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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 12: Jayme Reaves

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Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Jayme Reaves (www.jaymereaves.com) and I am a public theologian, scholar, and activist working on the intersections between theology and public issues such as gender, race, peace/conflict, interfaith cooperation, and culture using the disciplines of feminist and liberation theologies.  I am also the newly appointed Coordinator for the Centre for Encountering the Bible and Short Course Programme at Sarum College, starting in December 2018.

In the earlier years of my professional career, I lived and worked in both the Former Yugoslavia and in Northern Ireland, seeking to ground my theology and commitment to peace and justice to practical application by working to support peacebuilding, conflict transformation, and reconciliation processes. In both the Northern Ireland and FRY contexts, I was struck by the interplay between hospitality and hostility, where both profound welcome and violent exclusion simultaneously co-exist, and where the project of a mixed society does not necessarily lead to living together well. That observation led to my PhD research which built a framework for understanding an interfaith theology and ethic of protective hospitality through providing sanctuary or refuge for the threatened other based on Hebrew Bible and Qur’anic textual studies as well as case studies based in Bosnia during the 1990s conflict.  That research was published in 2016 by Wipf & Stock and is titled Safeguarding the Stranger: An Abrahamic Theology and Ethic of Protective Hospitality. (www.jaymereaves.com/safeguarding-the-stranger).

Because of my research around hospitality and activism towards more peaceful and just communities, I do regular workshops on hospitality as political practice, taking it from the realm of tea and biscuits and more in the realm of loving revolution where it belongs.  For me, hospitality is strong, brave, and fierce in its love and dedication to welcome; it is not weak and mousy, deferring and demure as it is so often portrayed.  I work with communities in both the US and UK on exploring the practice of providing sanctuary, equipping communities of privilege to understand their obligations to care for the stranger, to use their privilege to speak for and provide justice, and to understand that a ultimately a life of faith is a life of risk rather than comfort.  The Sanctuary Movement in the US – with those at risk of deportation taking refuge in religious and community buildings – is different than it is here in the UK at the moment, but the potential in the UK for direct, non-violent, life-saving action in resistance to state oppression towards immigrants is growing.  My activism, research, and experience calls me to support this movement in whatever way I can.

My work is driven by my activism, and I continue to be captivated and dedicated to the idea that a healthy, peaceful society is one that is proactive about the “other” (whoever that “other” is), caring about their needs, rights, suffering, and celebrations as our own and being willing to put ourselves and own wellbeing at risk for them.  My research, experiences, and faith has taught me the value of hospitality as a prevailing ethic for everything (or “ethic par excellance” in the words of Jacques Derrida), and I know communities who make that pro-activity towards hospitality for others a priority and see the difference it makes in their lives and in the world around them.  

In addition, my primary work with The Shiloh Project to date has centered around research being led by my colleague David Tombs at The University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.  For years, his research has focused on the crucifixion and sexual violence, and in our project we are conducting workshops called “When Did We See You Naked?”(www.jaymereaves.com/naked) with churches and communities who wish to explore the Mark 15 text of Jesus’ trial, torture, and crucifixion in more detail, considering the ways in which Jesus is sexually abused by the multiple public strippings as well as understanding more fully the context of crucifixion practice within the context of Roman political oppression.  We know this work is important because it shifts the paradigm of the conversation in terms of victimization, blame, stigma, silencing, and guilt.  In this era of #MeToo, the time is ripe for interrogating our theology and liturgical practices to uncover the ways in which we have enabled and turned a blind eye to sexual abuse and sexualised violence in our religious traditions.

