Barth and Bart, Part 4

In the episode “Simpsons Bible Stories” two particular tellings of common Bible stories gives a satirical critique of the reader-response hermeneutic: The Garden of Eden, and The Exodus. Both stories are interpreted through the minds of the shows key female characters, Marge and Lisa, and are therefore interpreted with some feminist bent. Lisa’s particular retelling also has the added interpretive lens of agnosticism. As the Garden of Eden scene unfolds we find that it is not Eve (in this case played by Marge, herself) who first eats of the forbidden fruit. Instead it is Adam (in this case played by Homer). The dialogue between Adam and Eve unfolds as follows:

                        Marge/Eve: Please stop eating that. God’s going to be furious.

                        Homer/Adam: You’re pretty uptight for a naked chick. You know what

 would loosen you up? A little fruit.

                        Marge/Eve: [Hesitantly] Well, it is a sin to waste food.

                        Homer/Adam: You’re always talking about how we need to do things

 together.

                        Marge/Eve: [Taking a bite from the apple] Mmmmmmmm, this could

        really spice up those pies I’ve been making.[1]

Jamey Heit, commenting on this scene, sees the reader-response hermeneutic clearly applied. He states:          

This conversation makes clear how Marge interprets the Garden of Eden story in light of her own experiences as a woman. In contrast to traditional renditions of the narrative, Homer/Adam is the one responsible for disobeying God’s order. As a woman, Marge understands how society in general and the church in particular blame women for being morally inferior. In Marge’s imagination men, and especially Homer, lack the moral fortitude to resist temptation.[2] 

From her perspective the Garden of Eden account takes on the flavor of her own life. In her own marriage it is Homer who is constantly getting into trouble, demonstrating moral weakness, and it is Marge who must clean up his mess. She, thus, retells the Biblical account in a fashion that makes sense to her.

As the account continues to unfold we have God coming on the scene and, with fingers pointed directly at Marge/Eve asking if she ate from the tree he had commanded them not to. Marge/Eve fumbles over her words while Homer/Adam kicks a nearby apple core under a bush. God’s instruction to Marge is that she needs to leave the garden and as she turns to Homer/Adam for help he responds in typical fashion, “I, um, think we should see other people.” Of course Marge’s frustrating marriage makes sense post-fall, but her interpretation of the Scriptures are a distortion of the text to fit her own context. The second story in this episode gives another picture of this hermeneutic culturally applied to Scripture.

In the Exodus account we have a godless story of Lisa’s heroic rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. “Lisa’s version provides another example of how an individual’s experiences influence the way that person imagines the Bible.”[3] Lisa is the show’s resident agnostic and definite feminist. So she retells the story of the Exodus through her lens beginning with a reinterpretation of one of the key elements of the story: the burning bush. As the story begins Pharaoh has come to check on the progress of his tomb, which the Israelite slaves are building, and is appalled to find that someone has graffitied “King Butt” on the wall. When he demands to know who did this the burning bush points to Bart and says “he did it.” In Lisa’s retelling of the story, then, God appears only to rat out Lisa’s brother and punish him. This means, then, that the role of Moses’ motivator and guide is left open and Lisa gladly steps in to fill that role.

            Lisa is the catalyst for what will become the Exodus, and this interpretation is made all the more credible by the character cast to play the role of Moses in her story: Milhouse. As Milhouse appears before Pharaoh with shyness, caution, and a general lack of authority it is Lisa who both speaks and acts to warn and compel Pharaoh. In this story Lisa really plays both the roles of God and Moses, and it is her ingenuity, authority, and superiority that leads to the Exodus. Heit writes, “Thus, God’s authority and agency give way to Lisa’s own self-appointed leadership…Her goal is not to understand the story as proving God’s commitment to the Israelites. Instead, she wants to give voice to her already strong self-perception of herself as somehow better than others.”[4]

            Routinely this is the pattern of Biblical interpretation that we see in The Simpsons and it closely imitates the culture at large. While Homer carries around a hollowed out Bible to hide his flask in (“the Gospel according to Puke” he calls it)[5], the real world has found the authority of Scripture to be equally as hollow. So Heit summarizes, “The Bible continues to be relevant in contemporary American culture, but in a form adapted to fit particular social needs rather than a sacred text to be interpreted with due diligence.”[6] From The Simpsons we can see just how silly this trend is, and how hypocritical it is when Christians do it. The show serves as a warning to us, a call to change our habits, and even if it is unintentional the show also calls the faithful back to honest interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. Who knew that Bart would correct Barth, that Homer would call us to be more like Martin Luther, and that Springfield would call for a hermeneutical revival in America? But that is, after all, the desired goal of satire, let’s pray that it works and strive to that goal.


[1] Heit, 58-59.

[2] Ibid. 

[3] Ibid. 61. 

[4] Ibid. 62-63.

[5] “Co-Dependents Day”

[6] Heit, 65.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Barth and Bart: The Simpsons as a Call to Biblical Reformation” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). Also see Jamey Heit, Reformation in Springfield: The Simpsons, Christianity, and American […]

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