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Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D.
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Entries by Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D.

Crucifixion and Sexual Violence

(30) Comments | Posted March 28, 2013 | 10:10 AM

On this Good Friday, as on many before, I consider anew the full range of torture and humiliation to which Jesus of Nazareth was subjected, physical and sexual. The latter is so traumatizing for the Church that we have covered it up -- literally -- covering Jesus' genitals on our...

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What the History Channel Is Getting Wrong About the Bible

(1405) Comments | Posted March 12, 2013 | 11:33 AM

Not quite everything. Just geography, anthropology, archaeology, biblical studies, theology, race and ethnicity. Not all of them all of the time, but most of them, most of the time. The History Channel is engaging in a systematic whitewashing of the Bible, its characters and narratives, with a few telling exceptions....

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Say My Name: Quvenzhané Wallis

(36) Comments | Posted February 25, 2013 | 1:40 PM

A black girl-child must be the most fearsome thing in the world based on how hard so many adults in the juggernaut of Hollywood/Hollyweird are working to demean and debase her. Whether it's reporters who can't or won't learn to say her name -- "Can I call you Annie?" No....

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God, the Bible, and Rape

(38) Comments | Posted January 15, 2013 | 5:25 AM

Rape is at the forefront of our civil discourse in ways it has not been in my memory or experience: A young woman raped to the point of death in India has been the focus of international media. During the run up to the presidential election Rep. Todd...

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The Bible and the Second Amendment

(297) Comments | Posted December 27, 2012 | 8:47 AM

The current interpretation of the Second Amendment that operates in American political discourse is that the Constitution "guarantees the right to bear arms." It strikes us as a biblical scholar and historian that the same fundamental issues at stake in how one interprets the Bible are at stake in the...

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A Letter To My Enslaved Ancestors On The 150th Anniversary Of The Emancipation Proclamation

(93) Comments | Posted December 23, 2012 | 6:56 PM

This letter is part of our "Letters to Our Ancestors" project. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we've asked members of our community to share their own letters to our forefathers. With these letters, we hope to look back on the progress our community has made...

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What I Learned From Drag Queens About the Gospel

(119) Comments | Posted September 16, 2012 | 9:10 AM

I've been watching "RuPaul's Drag Race" since the first season. Ru and her "goils" (girls) celebrate beauty and power of transformation offering the viewer a contemporary Gospel in sequins and feathers. The spiritual meaning of these transformations are not lost on RuPaul or her contestants. Love of and...

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Saying 'Vagina' In The Pulpit

(19) Comments | Posted June 22, 2012 | 4:57 PM

I, like many other priests, pastors and preachers am preparing to preach on the Gospel story of the woman with "an issue of blood" as I have heard it referred to euphemistically for most of my life in Mark 5:25-34 as part of the larger text assigned for...

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Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?

(15) Comments | Posted April 5, 2012 | 11:33 AM

The answer is: "Maybe." And you can quote me on that. Jonathan Klawans lays out evidence on both sides of the question in "Was Jesus' Last Supper a Seder" in the Biblical Archaeology Review.
The Synoptic Gospels indicate that Jesus' final meal was on Passover:

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The Civil Rights Movement and Public Religion

(3) Comments | Posted March 5, 2012 | 4:33 PM

I'm watching some public officials, (Congressman Darrell Issa, Senator Roy Blunt, Senator Marco Rubio and former Senator Rick Santorum) trying to transform freedom of religion into freedom to impose religion. They seem to imagine that their religious beliefs or moral...

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Bread, Not Chocolate: An Ash Wednesday Meditation

(2) Comments | Posted February 22, 2012 | 2:21 PM

One of the texts appointed for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Episcopal Church, is Isaiah 58:1-12, which says in part:

3 ...On your fast day you find your own pleasure and oppress all your workers.
4 ...Your fasting today will not make your voice heard on...

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Messianic Judaism Beyond the Eddie Long Debacle

(28) Comments | Posted February 10, 2012 | 11:13 AM

By now, many readers are aware of the sorry, sad and blasphemous spectacle of the disgraced bishop of New Birth Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA being wrapped in a Torah scroll and proclaimed "king" as a restoration ritual after he negotiated a financial settlement with at least four men who...

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Eddie Long Is Not a 'King'

(173) Comments | Posted February 2, 2012 | 9:23 AM

I am writing this response to a YouTube video circulating widely on the internet in in which Eddie Long, the troubled pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta GA is apparently crowned king with the ritual use of a Jewish Torah scroll. (The reader may know him for the recent scandal in which he was accused by five young men of sexual misconduct. After initially denying the allegations, he went into settlement talks with them.) A number of specious claims are made during the ritual which I would like to refute.

The unidentified man who, (in the YouTube video to which I had access he is identified subsequently as Ralph Messer), represents himself as a Jew. He may well be some sort of Messianic Jew, a person who claims Jewish heritage and recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, but who is not part of one of the major Jewish movements: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal. He does not, however, represent recognizable Jewish thought or practice in his (mis-) representations of the Torah and other Jewish sancta -- or for that matter, New Testament and Christian biblical interpretation and theology.