As part of my public theology work, I also co-host the Outlander Soul podcast (www.outlandersoul.com), which looks at reading the contemporary fiction Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon through the lenses of theology, religion and spirituality, and engages with its fans about the role it plays in their lives as a sacred text. Part of this work is driven by my own love and joy as a fan, but also by my dedication to making feminist and liberation theological methods more accessible.  In many ways, the podcast has served as “theology by the back door,” giving listeners a taste of particular approaches and perspectives that they don’t hear in their own religious communities, and the feedback we have received from some listeners saying how much it means to them that we are able to connect their love of Outlander to their spiritual/religious lives.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

I think the work of The Shiloh Project is invaluable as I don’t know of anyone else in the UK who has both the same level of scholarship, activism, dedication to public outreach, and independence from religious structures that Shiloh does.  The Shiloh Project is, in many ways, a sum of its parts and all of us who are involved with its work are doing great work, but it helps to have a larger body to amplify our voices as one calling for gender justice and more inclusive, responsible religious communities and readings of sacred texts.  

Lately in my own personal journey and in smaller writing/research projects, I have been working to identify and address whiteness in my own feminism and the ways in which my activism may have inadvertently perpetuated white supremacy or silencing of women of colour.  In light of that – and because of my own need – I’d love for The Shiloh Project to provide more attention and resources for addressing the blind spots and assumptions of white feminism, supporting difficult conversations that need to happen around the intersections between race and gender justice.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

In the year ahead, I have a few collaborative projects fueled by my own activism that I think will contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project.  First, David Tombs, other colleagues, and I are planning to continue conducting “When Did We See You Naked” workshops in New Zealand, Australia, US, UK, Peru, and South Africa, and also expanding them to run in the Former Yugoslavia, where a context of systematized sexual abuse as an instrument of war was a reality for many.

Second, my colleague, Terry Menefee Gau, and I at the Outlander Soul podcast continue to be committed to using the Outlander series as a vehicle for teaching feminist theology and hermeneutics, while making dedicated efforts to name and discuss sexual violence, gender issues, and rape culture both in the series as well as in religious and secular culture.

Third, I have been in conversation with several feminist theologians, clergy, and activists recently about putting together a one-off or series of women’s events that speaks to their experiences and offers space for reflection around themes related to women’s bodies as well as the stories they read and tell.  I have no idea what shape that might take in the end – as it’s not just up to me – but it’s important for me to make sure that the work I’m doing is accessible and applicable to women’s lives both inside and outside of the academy and church.

Fourth, I am working in partnership with several organisations around training, equipping, and supporting networks dedicated to providing hospitality and working toward justice and reconciliation in their local areas.  My role as tutor and mentor is to ensure the needs and particular concerns of women and most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation are highlighted, as well as encouraging those networks to provide space for those same people to speak for themselves.

Lastly, in my role at Sarum College, I very much look forward to working with internal and external colleagues to expand its reputation for innovation and supporting theological development that works toward gender justice and the common good. And, let’s be honest, I don’t really know how to operate any other way!  It’s great to finally have a supportive home for my work and an institution that is also dedicated to ensuring that learning goes beyond the walls of the academy to impact lives and communities in real, life-sustaining ways.

Website: www.jaymereaves.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JaymeRReaves

Twitter: @jaymereaves

 

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 7: Richard Newton

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Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Richard Newton, PhD. I am Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. My research investigates the connections between humans making difference and making a difference in the world. I am fascinated by how the identities that people assume are actually the dynamic struggling through which people work out their aspirations in relationship to their context. These processes, for me, give shape to the discourses we call race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexuality, etc. And given our inklings about how these social markers work, their impact and volatility continue to mystify. In this regard, my scholarship has tried to develop a vocabulary and grammar to parse these politics. I call this work the “anthropology of scriptures,” the study of the cultural texts that form and inform our relationships. It’s an enterprise that brings front and center the issues that are hard to talk about, too important to ignore.

 As I think about my work from graduate school onward, I suppose my scholarly identity is most aptly expressed around cultivation and curation. A few years ago, I turned my personal blog into a collaborative multi-media magazine called  Sowing the Seed: Fruitful Conversation in Religion, Culture, and Teaching. The idea was to work with students and scholars at different stages and across the disciplines to think about how we produce knowledge that helps us better understand social difference. Undergraduates have published pieces alongside senior scholars. Students have created websites and mini-documentaries. And our podcasts have featured a range of provocative thought-leaders. In four years we’ve partnered with people at over 20 institutions of higher education, not counting our conversation partners on social media. We know that their contributions have been a resource for high school classes, college courses, religious communities, and activists. But the real shock is that our readers are taking our work outside of their own echo chambers and discussing them with the friends and family with whom they scarcely talk about these issues. Our small internet community isn’t viral, but it is vibrant.

