Re-Visioning the Bible in Martha Moody

“Re-vision – the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction – is for women more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival.” (Adrienne Rich, “‘When We Dead Awaken’: Writing as Re-Vision,” 11)

Martha Moody is rich with reimagined Bible stories, both within the story proper and Amanda’s own writing. As Amanda writes her own stories, she combines, alters, and revises biblical stories to give them a new meaning. Between pages 121-124, Amanda presents a story about Martha Moody, Azreal the winged cow, and a group of men outside Martha’s store; this story contains biblical references to the golden calf (Exodus 32), to Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22), and it even presents Martha as a Christ figure at the end. The way Amanda reimagines the golden calf story is especially interesting to me, and it fits well with Adrienne Rich’s claim that the act of “re-vision… is an act of survival,” as Amanda takes a violent story and rewrites its ending to ensure everyone survives.

In the biblical account, Moses, leader of the Israelite nation, has gone up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, leaving his brother, the head priest Aaron, in charge of the people. As they wait for Moses to return, the people grow impatient and uncertain as to what has happened to Moses, and finally ask Aaron to make them a new god. Aaron commands them to give him all their gold jewelry and proceeds to melt it down and form it into an idol in the shape of a calf. Upon returning to the camp, Moses sees the calf and the people worshipping it; Exodus 32:20 describes his reaction: “And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.” Though harsh, this is not the Israelites’ only punishment. Moses stands at the outskirts of the camp and calls, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me” (Ex. 32:26). He commands everyone who follows him to “go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor” (Ex. 32:27). Three thousand people die as a result. However, this still isn’t enough: “the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Ex. 32:35).

Amanda uses elements from this story in her own writing, but her re-vision of it replaces Aaron with Martha Moody. The Israelites’ demand “Come, make us gods who will go before us” (Ex. 32:1) becomes the men of the town asking Martha, “Could you give us an image of God we could care about?” (Stinson 122). This request is, itself, a desire for re-vision – for a new image of God in a form that suits the people’s wants and needs. Azreal (in Islam theology, the angel of death; in Amanda’s stories, a winged cow) joins Martha and tells her, echoing Exodus, “Tell them to take off their golden earrings and bring them to you” (122). In a move that reminds the reader of modern heteronormative gender standards, the sheriff hears this and responds, “Um, Ma’am. None of us wear earrings. If you could wait for us to go home and talk to our wives, we could come up with a pile of gold, I’d guarantee” (122). It is at this point that the two stories diverge in a drastic way. Where the Exodus account shows a horrific massacre and a plague, Amanda’s story diminishes the violence; though the men are still ‘punished’ for their request in a way, there is no plague, no massacre, no death. Instead, watches, guns, spurs, coins, and belt buckles rise up in the air as if by magnetic force and pull the men into “a squirming pile… stuck together by the metal on their persons” (123). As they lie stuck together on the ground, the men witness another reimagined Old Testament story, as Martha and Azreal wrestle each other and evoke the image of Jacob wrestling with God. The wrestling match concludes with Martha flying away on Azreal’s back. As the two of them disappear, “the men found that they could untangle themselves, and they went home with whatever guns and watches they found stuck in their pockets” (124).

Returning to Adrienne Rich’s idea of re-vision as an act of survival, I think it is significant that Amanda references the story of the golden calf in her own writing. She takes a story set in a patriarchy and replaces the primary male figure with a woman shopkeeper; furthermore, she takes a violent, death-filled story and changes the ending to ensure everyone survives. While Rich’s arguments center around the survival of real women writers in a patriarchal society, her idea can be re-visioned to address the way Amanda’s stories are a reimagining of biblical accounts.

3 thoughts on “Re-Visioning the Bible in Martha Moody”

  1. Your analysis of the story and Amanda’s writing is very interesting and makes one think about whether the golden calf story has been prevalant in other writings we have read. Cereus Blooms at Night often mentioned alternate versions of reality with Pohpoh or in this case a revision, in order to ease Mala’s pain. It is interesting to see how these ideas and stories are intertwined and how this idea of revision can also be used as a form of healing.

  2. I think that re-visoning the Bible is definitely an act of healing for Amanda, but also an act of reverence for Martha. Amanda talks about her love for God very early on in the book (starting on page 8) and lovingly writes out passages and memorizes them. Not to inflict a moral code on Amanda, but she is an adulterer by biblical standards. What does she think God thinks of her now, how has her relationship with him changed? By re-visioning biblical stories with Martha as a main figure, espcially a Christ-like figure, Amanda can sort through her feelings, reestablish her faith, and blatantly show her love for Martha, as she shows this love to be comparable to her love for God.

  3. I think it’s especially lovely to consider in revisioning that Azreal, the winged cow, as God, it not only reimages the role of Martha, but it also changes the perception of a God figure. So much of organized religion is based around punishing Gods, or people using the fear of God to control. While few religions directly call their God mean (usually you hear deities described as “loving”) but they almost always are casting judgment and pain on you if you’re not good enough. In creating Azrael, the godlike figure who also happens to be a cow, it changes the perception of a god. Azreal is mystical and powerful, but in a different way than a biblical God. We spent so much time thinking about revisioning pertaining to Martha and Amanda, so I think it’s interesting thinking about revisioning God.

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