by Joanna Lawrence Shenk
This is the second in an Eastertide mini-series called “Rewilding Jesus” that unearths fun and feral images/ideas about Jesus, the Jewish prophet deeply rooted in his place and his community and undomesticated by Empire.
I confess that given all the bad Christian theology and biblical interpretation out there, I’ve often shied away from preaching on certain passages in the New Testament that focus on “salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord and savior.” They feel exclusive, to say the least, and reminiscent of my missionary kid upbringing where the goal was for everyone to profess Jesus as Lord. Although I don’t adhere to or agree with the dominant Christian interpretations of these texts, it’s often hard to think beyond them on my own.
Case in point, earlier this week Pat and I were participating in a bible study organized by the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery coalition. It is part of the Anabaptism at 500 bible study project. The text we were studying from Acts was rife with anti-semetic tropes about blame for killing Jesus and talk of forgiveness for sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. My first response was just, ugh.
But as the group jumped into discussion, we challenged the notions of personal sin and personal salvation and wrestled with the implications on a structural and societal level. We noted that this was a conversation among a Jewish sect about how to live free from colonization and oppression, which they embodied through the redistribution of land and wealth as they followed the teachings of their rabbi who was killed as a revolutionary.
I came away from the bible study with a sense of empowerment, reminded of how I can read those texts and understand them beyond the lens of Christian dominance. This is also why I’m so excited about this series on rewilding Jesus, as we deepen into the text and stories we have about him from new angles.
I imagine that the text Eli read [John 1:1-5] is familiar to most of us. This is the gospel of John’s introduction to who Jesus, or rabbi Yeshua is. As opposed to the other gospels that begin with either his birth or his baptism in the Jordan river, John takes a cosmic approach.
Yeshua is the Word. He was there in the beginning, joining in the act of creation. But if we go deeper into the text past the Greek translation of logos for Word and to the Hebrew, we come to hokmah. As hokmah, he becomes She.
Dominant Christian interpretations try to read Jesus back into the Hebrew scriptures, but what if it’s the other way around? What if Yeshua is the embodiment of an ancient goddess, Lady Wisdom? What if Yeshua’s human form was Lady Wisdom showing up in drag?
Goddess is just one way to describe her, but actually as biblical scholar and poet Jim Perkinson puts it, “she is the whole of wild nature, the Great Mother.” She is the grand ecosystem of earth in all her swarming, teeming, flowing, erupting vastness.
Hokmah in the Hebrew scriptures is the embodiment of Wisdom. She is the co-creator with YHWH, spoken of in Proverbs 8. Listen as Eli reads an excerpt from that chapter, verses 22 – 31, to give us a sense of who She is.
[Inclusive Bible translation]
YHWH gave birth to me at the beginning,
before the first acts of creation.
I have been from everlasting,
in the beginning, before the world began.
Before the deep seas, I was brought forth,
before there were foundations or springs of water;
before the mountains erupted up into place,
before the hills, I was born–
before God created the earth or its fields,
or even the first clods of dirt.
I was there when the Almighty created the heavens,
and set the clouds in the sky,
and established the springs of the deep,
gave the seas their boundaries
and set their limits at the shoreline.
When the foundation of the earth was laid out,
I was the skilled artisan standing next to the Almighty.
I was God’s delight day after day,
rejoicing at being in God’s presence continually,
rejoicing in the world world,
and delighting in humankind.
In Proverbs 4 She is described as the way, the path, and the life. Just as later in John’s gospel Yeshua is described as the way, the truth and the life.
Jewish writers describe Hokmah as the image of the invisible God, the reflection of God’s glory, the first born of all creation, and the one through whom the world was created. Do those descriptions sound familiar?
Hokmah invites the people to take her yoke upon them and find themselves protected and honored (in the book of Sirach), just as the same is said of Yeshua in Matthew 11.
In the Wisdom of Solomon Hokmah is creating, and re-creating, making all things new, just as the one who sits on the throne in Revelation 21 also does.
When I think about Yeshua and the stories we have about him and then imagine him as Hokmah, as Lady Wisdom in drag, a wild expansiveness opens up. He is She, taking on human form, and inviting us to be renewed and recreated.
Understanding Yeshua as Lady Wisdom in drag subverts dominant Christian theology in so many ways. Yeshua is no longer the property of individual salvation narratives, but rather is a gender bending divine emissary come to restore humans to our right relationship with the Great Mother.
Since growing out of my childhood theology, it’s been difficult for me to think of the historical Jesus as having divine nature. His prophetic ministry stands on its own two feet (without a divine power boost) and the reason for his crucifixion is not dependent on a bloodthirsty Father God requiring sacrifice.
But as I am coming to understand this connection between Lady Wisdom and Yeshua, I am considering divinity from a different angle. And maybe this divine connection was an unfolding awareness for Yeshua as well. After all he needed to be schooled in the wilderness, following his baptism in the river by feral John the baptizer.
He needed to be decolonized and re-created in the wilderness just as the Hebrew people were decolonized and re-created as a community in the wilderness following their exodus from Egypt. Yeshua’s ministry was decidedly rural and his teachings were earth-based. He taught from the wisdom of creation in his parables and drew on the experience of the peasant farmers. As we learned from Sheri last week, he is Green Man.
He was doing all he could to return the people and the land to the Great Mother… disrupting the uniformed rows of industrial agriculture with invasive mustard bushes and calling people off the straight, paved Roman roads to the countryside and to the sea.
He calmed the storm, he walked on the water, he talked with angelic ancestors on the mountain top, and he fed 5,000 people with a non-commodified abundance of food. He was She. And she is the web of life, the cosmos, and the tiniest filigree in a mycelial network.
With all of this in mind, I invite you to hear these familiar passages in a new way, in some places replacing Christ with She.
I am the way, I am the truth, I am Life. No one comes to Abba God but through me.
She is the image of the unseen God and the firstborn of all creation, for in her were created all things in heaven and on earth… all things hold together in her.
God has spoken to us through the only begotten, who has been made heir of all things and through whom the universe was first created. She is the reflection of God’s glory, the exact representation of God’s being; all things are sustained by God’s powerful Hokmah.
If he is She then what Yeshua was talking about and embodying is not property of Christianity, and I would argue it’s bigger than any one religious tradition. It’s about reweaving the fabric of creation. It’s the deep truth that is embodied in Indigenous spiritualities the world over. It’s the truth that recognizes we can’t be whole if we are disconnected from the living systems that sustain us, the Great Mother of all life.
In her Easter sermon Sheri described God as… “Being itself. God is the Ground of our Existence, of all Existence… Always and everywhere, God is always moving, always becoming.”
Yeshua, this person called Jesus Christ in the Christian tradition, is the embodiment of Hokmah. He is She, come to deliver us from the structures of sin that have cut us off from the Great Mother. She has come to reconnect us to the web she has been spinning throughout all of history. She was in the beginning and is the same today, calling us into her dance of life, co-creating with Being itself, becoming new and circling, spiraling into the depths of the earth and rising up through the redwood trees. Reaching to the clouds and then raining back down as nourishment for her body, the earth.
I am the way, the truth and the life. Follow me, She says, and you will surely live. Amen and may it be so.