 And I count myself fortunate that so many of the team at The Shiloh Project have read or even  contributed to our project. The Shiloh Project’s recognition of the Bible’s legacy in gender-based and sexual violence has given me so much to consider. And the work continues.

 How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

 The Shiloh Project has also been brilliant in using an online and conference model to reframe the conversation in generative ways. For instance, many  historians of the Shiloh Project have done a noteworthy job in countering the myth that rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence are new. Rather, we are learning to pay attention in ways and in spaces and to people that have otherwise been ignored.

 Today’s technology does offer us a different type of challenge—and opportunity—that I think digital projects like Sowing the Seed and the Shiloh Project must face. How do we engage in meaningful conversations when people have so many choices for online media? So while the #MeToo movement demonstrates the timeliness of our cause, we must find ways to be more responsive to the needs and the questions of the people who want to engage with us. Does it mean Twitter chats, Facebook Live discussion, or an Instagram feed of convicting content?  I really don’t know. But I think it’s time for us to reflect on how we can best marshal our energies.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?

I am really hoping to find ways to more formally work with entities at The Shiloh Project and the Sheffield Interdisciplinary Institute for Biblical Studies. There are a few talks I’m hoping to deliver and some articles for which I’d like to find a home. I think there are many ways that social theory and the anthropology of scriptures can help us consider gender violence in relation to the Bible and Bible readers. So I look forward to affirming some of the connections facilitated by the Shiloh Project and its international network.

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CALL FOR PAPERS – Special Journal Issue: Activism in the Biblical Studies Classroom: Global Perspectives

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Call for papers: Special Edition of the Journal for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (JIBS)

Activism in the Biblical Studies Classroom: Global Perspectives

Does activism belong in the university Biblical Studies classroom? If yes, with what purpose, outcome or agenda? Which teaching strategies are effective? How can/should/might Biblical Studies and activism engage with each other?

Activism is understood here as relating to human rights and the abolition of discrimination, including discrimination and activism in relation to:

Race and ethnicity
Gender and gender identity
Sexual orientation
Class
Disability and ableism
HIV status
Mental health
Religion, faith and belief
Fat stigma
Ageism
Motherhood and pregnancy
Voluntary/involuntary childlessness
Abortion and abortion stigma

This list is indicative and not exhaustive. We welcome submissions on any area of activism in conjunction with any biblical text.

We are looking for practice-focused contributions informed by academic research and/or theory.

Submissions should be between 4000 and 10,000 words.

All submissions will be subject to the usual blind peer review process.

Send proposals to Guest Editor Johanna Stiebert (j.stiebert@leeds.ac.uk) by 31 March 2019 and completed papers by the 2 January 2020.

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Outlander Soul Podcast: Sexual Violence in Outlander (discussion with Emma Nagouse)

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Outlander Soul continues part 2 of their conversation with Emma Nagouse, whose research at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) at the University of Sheffield (UK) focuses on religion and sexual violence. In this episode, Emma and Jayme Reaves discuss Christ imagery and suffering, the Geneva & Laoghaire question, Fergus, and sexual violence as depicted in Outlander more generally.

(An obvious trigger warning that there will be discussion of rape, sexual violence, and rape culture in this episode).

 

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Outlander Soul Podcast: Season 2 Episode 3: Jamie & The Man of Sorrows (Sexual Violence in Outlander Part 1)

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Over the next two episodes, the Outlander Soul podcast welcomes Emma Nagouse, whose research at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) at the University of Sheffield (UK) focuses on religion and sexual violence.

