Genesis Revisited

Coming soon to a television set near you is a chance to eavesdrop on conversations about Bible stories you may not have thought about since Hebrew school. “Genesis: A Living Conversation” is a ten-part series on public television premiering October 16. A brief passage from Genesis is read aloud, then a rotating assortment of talkative clergy and theologians, social scientists, poets, artists and literary critics freely explore its themes and direction. The series includes some of the relatively few biblical stories to name women—for example, Sarah and Hagar (“A Family Affair,” airing initially on November 17). For a feminist audience, what makes the shows special is the presence of equal numbers of women and men in the conversation. Pay special attention to the unfailingly acute biblical and literary scholar Avivah Zornberg, who responds to the Cain and Abel story (“The First Murder”) with a web of literary allusion and a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew original, then adds, “God makes man from clay. The object teaches the creator.”

Some of the women have already appeared in LILITH: Orthodox feminist writer Blu Greenberg, psychologist Carol Gilligan, philosopher and novelist Rebecca Goldstein, novelist Faye Kellerman and composer and dramaturge Elizabeth Swados. This series provides a chance to hear other voices as well. Women to watch include Elaine Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels, The Origin of Satan), Renita Weems, Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Roberta Hestenes, President of Eastern College in Pennsylvania, and novelist Bharati Mukherjee. Phyllis Trible, the Christian feminist Bible scholar, after a polite discussion of Potiphar’s wife and her false accusation of rape, jumps in with, “I can’t take any more of this. This story is misogynist!” And when moderator Bill Moyers asks (in the final segment, December 16), “By misogyny you mean—?” Trible turns and declares, “Hatred of women.” And this is on network television!

In the “Genesis” series we approach the divergent ways in which women and men see the Bible’s human dilemmas, and how Jews, Christians and Muslims approach the same text. Especially instructive for those who will want to organize their own groups using the program’s format is that the camera work reveals the first secret of good conversation: on the screen we see close ups not just of the talking heads, but of the attentively listening heads as well.