Joseph and the Hypocrisy of Biblical Literalism

I want to talk about the hypocrisy of biblical literalism today, but, first, I want to get you caught up on the story of Joseph of Genesis. Peterson Toscano brought us one of the biggest breakthroughs in transgender biblical interpretation (ever) through his work on Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible. If you already know about Joseph and his “princess dress,” then you can skip the next paragraph.

In Transfigurations, Peterson tells the story of Joseph (Genesis) through the eyes of his uncle, the uber-masculine Esau. While the live production has been retired, you can get it on DVD or streaming on Amazon. The excerpt about Joseph is even available as a YouTube video in support of the DVD.

To the best of my knowledge, this interpretation was first offered by Theodore W Jennings Jr in his 2005 book, Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel, but Peterson traveled the country (and the world) making this Good News known.

I spent Chapter 19 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation talking about Joseph(ine). Hint, hint: It’s not just about the “princess dress.” I also spend a much shorter chapter on Joseph in Christian Faith and Gender Identity: An OtherWise Reflection Guide.

To my mind, the bottom line is that the most literal reading of Joseph’s coat is that it was a “princess dress.” The phrase is ketonet passim. In 2 Samuel 13:18, it literally says, a ketonet passim was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore.” We don’t need queer theory or historical-critical exegesis. This is just plain and simple use of the Bible to interpret the Bible. This is a literal reading of the text.

Still, in online discussions of my work and Peterson’s work, I have repeatedly heard folk argue that this interpretation is not “credible.” Granted, there are other viable interpretations. It may have been a unisex royal cloak or an ornate garment with long sleeves, as scholars have long proposed. However, that less specific interpretation is not what 2 Samuel says. 2 Samuel 13:18 literally says that this cloak was a princess dress. It is a rare example of scripture specifically providing a definition. It is simple and straight forward.

Now often when we see masculine language in scripture, we take liberties to shift toward “brothers and sisters” or the people–to make the reading more gender inclusive. Masculine language has often served as a default and this is a legitimate shift from a masculine to a “unisex” reading.

Many languages have gender built into the language in this way. For instance in Spanish, hijos can mean “sons” or it can mean “children.” While the masculine reading is “literal,” it is an question of context and interpretation to decide when that masculine word indicates “sons” and when that masculine word means “children.” Hebrew operates similarly.

However, it really doesn’t work the other way! In Spanish, hijas always means daughters (never children of diverse genders). In Hebrew, feminine nouns are not used as generic, un-gendered words for people. In this text, it specifically says a ketonet passim is for the virgin daughters of a king. Virgin and daughter are both feminine words.

But they are not just feminine words. They are feminine words that really mean something in terms of gender, in terms of the power, significance, and care that are passed along to the children of royalty (in a variety of cultures). Virgin daughters would be available for a political marriage to a prince in another country as a way to secure an alliance. This availability was important and would often be made visible through clothing and jewelry, just a like a ring on a particular finger represents marriage in Western cultures.

There is plenty more to this text and to Joseph’s story, but the Bible literally says that the garment Jacob made for Joseph was a princess dress.

Still, people resist. There is a similar dynamic around eunuchs, where trans-antagonistic trolls (Christian or not) admonish transgender people to read Deuteronomy literally yet refuse to take the affirming words about eunuchs from Jesus in Matthew seriously. These are some of the most obvious examples, but the tendency is widespread.

For all the moaning about “biblical literalism,” anti-transgender forces pick and choose what passages to take literally and what passages to ignore as much as anyone does. Remember that “Because I Said So” is not a reasonable argument for a particular biblical interpretation. If someone is not willing to be consistent in their reading of the Bible, then there is good reason to suspect their motives.

Obviously, we have all been conditioned to read the Bible in “traditional” ways. That is, in accordance with the ways we were taught to read it by others. Just remember that those “traditions” also include white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and gender oppression. They are perspectives shaped by human readers who themselves had an “agenda” — even if it was simply an agenda to make Bible characters look more like the cisgender, heterosexual, men that they were most familiar with.

More OtherWise Self-Defense blog posts:

Order Transfigurations: https://petersontoscano.com/portfolio/transfigurations/

MORE RESOURCES: Transgender and the (Christian) Bible

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on January 4, 2020.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have corrections or are able to contribute further context or reflections.