For Part 1 of this series on sexual violence in the popular TV series Outlander, Emma and Jayme Reaves discuss Emma’s research on Jamie Fraser and the Man of Sorrows, a character in Lamentations 3 in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and the implications of male rape as depicted in biblical texts and in Outlander.

Read more on Emma’s Outlander Research here.

(An obvious trigger warning that we will be talking about rape, sexual violence, and rape culture in this episode).

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White Rose Collaboration Fund Project Update

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On Wednesday 10th October members of our White Rose Collaboration Fund Project met for an update.

The White Rose Collaboration Fund is designed to support emerging collaborative activities across the three White Rose universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. Our project focuses on using religious imagery in popular culture to explore and challenge everyday sexism, sexual harassment and abuse together with secondary school students.

In consultation with secondary schools from all three White Rose regions and Fearless Futures, a third-sector organization offering gender equality training for school-age girls, the network will conduct three pilot workshops with secondary school students (girls and boys) to investigate interactions with religious imagery in popular culture and the ways in which these representations shape understandings of gender, sex and sexualities.

Members of the White Rose universities involved in the project include Professor Vanita Sundaram (University of York), Professor Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds), Dr Katie Edwards (University of Sheffield), Dr Meredith Warren (University of Sheffield), Dr Valerie Hobbs (University of Sheffield), Dr Jasjit Singh (Unversity of Leeds), Dr Caroline Starkey (University of Leeds), Sofia Rehman (University of Leeds), Dr Sarah Olive (University of York) an Emma Piercy (University of York).

As usual, the meeting buzzed with energy, ideas and enthusiasm. We’re very much looking forward to working with our partners Fearless Futures and the local schools. We’ll update again after our training!

 

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The Handmaid’s Jail: Framing sexual assault and rape narratives in biblical comics (video)

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Abstract: With an increase in comic book representations of biblical stories on our bookshelves, discussions surrounding how to approach retellings of difficult material such as rape narratives, extreme violence, murder and genocide are at a critical juncture. For those comic book creators who want to include every aspect of these stories, questions concerning how they interpret and represent such narratives abound; for those who are less concerned with fidelity to the text, questions concerning what they leave out and what they leave in present themselves.

In this paper I will discuss the representation of Hagar, Bilhah and Zilpah in biblical comic books, arguing that the creators of such comics rarely depict the scenes as rape or sexual assault narratives.

This talk was delivered at the 2018 Religion and Rape Culture Conference. Click here to see more videos.

Zanne currently holds a postdoctoral position with the University of Glasgow, teaching in Biblical Hebrew, the Hebrew Bible, Bible and popular culture, and Bible and reception history. She completed both her PhD and MTh degrees at the University of Glasgow, focusing on remediations of Genesis in comic books and artwork, and in particular, how women were represented in biblical comics. Her current research projects broadly involve remediations of the Bible in comic books, issues related to representations of gender in the Hebrew Bible and popular culture, and the reception of biblical text in marginalised communities.

Header image: Sarai suggests the use of Hagar’s body to Abram (Genesis 16:2) in R Crumb’s The Book of Genesis.

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Negotiating the Silence: Sexual Violence in Israeli Holocaust Fiction (video)

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Abstract: When American Jewish writers write about sexual violence against Jewish women in the Holocaust, they talk around the subject. Rape is implied. Sexual slavery described in broad strokes. Euphemisms abound to explain scenes in which women use sex in an attempt to bargain their way to survival. By contrast, when Israeli Jewish women write about sexual victimization during World War Two, there is a direct attention to detail; in fact, the sexual sadism experienced by the female characters is often a central point of the text. My talk will explore how the literary treatment of rape can act as a litmus test for a community’s sense of vulnerability or, its opposite, self-assurance, while keeping in mind that obfuscation and euphemism are linguistic acts of denial seeded in the Biblical story of Abraham and Sara’s first sojourn into Egypt.

This talk was delivered at the 2018 Religion and Rape Culture Conference. Click here to see more videos.

