Lost in Revision: Gender Symbolism in Vision 3 and Similitude 9 of the Shepherd of Hermas
Until 30th November 2019 get FREE access to Lora Walsh’s full article ‘Lost in Revision: Gender Symbolism in Vision 3 and Similitude 9 of the Shepherd of Hermas’ from Harvard Theological Review, Volume 112, Issue 4
If you’re a writer, how long do you spend in the revision stage? Do you respond to feedback from others, or are you your own worst critic? Do you store excised passages somewhere, just in case you want them back?
The revision process can tell us a lot about how someone reflects, imagines, and responds to audience expectations. The Shepherd of Hermas gives us a rare glimpse of the revision process in action during an early period of Christian history. One section of the text (Similitude 9) is surely a revision of another section (Vision 3). In my article, I argue that the author’s revision process shows us how one reviser excluded feminine symbols from the more generous early Christian imaginary that survives in Vis 3.
I focus on three conspicuous revisions. First, the figure Lady Church functions as a teacher, revealer, ecclesiological symbol, and pre-created being in Vis 3, but she disappears in Sim 9. Second, a matrilineal chain of women—Faith and all her descendants—appears in Vis 3, but in Sim 9 these women are re-labeled “virgins” and are dressed in white, they compete with seductive women in black, they are subordinate to angelic males, and they are no longer related to one another. Third, while Vis 3 describes the church and the created world using imagery of “the deep” or “depths,” Sim 9 is preoccupied with images of staggering height for the church, male angels, and the Son of God.
The disappearance of Lady Church is an obvious index of how the revision excludes feminine symbols of authority and significance. To reckon the full loss to gendered symbolism evident in the other textual changes, I rely heavily on the deconstructive work of feminist theologians Tina Beattie and Catherine Keller.
Most scholars have assumed that the revision process that turned Vis 3 into Sim 9 exhibits the author’s increasing spiritual maturity or systematic theological reflection. I argue instead that the revision process reflects one reviser’s resistance to feminine symbols, evocative poetics, and female prominence.
Sometimes the revision process tells us not how something got better, but what was lost along the way.