Mason, Janet. “They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders”, My Story Publishers, 2018.
Beyond the Boundaries of Gender
I have always found it interesting how coincidences come together. For the last month I have been in a study group about the Hebrew Bible or what is commonly known as the Old Testament. We have been studying the women of the Bible and trying to raise their position in the written text so I suppose we could call this redefining gender in the holy books. It also happens that in a very week weeks the state of Massachusetts will have a referendum on gender rights and it seems that all of sudden gender has become important in our lives whereas ten years ago we would not have heard a peep about it. The third coincidence is that I received a copy of Janet Mason’s new book. “They” in which the Hebrew bible is the background for the story of Tamar that goes beyond the boundaries of gender. I believe it takes a strong person to tackle gender in literature these days and the impression that I got from reading Mason’s last book is that she is a person who can do so… and she did so, quite beautifully.
“They” is a groundbreaker and I am sure that the author will agree with me that attempting to add new meaning to given bible stories is tantamount to heresy. I have no doubt that she will suffer repercussions from those who do not agree with her approach. Personally I found her story to not only be wonderfully written but charming and liberating to us who have lived in a binary world for too long.
Tamar lives in the desert and is something of a hermit but she is happy. She is very close to her pet camel (and having lived in the Middle East and having had working experiences with camels, I can tell you that loving one is not easy). Many forget that at the time of the Hebrew bible, love for God and fellow man went hand-in-hand with sacrifices. Tamar hated this and as a result became a vegetarian. Tamar’s twin sister, Tabitha, became pregnant from having been with a young shepherd and the two women plot tricking Judah into believing that he is the father of the child that Tabitha carries. (As an aside, Tabitha does not appear in the Hebrew bible— her first appearance comes in what is called the New Testament, which is also a misnomer. If the Hebrew bible is correctly referred to as the Hebrew bible, there would be no New Testament. In order to have a New Testament, we must have an Old Testament which we do not.
The reason for convincing Judah that Tabitha was carrying his child was to provide status for the newborn. It was the custom for children born out of wedlock to be burned. When the time came to give birth, Tabitha had twins and Tamar becomes attached to the children (born intersex) and here is where the real story begins. If we follow Mason’s story as she presents it, we would know the bible as it is today and this is what I love the most about stories of this kind. We are dealing with, supposedly, one of the earliest histories of the world yet nothing in it can be proved. In fact, I find that every time I study it, is different. Tamar and Tabitha and the twins give a new dimension to the bible and Janet Mason deserves full credit for giving us an option to traditional bible stories. Whether it is true or not does not really matter. What does matter is what we learn from the story and that can possibly differ with all of us. I love the premise of the book but I am not going to share the story because I want you to read it. I found myself looking up things in the holy writings and some things I found and some I did not.
What I see as a result of reading this book is one of two things or even both we gain something of an understanding of gender even when the story that supports it might be based on ideas. The second result was something personal for me but I an others doing the same. Reading this drove me to check things in the bible and by reading it, you are stating that you believe in what it says or not. As you check you begin to realize how much is written in the early writings. For the last ten years, I have allotted myself an hour a day for bible study and I faithfully do study for that time period every day. It is great fun just as Janet Mason’s story can be great fun or very serious. At any rate, do not miss the chance to read something new with “They”. I am quite sure that it is going to turn up on my 10 Best List for 2018.