If Jesus was a hermaphrodite…

nobody saw fit to mention it, sadly. Sexuality got a few mentions in the bible but not that kind of thing. Does that matter? In some circles, hell yes.

Dr Susannah Cornwall claimed that it is “simply a best guess” that Jesus was male.

Her comments, which are bound to provoke fury in some quarters, were published in response to the ongoing debate about women bishops in the Church of England.

Dr Cornwall, of Manchester University’s Lincoln Theological Institute, describes herself on her blog as specialising in: “Research and writing in feminist theology, sexuality, gender, embodiment, ethics and other fun things like that.”

In her paper “Intersex & Ontology, A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision”, she argues that it is not possible to know “with any certainty” that Jesus did not suffer from an intersex condition, with both male and female organs.

Cornwall’s whole paper is available here in PDF for those interested.

In an extraordinary paper she says: “It is not possible to assert with any degree of certainty that Jesus was male as we now define maleness.

“There is no way of knowing for sure that Jesus did not have one of the intersex conditions which would give him a body which appeared externally to be unremarkably male, but which might nonetheless have had some “hidden” female physical features.”

Dr Cornwall argues that the fact that Jesus is not recorded to have had children made his gender status “even more uncertain”.

She continues: “We cannot know for sure that Jesus was male – since we do not have a body to examine and analyse – it can only be that Jesus’ masculine gender role, rather than his male sex, is having to bear the weight of all this authority.”

This has less to do about Christ’s actual “naughty bits” and more about sexuality, theology and the Catholic church as it thinks about sexuality and theology today. By interpreting biblical text in a gay-friendly/pro-trans-sexual way, the intent is to show the Church that their current attitudes against women bishops and intersex people can no longer be be substantiated by their narrow reading of the books. They have to start making room for reality.

While I’m against the need to believe in gods of any kind, I’m not against the need for people to get comfort out of community and churches still offer that to (nearly) everyone who walks in the door. Some are more open to gays and transsexuals than others, though, and overall there is still need to remind people that those aspects of sexuality are also normal/acceptable variations on a theme.

This whole story has reminded me: last March in Saskatoon there was a conference called Breaking the Silence that I attended. Most of it had to do with bullying and the like but one of the speakers brought up something related to Cornwall’s work. It was a very interesting talk. Any locals interested can sign up for this year’s now. It’s running March 16th and 17th. I think I will go again and write about what I learn.

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4 Responses to If Jesus was a hermaphrodite…

  1. tmso says:

    That’s a weird concept. Why is it even being discussed? I mean, I understand that the current church views about sexuality need to change, but why would they? Is this Cronwall a Christian trying to reconcile the biblical story to fit her own world view?

  2. 1minionsopinion says:

    I didn’t have a chance to read her whole paper this morning. I’ll give it a more thorough look later on and maybe post again about it.

    I suspect the papers only jumped on the hermaphroditic Jesus notion to generate hits and thus missed the meat of the issue at hand, that the Catholic church still has a long way to go toward demonstrating and promoting equality. My first instinct was to laugh it off, too, but I understand the argument she might be trying to make, that Christ’s views on sexuality might have leaned a lot more toward women (and presumably gays etc) being equal members of his “church.” Later, church leaders ignored whatever books and writings that leaned in that direction, or deemed them heresy. When I read Forged (https://1minionsopinion.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/forgery-and-the-bible/) there was a bit in there about the story of Thecla. There may have been more examples in there, but it’s been a while since I read it.

    Other reasons might have had to do with the way the Hebrew text got translated into Greek, not always accurately. Turns of phrase and particular dialects won’t always have a tidy and specific alternative in another language, after all.

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