The Queerness of the Priests: Exodus 27-30
Ritual transitions in human life always involve festival attire. Commencements, birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and in liturgical Christian traditions: worship services. In Exodus 28 the story of flamboyant priests is encountered. This text expresses queerness on the basis of how detailed the descriptions for garments are in addition to precise instruction on rituals. This essay seeks to identify how Exodus 27-30 expresses queerness through flamboyance and ritual sacrifice, how G-d was in the midst of it, and how seclusion of the priesthood was formed.
Ritual sacrifice, perfume, and dresses tell a story of queerness. Spartacus, a modern-day TV series depicting fictional events during ancient times, even expresses this[i]. This series, filled with blood battles, casual encounters (hetero, homo, bi, and pan), sacrifice, and ritual, leading one to suspect that Spartacus seeks to glory in a historical pastime. Although fictional, this series is filled with imagery found in biblical texts, Greek folklore, and myology. The paradox between Torah imagery and mythology create queerness within themselves. One of the most critical of hermeneutical principles is that: readers grounded in their social location create biblical meanings. That being said, conservative methodical (in my opinion mythological) interpretations of sacred texts create an unfortunate paradigm of queerness. Be that as it may, myth is not necessarily what this particular Torah portion is about.
Queerness is about the fabulous becoming holy. Even in liturgical churches, particularly those following the high church tradition, the significance of pageantry, music, garments and sacrifice are apparent. In some cases, only certain individuals are allowed to participate in the ritual or serve at the altar. Priests are vested in ornate vestments, acolytes with cassocks and surplices pressed to the crease, and choirs singing harmonious melody without mistake. The ritual is rehearsed indefinitely, always seeking to be more perfect and glorious than afore. However, such rituals are not intended for God, but for human likeness, set apart for normative secularism.
The Ohel Moed is the root working of queerness. Being holy means segregating one’s self from et secularum[ii]. This Mishkan, or Ohel Moed is the “tent of meeting…the only place where sacrifices can be made[iii].” I contend that this place was one in which ideas where exchanged and emotions experienced. This is due to the fact that worship, on part of parishioners/participants, is a mystical experience in which complex forms of sensation and desire are conveyed. In essence, it creates a union with the divine that cannot be formulated as a binary, due to the fact that it creates oneness between the mystical, spiritual, and physical cognitions and manifestations of the individual. The root working involves the Parashat Tetzavah with is “offering [up] a robust mix of extreme moments[iv],” much to the metaphysics exhibited in the Catholic ritual of Easter Vigil. Nonetheless, “lighting the eternal flame [signifies] the constancy of G-d’s presence[v],” and such a presence cannot be mimicked, but only mystified as the same.
Ordination and anointing are the interchange toward an individual being queer. The queerness of ordination is rooted in that fact that not everyone is called to ordination. An old Black Baptist saying of no particular origin recounts this: “[S]ome are called, some went, some came, and some left.” In this passage, it is Aaron and his sons that are called to the eternal priesthood which presents a dichotomy. It is not Moses, the leader of the Israelites, but his brother Aaron that is anointed, along with only four of Aarons sons: Nadav, Avihu, Elazar, and Ithamar, and their sons, omitting the grandsons born prior to the establishment of the priesthood[vi]. This omission will in turn separate a family in a culture that tends to follow tradition. Ordination of priests becomes queer due to the fact that only a select few can participate.
As this social class of priests develops, so does the queerness of ritual. The text of Exodus 28 is extremely detailed in how a priest must dress, what materials these vestments are to be made of, and the participation in bloody rituals. Brettschneider states, “[P]reparing stunning attire is therefore a prayer. Wearing a magnificent frock is an aspect of one’s love of G-d[vii].” She contends, “[T]hese clothes and fabulous accouterments are ordered for no other reason than ‘dignity and adornment’ ([quoting Ex.] 28:40)” and “the femme, the butch, and the dyke take up such ablutions religiously[viii].” Young people of today would reply to her in thanksgiving shouting: “deep” and “yes girl!” But this is still not where the story ends.
The rituals of sacrifice during the Tetzaveh make queer theories come to life. “This is the stuff of great queer rituals,” contends Brettschneider as she explains the sacrifices of bulls and rams, “laying on of hands,” and exhibits of blood everywhere[ix]. Young people in my generation would state: “Shit just got real.” In this ‘realness’ the actions and theories associated with ancestral religion are trendy. Concoctions of aromas are being crafted from different animals sacrificed during day with other parts eaten. Not only does the realness of sacrifice occur, the realness of animal blood being put upon different parts of the human body, on the altar, over this and even that, is happening. I contend a queerness of these rituals because they mirror rites of purification and/or fraternal initiations.
Mysticism and everyday changes are queerness because it does not follow normative binaries. Brettschneider states: “[I]t is often in the extreme incarnations of the everyday that we are most conscious of navigating between the human and divine…it is through clothes and related components of affect that we push boundaries, given the disciplinary injunctions and effects of such in historical and cultural context[x].” Holiness, in essence, is fabulous because it seeks to push beyond the boundaries of human cognition[xi]. How does this relate to flamboyance? Brettschneider states: “[Q]ueers have heard endless rants about the godlessness of our most prized sites and practices of pleasure, meaning, and relationship. As a counterpoint, in Tetzavah it is here – in this place of lavish beauty – that G-d will meet with the Israelites, speak to us, and abide among us.” That’s how this passage relates to flamboyance.
In conclusion, pastors, priests, deacon, and laity are no different in ritual than the queers of the yesteryear and today. There are situations each of us engages to bring pleasure and peace. Sometimes this intimacy is with God, other times, often not. However, because God is creator, the glory of invention still belongs to YHWH because it is in YHWH that we live move and have our being. The only way we can continue to live in safety and joy is through that power alone[xii]. It enacts queerness which means that God is queer. Through the flamboyance of handiwork, God created human beings in a queer likeness[xiii], each possessing a mystical holiness and incarnation of the Divine. Aaron and his descendants brought in fruition the queerness of YHWH with adornment, vestments, sacrifice, and rituals in the tent. That fruition was already relevant, or else humans would not exist. Furthermore, this interpretation of Exodus 27-30 explains the Tohu Vavohu[xiv] in a way that is understandable: God’s queerness moves over the still waters in an anxious way through Parashat Tetzavah, in turn creating an Ohel Moed to bring pleasure, joy, justice and peace, and perhaps: sex.
[i] DeKight, Steven, and Robert Tapert, writers. Spartacus. Starz. 2010-2012.
[ii] Latin, meaning “this or the world.”
[iii] Drinkwater, Gregg, Joshua Lesser, and David Shneer. Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. “When the Fabulous is Holy,” by Marla Bettschneider. New York: New York University Press, 2009.
[iv] Ibid, 106.
[vi] Exodus 28:1, NRSV.
[vii]Torah Queeries, 107.
[x] Ibid, 108.
[xi] Ibid, paraphrased in agreement with her.
[xii] Acts 17:28, NRSV, paraphrased.
[xiii] Genesis 1:27, NRSV, paraphrased.
[xiv] Genesis 1:2, NRSV, although this phase cannot be properly translated.