Last week Doug Wilson posted an article about Potiphar’s wife. With typical flair, he imagined her as a modern-day feminist who, through classically maligned, awakens to the realization that she was the victim instead if Joseph. Outfitted with counseling sessions, jargon, and a therapeutic blog, she informs readers that Joseph had “groomed” her for his own perverse pleasure. The piece was no doubt imaginative, though to be sure, Wilson has never been presented, even by his critics, as anything less.
Still, Wilson’s take on this presents a few problems, as well as something of a catch-22.
“But it’s Satire”
Among his supporters, the primary defense of Wilson’s article has been this, “But it’s only satire”.
Perhaps. Yet it’s a satire that plays perilously near the scandals that have dogged Wilson’s recent years. Believe what you will about Wilson, his history with these cases makes this a volatile subject for him. Even the most charitable among us cannot deny this.
As for the notion of it’s being satire, considering that Wilson imported ideas alien to the text (ie, feminism in an undeniably patriarchal society), the claim is tenuous at best. Yes, I understand satire, but this is Scripture we’re talking about, God’s word, not man’s. The Westminster Larger Catechism put it this way,
What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain,irreverent, profane, superstitious or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarrelling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it; to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.
The other problem here is a sort of catch-22. If we reframe Potiphar’s wife to fit a modern-day construct, we open the door for others to do the same. The account of Judah in the preceding chapter provides a perfect example here. If Potiphar’s wife is a paradigm of female privilege, Tamar was everything her opposite. Where the wife was privileged and coddled to some extent, Tamar was bereft, powerless in a world dominated by men who did not care for her best interest. Worse still, the very men commanded to protect and provide for her were the same who denied what was lawfully hers. And when she moved to secure a future for herself, she was hypocritically condemned to an extreme death that exceeded the bounds of levitical law. To compound matters, her judge here was the same man who both oppressed and impregnated her.
In other words, if we satirize Potiphar’s wife as the “goddess of feminism”, someone else could just as eaily satirize Judah’s actions as that of the “patriarchy”–of men abusing power, using women, and when it’s convenient, vilifying them for doing what they themselves have done.
My point in all this is, when we inject ideas into Scripture in order to fit some modern scheme, we make it easy for others to come and do the same–to the detriment of truth.