Reading the Bible as a Trans-Affirming Ally

Thank you to Will O’Brien and Lydia Wylie-Kellerman for suggesting that I write for the Radical Discipleship blog! This is a blog connected to many of the communities that were also connected to The Witness magazine as well as The Other Side magazine. In other words, (primarily) Christian folk who care about the Bible and justice. This is in some ways a circling back for me, since I worked at The Other Side magazine for nearly 10 years and the folk at The Witness were colleagues and friends.

In any case, the article I came up with is in some ways processing some of the pushback I’ve received from folk who read Christian Faith and Gender Identity on Our Bible App, as well as from internet trolls after my visit to Minneapolis. This isn’t actually a “self-defense” article so much as a “helping allies do better” article, but still it falls in the same category. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as a Trans-Affirming Ally”

Book Event: Alternative Seminary Course on Eunuchs, Philly, Nov 2

On Saturday morning, November 2, 2019, I am going to lead a one-session course for the Alternative Seminary, called Transgender Liberation: Intersectional Identities, Alternate Genders, and the Biblical Testimony of Eunuchs.

I will be teaching from OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, with a particular emphasis on Section 4: Eunuchs, Eunuchs, and More Eunuchs. Yes, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll be talking about eunuchs!

Continue reading “Book Event: Alternative Seminary Course on Eunuchs, Philly, Nov 2”

Ebed-melech: The “Other” Ethiopian Eunuch (CORRECTED)

CORRECTION: While the “other” Ethiopian eunuch DOES n’t appear in Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible, I DIDN’T REALIZE IT!!

Here’s my advice watch BOTH the lecture version AND the performance version. There is some overlap, but you’ll miss some important insights if you only take the time to do one or the other.

Peterson Toscano has also done important work bringing this story to light. Ebed-melech wasn’t in the original performances (back in the day), but Toscano tells the story on the Transfigurations DVD in the lecture version, chapter 7, which debuted in the live performances around 2010 (according to Peterson).

Continue reading “Ebed-melech: The “Other” Ethiopian Eunuch (CORRECTED)”

Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible (DVD), 2007, 2017 (CORRECTED)

Peterson Toscano’s one-man theatrical production has been extremely impactful in terms of raising awareness of gender variant characters in the Christian Bible. Peterson performed Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible for live audiences beginning in 2007. He retired the production in 2016 and then released a DVD version in 2017–which I highly recommend as a study resource, both for individuals and for groups. The movie can be streamed on Amazon and there is also a study guide.

Continue reading “Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible (DVD), 2007, 2017 (CORRECTED)”

Resisting Empire, 2019

The problem with having dear friends and colleagues with a podcast is that you kind of want to profile them every time they release a new episode! Apparently, you’re going to have to get used to it, because Peterson Toscano and Liam Hooper are at at it again!

Continue reading “Resisting Empire, 2019”

Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch: Strategies of Ambiguity in Acts, 2013

Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch: Strategies of Ambiguity in Acts by Sean D. Burke was a surprise winner for me. I stumbled on this book as I was doing an internet search for something else. I went on to cite Dr. Burke’s work in four chapters (4, 11, 15, and 20) of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation. Continue reading “Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch: Strategies of Ambiguity in Acts, 2013”

Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God, 2013

When Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God came out in 2015, I saw it celebrated by intersex friends and colleagues. This book, by Megan K. DeFranza also threw open the doors and windows for me as I was writing OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation. Continue reading “Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God, 2013”

Ashpenaz the Chief Eunuch (Daniel 1), 2019

In chapter 16 (“A Flock of Eunuchs”) of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, I mention Ashpenaz in passing as I describe the variety of eunuchs mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Ashpenaz was the chief eunuch of the court in Baylon and took (the prophet) Daniel (of the lion’s den) under wing, along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (of the fiery furnace).

Peterson Toscano and Liam Hooper dig deeper into what we know about Ashpenaz in the 4th episode of their Bible Bash Podcast. While the Book of Daniel focuses a lot on Daniel, Peterson and Liam take the time to listen more carefully for what we might understand about Ashpenaz, rather than skimming right on past him as most do.
Continue reading “Ashpenaz the Chief Eunuch (Daniel 1), 2019”