Miryam Sivan is a former New Yorker has lived in Israel for twenty years. Much of her fiction is about the experiences of ex-pats in love, in flux, in the liminal space between cultures, languages, and historical epochs. She is a lecturer of English Literature at the University of Haifa. Her book, Belonging Too Well: Portraits of Identity in Cynthia Ozick’s Fiction, was published by SUNY Press (2009). In addition to numerous scholarly publications, she translated On the Blossoming, a book of poems by Leah Goldberg (1992).

Her short fiction has appeared in Lilith, Arts and Letters, Wasafiri, Jewish Quarterly, and other publications. A collection of short stories, SNAFU and Other Stories was published in 2015. Her novel, Make it Concrete, will be published in the fall of 2018 by Cuidono Press in NYC.

Header image: Taken from the cover of “And the Rat Laughed” by Nava Semel

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The Handmaid’s Jail: Framing Sexual Assault and Rape Narratives in Biblical Comics

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Zanne Domoney-Lyttle teaches and researches at the University of Glasgow. Her research centres on comic book and graphic novel adaptations of the Bible through the perspectives of literary criticism, art criticism, comics theory and gender studies. Her doctoral thesis explored the space of comic books as visual aids to scripture, the tension between authorship and authority in biblical comics, and who has the right to reinterpret ancient sacred texts in a new graphical-visual medium. The following essay is based on Zanne’s presentation at the Religion and Rape Culture Conference organized by the Shiloh Project in July 2018.

The Handmaid’s Jail: Framing Sexual Assault and Rape Narratives in Biblical Comics

Dr Zanne Domoney-Lyttle

“Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.

He went in to Hagar, and she conceived.” (Genesis 16:3b-4a)

In a post I wrote for this blog in November 2017, I discussed how biblical comics tend to avoid difficult scenes from the Bible, including visual depictions of rape, torture, violence and slavery. I argued that there is a reason and a need to represent such events in the graphic medium, because excluding difficult narratives erases not only violence and horror but silences the voices and experiences of the victims involved.

An alternative perspective is that comic book artists who choose to leave out “texts of terror” (Phyllis Trible, 1984), may do so because they do not want to be complicit in any act of sexual violence or of assault on the memory of the victim. Another reason is that they do not want younger or otherwise vulnerable readers to see violent scenes. Because of this, biblical scenes, which are unambiguously about rape and sexual assault – such as the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34) or the rape, murder and dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19) – are intentionally left out in the majority of biblical comics.

But while these stories, which we might term “obvious” rape narratives, are often left out and often for reasons such as those just proposed, less “obvious” stories also depicting rape and sexual assault are often included. Moreover and disturbingly, there is often no indication that these stories can and should be read as stories of sexual aggression. Instead, violence is elided, rape becomes “just sex”.

To give one example, the story of Hagar in Genesis 16:1-4 is usually included in biblical comics, but never with any indication that Hagar is subjected to sexual servitude and abuse – namely, rape – in order to fulfil God’s promise to Abram for descendants.

A number of feminist biblical scholars, including J. Cheryl Exum, Phyllis Trible, Renita Weems and Susanne Scholz, have written compellingly about the importance of reading Hagar’s story as one of enslavement, rape and forced marriage and pregnancy. This is a burgeoning area of research in biblical studies and yet, the idea of reading biblical stories through the lens of classism and enforced motherhood is not one that is represented in mainstream comic adaptations of Bible material.

Comic book adaptations of Hagar’s story are always shown from the perspective of Abram and his “need” to have children. Depictions rarely, if ever, concentrate on the perspective of Sarai his wife, let alone on Hagar, a slave. Hagar is not so much suppressed in biblical comics but her representation is “shallow”, without autonomy and reflects a purely patriarchal perspective. Added to the exclusion of her voice, comic book creators also employ certain visual tools and word-choices, which further misrepresent the experience of Hagar. The effect of this is to imply her consent to sex and surrogacy and to normalise the treatment she receives at the hands of God, Abram and Sarai.

