Thursday, January 30, 2014

Full of It (Judges 3:15-24)

     Then the Israelites cried out to Adoni, pleading for deliverance, and Adoni raised up a liberator for them: Ehud ben-Gera the Benjamite, who was left-handed. The Israelites sent him to carry their tribute to Eglon, ruler of Moab. Now Ehud had constructed a double-edged sword eighteen inches long that he strapped to his right thigh under his clothes. Ehud presented the tribute to Eglon, who was very fat. After presenting the tribute, Ehud and the tribute bearers left for home. Near the stone quarries at Gilgal, Ehud left his travel companions and returned to Eglon, and said, "I have a secret message for you, my ruler." Eglon dismissed all his attendants from the room. 
     Then Ehud approached Eglon as the ruler sat alone in the upper room of his summer residence, and said, "I have a message from God for you." As the ruler rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right side and drove it into Eglon's belly. The sword sank into the body over the hilt and ended protruding out of the back. Then Ehud went out onto the porch, where he locked the door shut on Eglon.
     After a while, Eglon's attendants came up and , finding the doors locked, thought, "He must be relieving himself in the cool room." They waited a long time, but when the door remained locked, they grew anxious. So they took out a key, unlocked the door, and entered the room to discover the dead ruler.                                                                                                                        Judges 2:15-24

This, along with other stories in the book of Judges, is a bawdy yarn. It would fit nicely in compilations of naughty stories such as Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Remember, Judges holds up a mirror which reflects the early Israelite tribes engaging their surrounding neighbors. Just like when queer folk use humor or camp to harpoon the heaviness of certain parts of society, so too did the Israelites regale in such lampooning.

There are two pieces of campy goodness in this incident. We'll start with the antagonist. Eglon, a Moabite chieftain, captured Jericho and ruled it for about eighteen years demanding an annual tribute. Eglon is caricatured as obese - with tongue in cheek we may think of some rather hefty folk in spandex down at the Walmart. We are meant to squirt milk out our nose when we hear that the smell which came from Eglon's dead body was confused for the smell that came from Eglon's bathroom. Does camp get any better than toilet jokes?!

The second piece of camp is one we need to pay a little closer attention to. It is the type of camp that is satire and unmasks the powers-that-be. Ehud by the reckoning of other scripture is the grandson of Benjamin whom the Benjamite tribe is named after. Benjamin is the offspring of Jacob and Rachel - Jacob's favored wife. The other offspring of this couple is the more famous Joseph of "the amazing technicolored dreamcoat." If you recall, the climax of that story comes when Joseph threatens to hold Benjamin as a hostage and the true attitude of the brothers is discerned and Joseph reveals himself to them as the brother they sold into slavery. You can read up on this soap opera at the end of the book of Genesis. 

For the purpose of camp we need to note Benjamin's role in a story whose subtext is concealment and revealment, a subtext that is at play in Ehud's story. Also we need to note that the name Benjamin means "son of my right hand." Left handed Ehud is the grandson of the Son-of-my-right-hand. Now we begin to understand that this story is a satire on identity - who is up and who is down, who is full of it and who is not.

Smelly Eglon thought he was up, but it tuns out he was down. The Benjamites start down but by the end of the story are up. Eglon believed that God had a message for him, yet God had already given guidance to Ehud. By being left handed and hiding the short sword on his right thigh, those frisking the visitors would have only checked his left thigh where right handed people keep their swords. The powers-that-be are unmasked for what they are: prideful, vain, and full of shit (to follow the line of camp in the story).

We should also notice that the left handed one is the hero. As is the case today, so back in ancient Palestine left handedness was not the norm. Ehud was a minority. He was different. He wasn't like the others. I wonder if being different is what embolden Ehud to forge his sword, a forbidden activity. The Sacred worked with Ehud's differences to bring liberation to the oppressed community of the Benjamites.

Our sexual and gender diversity marks us as a minority, as different, as not like the others. Even our allies are marked as different for not toeing the line. In the engagement for full inclusion and equality it may seem that our difference is more a hindrance than a help. God, we discover, is at work through us bringing liberation to those who are oppressed by unmasking the powers-that-be for what they are - full of it.

According to the story it is this unmasking of the powers which enable the oppressed (queer or otherwise) to understand we are stronger than we realize.  Empowered by the right or true understanding of things, we are unshackled and can rise up with dignity and claim our own destiny as we engage our neighbors.

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