  1. The claim that Holocaust Torahs cannot be insured "because there are no more" is patently false. They are regularly insured as are other one of a kind objects d'art, i.e. the works of Picasso.
  2. The Torah cover is not a "foreskin." Hyper-masculine, hyper-sexualization of the Torah reduces the holy Torah to a problematic phallic symbol -- God's? or Long's? -- and categorizes the most destructive behaviors associated with New Birth ministries in recent years. Grammatically and symbolically, the Torah is feminine in Hebrew and is personified as "She," as in "She is a Tree of Life," in Prov. 3:18.
  3. The Temple in Jerusalem was not a synagogue or Beth Midrash, where Torah scrolls were kept and studied.
  4. The Torah wrapper is not referred to as a "belt of righteousness."
  5. The tree in the vision in the book of Revelation whose "leaves are for the healing of the nations," (22:2), is a fruit tree -- not a Torah scroll -- and the text does not say that there are "39 leaves" as claimed in the video.
  6. The claim that "only one of great authority" is given a "finger" to touch the scroll is patently false. Any bar or bat mitvah, girl or boy, woman or man, who has completed the rite of passage, can chant the Torah according to the (minhag) custom in their congregation. Torah scroll pointers, called "hands," (yadayim), not "fingers" are common gifts and possessions in Jewish families and communities.
  7. The claim that 90 percent of the Jews in the world have "never seen, approached or touched" Torah scrolls is utterly without foundation. The Torah is taken out of the Ark during Shabbat and other services; it is processed through the assembly twice where people reverence it (Her!) by touching and kissing it/Her.
  8. The frequent references to significant numbers may be an attempt to mimic the Jewish mystical tradition of Gematria that elicits meanings from numbers and their contexts. The speaker is devising his own system without reference to any of the classical texts in Judaism, frequently by simple free- and word-association.
  9. There is no verse in the scriptures where Jesus calls himself "the eternal government of God" as claimed by the speaker.
  10. The point that "these" -- presumably Torah scrolls or just Holocaust Torah scrolls are only given to "cities in need of anointing" is false. Individuals, families and religious communities own and commission Torah scrolls and keep or give them as they see fit, to synagogues, Jewish seminaries and other schools and museums.
  11. Even if the speaker identifies as a Jew and has Israeli citizenship, he does not speak for "the Jewish people," "the land of Israel" or "the state of Israel."
  12. His address of Eddie Long as a biblical or Israelite king is without foundation in the scriptures or in reality.
  13. The notion that there is such a thing as a "king chromosome" is a fiction, as is the claim that it is kohenic, that is priestly; the Israelite and Judean monarchs -- there were queens as well -- were not priests.
  14. The man's articulation of what "God wants," is to say the least unsubstantiated outside that particular setting.
  15. The man never says how he knows that none of Long's ancestors or relatives has ever seen a Torah scroll.
  16. While there are some traditional reflections on the human body -- including DNA and chromosomes -- in the mystical Kabbalistic tradition, the speaker is crafting a verbal montage without reference to the classical texts or their theologies.
  17. He attributes a quote to "Jewish doctors" stereotyping an entire community as conflating cellular biology with his Hebrew mysticism without actually naming or quoting any single "Jewish doctor" who holds such an opinion.
  18. The "crowns" in Torah scrolls stem from a particular -- now-normative -- calligraphy style, but other types of calligraphy have been used through the ages to produce legitimate Torah scrolls.
  19. The claim that the kings of Israel were crowned with Torah scrolls wrapping them has no foundation in the biblical text. According to the bible's own chronology the written Torah did not come into existence until the reign of King Josiah in the sixth century BCE (2 Kgs 22), some four hundred years after the time of David. However, the great second century rabbi Hanina ben Teradion, was however wrapped in a Torah scroll and burned alive in his martyrdom. Perhaps he has confused or conflated the traditions.
  20. While the Torah poles are called, etzim, "trees," they are not known as "justice and blessing."
  21. The speaker's claim that his speaking "life" to Eddie Long as a Jew has some meaning, is utterly without meaning.
  22. The speaker's prediction that the ritual -- his antecedent is unclear -- will arouse either "death" or "life" in someone -- Long? Or the congregation? -- is his own Gnosticism, knowledge that is not shared by those outside that particular setting.
  23. There is no precedent for presenting anyone, even a fictitious Israelite-ish monarch with the Torah wrapper.
  24. The donning of the tallit, prayer shawl, is done by those who have completed their bar or bat mitzvah -- whatever it was that just occurred, it had none of the requisite elements of a bat or bar mitzvah. In addition the tallit is donned by pulling it over one's head and reciting the traditional prayer, which was not done. It is also not draped like a clergy stole.
  25. The elevation of Long lifted in the chair by four men seems to have been borrowed from Jewish wedding festivities and has noting to do with coronation; there is no evidence of this practice among Israelite or Judean monarchs.
  26. The Aaronic blessing (Num 6:24-26) is a blessing for the people and not a putative leader.
  27. It is unfortunate that the speaker chose to plunder the sacred traditions of Judaism as he invented novel interpretations of biblical texts and imagery affirm and elevate an individual who had admittedly broken the sacred trust between pastor and congregant....
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