© R. Crumb, 2009

Let us turn to R. Crumb’s visual rendering of the story of Hagar (Genesis 16:1-6) in his The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R, Crumb: Hagar is introduced here as a solution to the problem of Sarai’s infertility. Given to Abram “as a wife”, the striking image which accompanies Genesis 16:3-4 depicts Sarai presiding over the “marriage”. This ceremony (of which there is no trace in the biblical text), moreover, resembles a traditional heterosexual Western wedding ritual, complete with officiant (Sarai), binding of hands and the face-to-face positioning of “bride” (Hagar) and “groom” (Abram). By referring to Hagar as a “wife” and graphically capturing her union with Abram in this way, Crumb encourages the reader to view the union as legal, consenting, sanctioned by God and as legitimate – rather than as a forced marriage between a slave and a powerful man for the purpose of producing Sarai’s surrogate child. This is further supported by Crumb’s word choice in his remediation: he uses “handmaid” rather than “slave-girl”.

Throughout the creation of his Genesis, Illustrated, Crumb relies heavily on three translations of the book of Genesis: the King James Version (KJV), the Jewish Publication Society version (JPS) and Robert Alter’s translation of and commentary on Genesis. The latter is the most prominent in his work and is clearly the source he relies on most.

This makes Crumb’s decision to use the word “handmaid”, rather than Alter’s “slave-girl”, even more conspicuous. Alter argues persuasively in his commentary that to describe Hagar (and Bilhah and Zilpah) as handmaids imposes a misleading sense of gentility on the sociology of the story. He goes on to suggest that describing Hagar as a maid rather than as a slave conveys the sense of a person in paid employment of their own volition, as opposed to somebody who is forced to work without wages, rights or freedoms.

© R. Crumb, 2009

So, Crumb choosing to call Hagar “handmaid” and depicting her transaction with Abram as a consenting marital union, suggests to the reader that Hagar enjoys some status and privileges, including the ability to choose marriage and pregnancy. This is further enhanced by Crumb’s commentary on his graphic version of Genesis where he provides his thoughts on Genesis 16:4b, “and when [Hagar] saw that she had conceived, her mistress seemed diminished in her eyes.” Crumb argues that Hagar’s attitude towards Sarai is threatening, because by being pregnant, Hagar is in a position to usurp Sarai’s position as matriarch of the family.

Crumb encourages readers to see Hagar’s treatment in Genesis as consensual and in her favour by choosing specific words and visual codes for his images. By doing so, narratives of slavery, rape and assault against Hagar are erased or forgotten and the reader glosses over her story, understanding it only as a means to fulfilling God’s promises to Abram.

One could argue that Hagar’s depiction in Crumb’s Genesis, Illustrated is representative of her appearance in the biblical text. The biblical text, too, is primarily focused on Abram and his role in God’s plan. The biblical text, too, focuses on Hagar’s role as child-bearer, which addresses the situation of Sarai’s apparent infertility.

© Siku, 2007

Let us now turn to the treatment of Hagar by Siku, artist and writer of The Manga Bible as well as the first section of The Lion Hero Bible. In both these versions by Siku, representation of Hagar is minimal. In The Manga Bible, Hagar’s story is glossed over entirely. Sarai hangs off Abram’s shoulder, whispering into his ear like a seductress as if playing into, as Susanne Scholz suggests (2010), an androcentric fantasy that imagines wives inviting their husbands to sleep with other women. Hagar is in only one panel, where she is represented as an object shaped like a trophy or vessel ready to be filled with Abram’s seed.

In The Lion Hero Bible, where Abram is called “Faith Man” Hagar is given space across four panels. Her face is either turned away from the reader or is in darkness. Most troubling with this remediation of her story is the panel where Abram leads her into ominous darkness. Rape is not visually depicted. Instead, one narrow panel fits in between the panel of Hagar being led into darkness and another showing her advanced pregnancy. This panel alludes to the circumstances of conception but functions like an ellipsis. Still, at least the panel creates a small space for the reader to imagine what happened rather than being presented with Crumb’s version, which assumes consent and respectability.

