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  • The Role of the Androgyne in the Biblical Subversion of the Mytho-Sacrificial WorldExploring the Early Messianic Lineage as a Series of New Adams
  • Peter John Barber (bio)

androgyne, cultural gender, biblical androgyny, non-differentiation, the Adam, messiah, Yahweh Alone, René Girard, feminist, Jacob, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, David

Is biblical messianism essentially androgynous? This paper aims to explore examples of gender-ambivalent characters in the Hebrew Bible and to assert the presence of a trend in the character development of messianic figures.1 This trend indicates intent to subvert mytho-sacrificial social norms, or what René Girard has called the sacrificial world.2 I argue that in the following select texts we encounter the promotion of gender nondifferentiation and equality, at least in certain critical circumstances. In this manner, the Hebrew Bible includes the countercultural assertion that nondifferentiation is not the real threat to cosmos, to life and peace, as the prevailing mythological worldview suggests. Rather it can be a necessary component in salvific efforts. In fact, the evidence points toward early messianic figures being defined by their relative androgyny, or nondifferentiation in terms of gender.3 And I suggest that these androgynes would [End Page 203] appear to be restorations of the Adam,4 the Lord’s first and closest image-bearer according to the Genesis creation accounts.

I will argue my reading by first observing the nature of the Adam in the creation accounts and then by looking selectively at a few examples of subsequent characters in the Hebrew Bible—namely, Jacob, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and David—that display countercultural androgynous behavior and are described as, by virtue of their very androgyneity, staving off the threat of violence and/or death for Israel. This resolving of potentially catastrophic problems, through violation of the very social distinctions thought by the religious world to be the protection of society, constitutes the conquest or subversion of that mytho-sacrificial world.

It is recognized by many students of religion and culture that social distinctions are enforced as part of an effort to control violence and death in society:

A single principle is at work in primitive religion and classical tragedy alike, a principle implicit but fundamental. Order, peace, and fecundity depend on cultural distinctions; it is not these distinctions but the loss of them that gives birth to fierce rivalries and sets members of the same family or social group at one another’s throats.5

As a result, transgressing for example gender boundaries is not merely distasteful but dangerous from a cultural or mythical perspective. As René Girard points out, part of the work of the biblical revelation, or Yahweh’s liberation movement in the text,6 is to expose this assumption regarding the need for false distinctions as unfounded because there remains another and natural way for humans to find peace and life.7

The Bible moves toward nonacceptance of the apparent gender norms of (ancient Canaanite and surrounding Near Eastern)8 culture, as part of a larger ideological warfare within the text against oppressive and violent social categories and practices, which are suitably termed sacrificial and mythological in the Girardian sense. Girard has discussed how gender ambivalence is feared by (mythological) culture, being associated with the threat of chaos, and is therefore one of a number of perceived nondifferentiated states that are controlled via myth, sacrifice, and law (culture’s three religious pillars).9

The social categories, including gender roles, that emerge directly from this mythological fear and its sacrificial response are trappings of the religious world out of which the Hebrews via the Yahweh-Alone movement are attempting to find a way, or an “Exodus.”10 As a part of this effort, the [End Page 204] writers and redactors of the Hebrew Bible offer up androgynous (male-female) characters (in terms of behavior) that subvert the mytho-sacrificial assumption that androgyny is a threat to cosmos, by making these androgynes the heroes and heroines of Yahweh and Israel, the kingdom of God.

The Yahweh-Alone movement has a number of symbols that emerge for its articulation in the Hebrew Bible, of which, I suggest, the androgyne explored here is a central example. Such characters reject the...


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