[NB] The Mother’s Tribe

This post follows the Absalom one closely, stepping forward in the material to look at another way of looking at the mother in the Judaic mythology, this time in the prophetic book of Isaiah. Again, let me emphasize that there are a number of good historical dimensions to this material (especially Isaiah with its even clearer historical roots), including questions of provenance and propaganda, but I want to keep those to the side while I talk about the mythological dimensions of it.

Idolatry sits in the background of the Tamar stories, but it comes to the forefront in the prophetic books like Isaiah. The incorporation of such practices in Jewish life preoccupies the authors of Isaiah and the purging of them is frequently endorsed as a necessary step to regaining the favor of God.

I’m wondering if some qualifications to that are required, though. Regarding Tyre (Isaiah 23), and keeping in mind the material discussed in the Absalom post regarding the relationship between Judah and Tamar, there seems to be a basis for endorsing at least some practices traditionally viewed as idolatrous, so long as they are kept from interfering with the practices of the Jews.

I have come across this text frequently in contemplating the Bible for advice and, synchronistically enough, my copy of the Jewish Publication Society of America’s translation of the Tanakh has a family record insert that falls between these verses, dividing them as if for emphasis:

And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the Lord will remember Tyre, and she shall return to her hire, and shall have commerce with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth. And her gain and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord, it shall not be measured nor laid up; for her gain shall be for them that dwell before the Lord, to eat their fill, and for stately clothing. (Isaiah 23: 17-18)

Just prior to these verses Tyre is personified as “thou harlot long forgotten,” which makes “her hire [which] shall be holiness to the Lord” sound much like the holiness of Tamar’s harlotry. Like that of Tamar, Tyre’s ‘harlotry’ requires some quotation marks. It is endorsed by God, suggesting that the use of the term owes something to the limits of Judaic thought.

Perhaps more precisely, we might say that Judaic thought lacks the terms to detail the work of Tyre-Tamar and so must conflate it with terms that are comparably marginal like harlot. The harlot, being marginal, provides Judaic thought a clumsy rubric through which it can grasp the forces at play without encouraging a potentially dangerous incorporation of them.

God’s affirmation of this harlotry suggests another way of living that is not Judaic but is nonetheless approved of by God. Especially alongside the Tamar material, it looks like this idolatrous other is a necessary supplement to Judaic thought. While it must be kept at the margins, it provides a function that makes Judaic thought, Judaic devotion possible. God “remembers” them.

If this were simply the remembrance of nostalgia, Tyre would serve only as a counter-example, a guidepost to what is improper and must be put behind the Jewish people, as the past is put behind the present. However, here that remembrance is also envisioned as extending in the future, as that which is to come as well as that which has past. It becomes a reconstitution, a rebirth. That gives them a stake in the Messianic future alongside the Jewish people, even if it is envisioned as being in service to the chosen people.

*   *   *

Focusing on Tyre suggests another avenue for considering the mythic dimensions of the historical. Tyre is the mother Carthage, destroyed by Rome.  Rome, city of rival brothers, contra the city of the harlot-mother, and the PKD assignment of the Black Iron Prison to Rome and his sense of Valis to a hidden female presence within it. Roman Christianity as the interweaving of two strands of a common sympathy?

It also resonates with something I read in Frisvold’s Pomba Gira, in which he reports a message received in several houses of Quimbanda from Maria Padillha, one of the most well-known Pomba Giras who often sits at the head of many lines:

She said that her mission was done in white at the feet of Jesus who would bring the souls to the realisation that Lucifer brought light from darkness. (ebook so no page ref)

That’s not quite the same thing, but it feels like another point on the triangle of the thing, right? Because Lucifer puts us back in rival brother territory. The consort viewed through the lens of the rivalry, perhaps. Quimbanda’s ties to the broader Kongo world also has me looking back to the early and often eager conversion of the Kongo elites to Christianity and the influence of Marian revelations in that.

*   *   *

I have had some version of this post hanging out in my drafts folder for, wow, quite a while. It began as part of my post on Anna Bonus Kingsford, but I realized then the apparatus wasn’t in place to really start discussing it. To properly approach this, I had to start discussing the Bible as myth. To do that, I needed to get a little discussion of deconstruction and structuralism in place.I also needed to have zig-zagged through the terrain of the Great Mother.

I didn’t know that was what I needed when I kicked the post into draft mode. All I knew then was that it didn’t feel right to post this then, so I kept chewing on topics as they presented themselves to me, until I reached this point. Don’t read that too strongly—this is still just a fragment of a bigger picture, only now I have a better sense of that context than before.

6 thoughts on “[NB] The Mother’s Tribe

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