

One important aspect of her life is her public and frequent reference to her virginity as a defense of her right to participate in a manly occupation. She also followed in the tradition of holy transvestites, usually women who chose a monastic life in rebellion against their parents.

Joan made no attempt to disguise herself as a man, but still believed that her masculine attire (also cutting her hair) was a necessary precaution in remaining a virgin in military life. Other woman in history maintained a masculine disguise until their deaths. Some were thought to be eunuchs, and thus lived a marginalized life in which their gender was not challenged.

In view of this it is fascinating to read two posts which deal with the correct interpretation of Deut. 22:5.
    A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.
Here is an example of the standard historical interpretation by Walter Kaiser,
The maintenance of the sanctity of the sexes established by God in the created order is the foundation for this legislation, and not opposition to idolatrous practices of the heathen. The tendency to obliterate all sexual distinctions often leads to licentiousness and promotes unnaturalness opposed to God's created order. Such a problem can arise in contemporary culture when unisex fashions are aimed at producing the bland person in a progressive desexualization of men and women. Thus, this provision aims mainly at one's clothes as an indication of one's sex.
There is an obvious contradiction. Historically, women have chosen to dress as men, with or without the intent to deceive, in order to remain virgins. This could be interpreted as unnaturalness, but hardly licentiousness.

Second, there is an informative post here which I warmly recommend. Dr. Mariottini has written many scholarly posts about women in the Hebrew Bible. He concludes,
    Although scholars have rejected the anti-transvestism law of Deuteronomy 22:5 to be a ban on Canaanite practices, I take the view that this Deuteronomic prohibition is a protest against the immoral practices of Canaanite fertility religion.

    My view is based on the statement in the text that the practice of transvestism in ancient Israel was considered to be “an abomination to the Yahweh.” The expression “an abomination to the Yahweh” generally refers to cultic practices which endanger the purity of the religion of Yahweh. Since the reason offered by the Deuteronomic writer for the prohibition of transvestism in Israel uses the strong argument that it is an abomination to Yahweh, then, the practice of cross-dressing suggests some kind of cultic offense.

1 comment:

Jay Seidler said...

The opinion of Mariottini is surely the right interpretation. I was earlier today reading Lev. 17:3-4 "If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp,and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the LORD in front of the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people". At first you might think this is a strange law regulating the place of animal slaughtering until you get to vs 7 and understand there a specific cultic offence occurring in this context. vs 7 "So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore.".