Siku briefly acknowledges Hagar’s enslavement by visually alluding to her bondage but he spends no time reflecting on what this status means for her as a victim or on what it means for the reader receiving the text. Possibly, this is because Siku focuses on Abram and his progression as a patriarch – not on Hagar. Hagar remains above all a tool in the narrative, a way for God to fulfil his promises.

© Siku, 2015

Brendan Powell Smith’s The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament is similar in its execution of Genesis 16:3-4. This time Hagar’s slave class is highlighted by her ragged clothing, which is juxtaposed with the robes and jewels of Abram and Sarai. Unlike Crumb, Powell Smith chooses to use the designation “slave-girl”. However, again Hagar’s status as slave is not challenged, highlighted or problematised: once more there is no allusion to forced marriage, or rape or involuntary impregnation. The Brick Bible is known for its humorous take on the Bible and this might be why Powell Smith chooses to ignore “difficult” or violent elements in the text.

© Brendan Powell Smith, 2011

Choosing whether to, and how to depict violent stories in biblical comics is a choice rife with responsibilities.

In a recently published essay, actor Molly Ringwald reflects on watching a scene of sexual assault in the film The Breakfast Club, in which she stars, given the revelations of the #MeToo movement. She asks:

“How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose? […] Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art – change is essential, but so too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism.”

This is a question that must be asked of the Bible as well – especially when it is adapted in modern times into new media. The responsibility of those who make biblical comics is to represent the troubling texts and multiple voices within the stories instead of presenting only the version of the Bible that aligns with any one dominant ideology. This might include, for example, acknowledgment of Hagar as a victim of a class-driven system wherein God, Abram and even the matriarchal figure of Sarai are guilty of oppressing and abusing lower-class women in a quest to produce children “for Abram”. By not problematizing the text, retellings only reinforce and endorse damaging (such as androcentric) readings of the Bible. They fail to free Hagar from the constrictions of her story, thus jailing her both graphically within the panels of the comic book, and literarily within the word-choices of the written text.

Skipping over narratives of rape and sexual assault in the Bible can be a dangerous road when it comes to biblical interpretation. It is essential to remember also the violent stories and to revisit them with all of their transgressions and barbarities. In the conclusion to her essay, Molly Ringwald suggests that that it is up to future generations to respond to stories of rape and sexual assault like those in The Breakfast Club, in order to make those stories their own.

Biblical comic creators also need actively to challenge and reframe stories of rape and sexual assault in the Bible so that we can redeploy them as potential challenges to androcentric readings, and to oppose their examples of female subjugation. By accepting the existence of these texts and by probing and if necessary problematising and challenging their effects, resonances and implications, by both cherishing and opposing them, we can both remember the violence of the text but also ensure the victims in the texts are given focus and centrality, so as to recover and honour their voices.

 

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How to make a ghost: A collaborative approach to finding Dinah

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Abstract: Since October 2017 Lily Clifford and Emma Nagouse have been collaborating to produce a body of artwork based around narratives of rape in the Bible. By focusing on Dinah, Clifford and Nagouse have used their complementary skills and knowledge to create several artworks dealing not only with Dinah’s rape, but cultural responses to Dinah, and rape culture more broadly.

In this presentation, Clifford and Nagouse talk through Clifford’s portfolio of artwork – you can view or download this here.

This talk was delivered at the 2018 Religion and Rape Culture Conference. Click here to see more videos.

Lily Clifford is an artist and arts facilitator who is currently working towards her MA in Inclusive Art at the University of Brighton. Lily started working with clay in 2008 and studied at University of Sunderland to gain her degree in Glass & Ceramics. Lily makes art about women, religion, and stories – she uses paint, textiles and found objects. Follow Lily on Twitter.

Emma Nagouse is a PhD student at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) researching rape culture in the Bible and contemporary society, focussing on gendered constructions of believability. Emma is an active member of The Shiloh Project and is Chair of The Sheffield Feminist Archive. Follow Emma on Twitter.

Header image: “Dinah, before” by Lily Clifford. Acrylic and cardboard, 2018.

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