The berated politicians: other ways of reading Miriam, Michal, Jezebel and Athaliah in the Old Testament in relation to political and gender quandary in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya and Uganda as case studies

Kuloba, Wabyanga Robert (2011) The berated politicians: other ways of reading Miriam, Michal, Jezebel and Athaliah in the Old Testament in relation to political and gender quandary in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya and Uganda as case studies. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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….be very careful to do exactly as the priests, who are Levites, instruct you. You must follow carefully what I have commanded them. Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt and what he did to Michal and Jezebel. Remember what the priests did to Athaliah in Judah (c.f Deuteronomy. 24:8b-9). These female politicians were cornered, arrested, charged, beheaded and fragmented! Only their heads (names) that were hanged in this public place, the Bible, remained. Nobody would tell that this is Miriam, Michal, Jezebel or Athaliah. Lists of their crimes stand appended to their heads and names in public. When they were all silenced and the kings had sat in their rightful places, all the people of the land rejoiced and there was peace in the cities because these women had been slain (c.f 2 Kings 11:20). So be very careful to follow instruction and rules such that you do not end up like any of them.
(Embellished by the author)

Indeed, Miriam, Michal, Jezebel and Athaliah are politically killed off in the Hebrew Bible. Certainly, no one would tell from the Hebrew Bible that these women were people of significant political and leadership profiles; but merely as wicked in the history of humanity. All their political significance and contributions were literary and ideologically mutilated and separated from their names and left in the wild to be eaten by stray dogs. Their decapitated and fragmented images minus their political profiles have been ingested into an ideological system that regulates gender world order and influences social, intellectual and linguistic discourses and pictorial misogynistic polemics in the modern world.
Figuratively, the remains of these women have been preserved in the way politicians of the ancient times and recent past would keep remains of their opponents. Ancient rulers would preserve a head (skull) of a particular enemy. David in the Bible cuts off Goliath’s head (1 Samuel 17:51); and the Philistines cut off Saul’s head (1 Samuel 31:9). In the Roman Republic of early 1st Century BC, political enemies like Marius and Sulla were decapitated and their heads displayed in the Forum Romanum. In 1355 Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice in medieval Italy was beheaded and his head hanged in a public place for staging a coup that was aborted. English traitors especially during the Elizabethan era were mutilated and their heads customarily spiked on London Bridge and other public places. In all these mutilations, other parts of the body were never accounted for. Stray dogs and other scavengers ate them as the case was with Jezebel in 2 Kings 8.
Both head and name are proper national and political identifiers of every individual. So also the name! A head and a name are good identifiers of a person’s identity and activities. In modern times, identity documents and political campaign posters bear personal names and portraits. Preserving mutilated remains of an enemy served an ideological purpose of scarring and deterring future oppositions. It also symbolised total subjugation and control of the enemy. In movies about the political history of Uganda, Idi Amin is shown speaking ridiculously to the mutilated heads of his opponents. Preserving names of female politicians in the way they are preserved in the Hebrew Bible narratives merely serves an ideological purpose.
I have argued in this paper that Miriam, Michal, Jezebel and Athaliah are political women. To African postcolonial Bible readers, they are political characters that stand for unconformity, radical activism, dissension, equality and self-reification to lead their people as their male counterparts. Although theirs is leadership based on royalty (and social prestige particularly in the case of Miriam), in their literary form they experience similar chronic maladies of patriarchal stereotype as the modern women whose political participation is based on liberal democracies. They are presented as foreign and aberrant gender in the politics of their time according to the ideological standards of the Hebrew Bible narrator. Their remains in the Hebrew Bible are positioned to ideologically kill off their political significance and portray them as evil women who destabilise the natural order.
The study is contextualised on women and politics in sub-Saharan Africa with Uganda and Kenya as case studies. Both Uganda and Kenya are East African countries, with similar colonial experiences. They are predominantly Christian countries and the Bible is a very significant literature in the lives of people. It is literally the Word of God that does not only prescribe a faith, but a culture, philosophy and ideologies that are perceived as holy and pristine in socio-political intercourse of the people. Though the recent histories are different between Kenya and Uganda, in both cases the rise in female influence in politics has been paralleled by a rise in linguistic and sometimes physical abuse of female politicians. The similarities between the androcentric cultural worldview of the Bible and the African cultures have fostered a negative attitude against women’s influence in national politics. The biblical image of Jezebel is often used as a summary figure of this misogyny. Jezebel, the foreign Canaanite queen turned ‘harlot’ by the Dtr redactor is used to name a political threat—a foreign gender group infiltrating the political arena in East Africa.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Biblical Studies, History, Ancient Near East, East Africa
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BS The Bible
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Sherwood, Prof. Yvonne
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Mr Wabyanga Robert Kuloba
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-2936
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2011
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 14:02

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