Word Becomes Flesh….

7 Feb

On March 28th, the film “Noah” opens. I would imagine the timing is strategic as Easter follows shortly afterwards on the calendar. Already some of the Christian world is up in arms claiming that it won’t be true to the Bible or biblical enough. That it will be too saturated with Hollywood’s penchant for violence and sex. Well, spoiler alert. The Bible has lots of violence and sex.

Personally, I’m thrilled as I think the Bible is rich with source material for epic cinema. Done well, it could have the power to illuminate as well as entertain. But cinema is a different medium than literature and the Bible is its own unique form of literature anyway, comprised of poetry, genealogies, historical accounts, narrative, parables and letters. Anytime a book is adapted to screen, it has to translate into the specifics of film making. To compare the two is like trying to find the similarities between apples and oranges.

But that does not mean the endeavor isn’t worthwhile. On the contrary. There is much to be gleaned from taking characters and themes from the Bible and allowing the Word to become flesh. By doing so, we are able to play with the text, explore it and apply it to our own lives. Is this a form of eisegesis instead of exegesis? Perhaps. But aren’t we always bringing our own experiences and perspectives into interpretation anyway?

I remember exploring Genesis stories in a psychodramatic fashion with seniors in an orthodox Jewish nursing home in New York. At first there was some some resistance for deconstructing the text in such a fashion. Then there was great enthusiasm. And do you know what the common reflection was after exploring the Noah story in this way? That the rainbow at the end, which serves as a sign of God’s covenant with the earth, for them represented symbolic hope that the Holocaust would never again occur…. Yes, our own lives impact how we see the world around us.

In the last year, I have been exploring characters from the Bible by acting a few pieces from a collection of monologues found in Lady Parts: Biblical Women and the Vagina Monologues. I’ve been performing the character of Jael and the Woman Caught in Adultery.

The Woman Caught in Adultery, written by Lisa Nichols Hickman is a beautiful piece clearly reflecting redemption themes and also a woman’s burgeoning awareness of her innate worth separate from her sexuality. The story is only found in the Gospel of John and some claim it was included only for specific theological illustration.

The story of Jael is found in Judges. Most don’t know it. She kills a Canaanite warrior, Sisera with a tent peg and is lauded as a heroine of Israel. This strong interpretation by Emily Havelka is quite subversive. When given the chance to actually speak, the imaginary Jael says she didn’t kill Sisera for Yahweh or Israel. She did it to save herself from being raped. Is this true to the Bible? Well, no. But is it feasible. YES. Right after the mention of Jael’s victory is the Song of Deborah. In it, there is mention of Sisera’s mother who would be eagerly waiting for her son to return. She says, “Are they (her son and the men), not finding and dividing the spoil? – A girl or two for every man…” (Judges 5:30). Personally, I find it disgusting that a mother would talk so nonchalantly about other women being raped by soldiers but this was the reality. And indeed, near the end of Judges, a concubine is brutally gang raped and left for dead because, “all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” “And they raped my concubine until she died. Then I took my concubine and cut her into pieces…” Judges 20:6.

These things don’t mean so much until you actually hear from the people they concern the most in the story.

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