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.

Our Bible App

My seven-day devotional series called “Christian Faith and Gender Identity” just launched on Our Bible App (OBA for short). OBA is a progressive, LGBT-inclusive app launched in 2017 that:

started as an alternative to devotional and Bible apps made by large, conservative, and destructive “Christian” media organizations. … These popular Bible apps celebrate and propagate purity culture, weaponizing Christianity to reinforce the “value” of straight, cisgender marriage and dating. Additionally, these apps don’t talk about Christianity’s long entanglement with racism, colonialism, and white supremacy.

Continue reading “Our Bible App”

Queer Theology

Queer Theology launched a big giveaway today, which gives me a great excuse to blog about them more generally.

First things first. The giveaway includes a signed copy of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation (signed by the author), as well as Transforming (signed by the author), Trans-Gendered (signed by the author), Walking Toward Resurrection (digital), as well as 5 other queer Christian books. This mega-pack also includes stickers, t-shirts, and a one-year subscription to the Sanctuary Collective including online courses, their monthly digital magazine Spit & Spirit, and an archive of past webinars.

Yeesh. I need to take a nap now! That’s a lot. Total value $304 (which seems low to me, especially given the priceless autographs, but ok…). They just want your email address so they can send you loving and supportive perspectives on LGBTQ Christianity. Seems like a win-win to me.

The giveaway ends October 10. Now, more about Queer Theology:

Continue reading “Queer Theology”

Choose Life, Deuteronomy 30

Our friends over at Queer Theology were talking about Deuteronomy 30:15-20 on their podcast this week. I start chapter 1 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation with the same theme (specifically Deuteronomy 30:19):

I am now giving you the choice
between life and death,
between God’s blessing
and God’s curse,
and I call heaven and earth
to witness the choice you make.
Choose life.

Deuteronomy 30:19
Good News Translation Continue reading “Choose Life, Deuteronomy 30”

I Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story, 2018

As I write this, The Rev Lawrence Tanner Richardson’s I Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story (2018) is on sale at Amazon for $0.99 through Labor Day (2019).

In his dedication, Richardson writes, “I wrote this book for several reasons and several people, most especially me.” Indeed, trans folk finding our voices is powerful. This book is an origin story for Rev Richardson.

Continue reading “I Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story, 2018”

Jael/Yael (Judges 4-5), 2019

It’s a Bible Bash weekend again! My friends, Peterson and Liam, are at it again, bringing new life to an ancient text. This time, they are talking about Yael (also a little bit about Deborah and others) and Judges 4-5. This is a story that I touch on in chapter 20 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, but this Bible Bash adds additional  insight and texture to the story. Continue reading “Jael/Yael (Judges 4-5), 2019”

Voices of Witness: Out of the Box, 2012

“Voices of Witness: Out of the Box” is a documentary giving voice to the witness of transgender people of faith with a particularly Episcopalian flavor. Available in its full 30 min length on YouTube for free, with study guide materials also available for free download. Continue reading “Voices of Witness: Out of the Box, 2012”

Trans-forming the Church: Blessed Bodies and Gender Justice, 2017

Rev Liam Hooper created the “Trans-forming the Church: Blessed Bodies and Gender Justice,” online video curriculum when he was working with the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) as their national transgender organizer.

This free 30 minutes of video content provides an easy way to test the waters about transgender experience in your local congregation. It could even be used to provide a crash course in transgender sensitivity for ushers or other church leaders. Continue reading “Trans-forming the Church: Blessed Bodies and Gender Justice, 2017”

Walking Towards Resurrection: A Transgender Passion Narrative, 2015

I actually wrote chapter 25 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation as a riff off of Walking Towards Resurrection: A Transgender Passion Narrative (2015). Fr Shay’s e-book is probably the first, unapologetic works of transgender theology that I became aware of. That was ground-breaking and important for all of us to experience.

Continue reading “Walking Towards Resurrection: A Transgender Passion Narrative, 2015”