Women in the Bible
Author: Voula Papas
The vast majority of people are bible illiterates. They only hear the palatable verses from the pulpit and blindly accept that the bible emanates goodness and is the word of God.
…Any honest, thinking person reading through the bible cannot ignore the blatant misogyny and barbarity towards women. The eminent ‘men of God” who wrote the bible were the product of patriarchal, tribal, violent, intolerant, monotheistic society. They reflect the ignorance and brutality of that society and at the dawn of a new millennium, fundamentalists insist that we should all abide by biblical law.
It is no accident that from the very beginning the bible cements women’s inferior status. In 1Timothy 2:11-15 we are told that women are not permitted to have authority over men and that they must be silent because Adam was formed first then Eve.
Consider this: when God created all the animals he made male and female together. Then he created Adam. Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden, so God puts Adam to sleep, extracts one of his ribs and out of that single rib creates Eve. Even before the fall woman is accorded inferior status by deliberately being created after Adam instead of being created together. Why would an all-knowing God create man first then woman, shouldn’t he have known that Adam would need a partner?
Anyway, God places Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and permits them to eat the fruit from all the trees but one – the tree of “knowledge”! The serpent, a wise and knowing creature approached Eve and suggested that she eat from the forbidden tree. When Eve saw that the fruit was desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it – it is no surprise that Abrahamic religions value ignorance as a virtue for women. Adam is exonerated from sin since it was the woman who led him astray.
Perhaps Adam would have been better off with an inflatable doll rather than a real, thinking woman!
Calvin declared: “Woman is more guilty than man, because she was seduced by Satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading to all perdition. It is necessary that woman recognize this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. This is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame.”
Eve was punished severely for her attempt to gain knowledge, for disobedience and for exerting independence from her husband. I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing… Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16. In accordance with God’s command, some fundamentalist sects forbid painkillers during childbirth.
Some years ago I had a heated discussion with a Greek Orthodox woman regarding the subject of women priests. She claimed that women should not and could not become priests because of their monthly unclean state – they would defile the altar. Her view summed up the biblical contempt for women’s bodies and natural functions (also shared by Islam and Judaism) There are several verses in the bible that emphasise women’s uncleanness.
“A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding. These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. She is to bring two doves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.” Leviticus 12: 1-8
If a woman gives birth to a girl she is unclean for twice as long.
“When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. â€¦ If a man lies with her and her monthly flow touches him, he will be unclean for seven days…” Leviticus 15:19-32.
“Man born of woman. Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!” Job 14:1-4
In some denominations women are still considered unclean during their menses. E.g. in the Greek Orthodox church women who have given birth attend church forty days after the birth to make amends for their uncleanness and be declared clean by the priest. Young women are still exhorted by their mothers and mothers in law to bow to this insulting and demeaning ritual.
The words whore and harlot are used frequently in the bible to describe women who deviated from the double standards sexual moral code. Women’s bodies were not their own but the property of fathers and husbands. Virginity and chastity were mandatory for women and any woman breaking the double standard moral code was put to death. Under Mosaic Law men were permitted many wives while women were permitted only one and were subject to a test for unfaithfulness – Numbers 5:11-31. Men could divorce their wives on a whim – Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
Women’s main role was to bear male children and infertile women were scorned. In the bible it was always the women who were sterile, never the men.
“If however the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death…” Deuteronomy 22:13-21.
Cultures, which demand virginity and chastity in women, have as their bedrock the double standard morality code. If men are encouraged to view women as depreciative chattels they will never regard them as human. And if women are not regarded as human, then all kinds of atrocities and injustices are permissible against them!
“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head;” 1 Corinthians 11:9, 10.
“women should remain silent in churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission…”1 Corinthians 14:34
“Wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord.” Colossians 3:18
Polygamy still exists amongst fundamentalist Mormons and certain sects. A fundamentalist group in America instructs women to call their husbands MASTER and to practice the art of being a SLAVE. Various fundamentalists exhort wives to submit and obey and have embarked on a chastity crusade targeting young women.
Today the religious right still uses the bible as a manual for the enslavement of women and persecution of homosexuals. Not only is the bible infested with sexism, but violence and obscenity also abound. Under the guise of “family values”, the religious right is fighting to reverse all the gains made by women: the right to own property, the right to tertiary education, the right to work, the right to childcare, the right to vote, the right to plan their families, the right to equal wages, the right to enter politics and above all the right to sexual autonomy.
In the Roman Catholic tradition the Virgin Mary is held up as a role model for women. She symbolizes female “virtues” such as obedience, submission, chastity and silence. In fervent Catholic countries, Catholic women are encouraged to emulate her.
In fact the more women submit and self-efface themselves the more they are praised for being “good” Christian women. The Roman Catholic Church glorifies one woman while it rubbishes all the rest.
The “glory” of motherhood is constantly drummed into women with the intent of preventing them from doing anything else. At the same time the bible emphasises women’s uncleanness after childbirth, and states that we are all born sinful. Even Mary had to make a sin offering after the birth of Jesus.
Women should beware of campaigns to enshrine “God’s Law” and “family values” into secular law. Whenever “family values” and “god’s law” are mentioned, the little alarm bells inside my head start ringing loudly!
It is time women saw the bible for what it is: a man-made, primitive “revelation”! No woman with a shred of self-esteem would want to demean herself by bowing to such tyrannical and self-effacing absolutes. Every time a woman submits to such demotion she throws away her sell-worth. Women’s self-worth is anathema to fundamentalists who accuse women of being selfish and ungiving.
Some Christian apologists claim that sexist biblical verses are a reflection of Hebrew society of that time and that Jesus Christ was a reformer who endeavoured to improve the status of women. They point to Proverbs 31:10-31 describing the virtues of a good wife – hard working, intelligent while implying that such women are so rare that their price is more than the price of rubies. On the other hand, fundamentalists invoke sexist verses in order to deny women their rights. In the US, Reconstructionists dream of doing away with the constitution and enforcing their own version of “God’s law” based on the Old Testament. They advocate the death penalty for adultery, homosexuality, witchcraft, blasphemy, unchastity and sacrificing to “false gods”.
Despite apologists’ attempts to “white-wash” the bible with a litany of excuses, it does not change the fact that the bible is anti women.
I urge you not to take my word for it but to check it out yourself. Here are some more biblical “gems” to look up:
2:22 Eve created from Adam’s rib.
3:16 Cursed with painful childbirth and domination by husband.
4:17 Cain marries sister?
4:19 Man marries two wives.
12:13-19 Abraham prostitutes wife.
19:1-8 Rape virgin daughters instead of male angels.
19:26 Lot’s wife turned into pillar of salt for disobeying god.
19:30-38 Lot impregnates his two daughters while drunk. (So much for “family values”!)
20:2-12 Abraham prostitutes wife – again.
25:1-6 Keeping many concubines is OK.
20:17 Wife as property.
21:4 Wife and children belong to master.
21:7-11 OK to sell daughters. Female slaves can be used for sex.
Polygamy permitted. Unwanted female slaves can be set “free” without payment of money.
22:18 Kill witches.
12:1 Childbirth a sin, Women unclean after childbirth.
15:19-32 Menstruating women are unclean.
20:10-16 Death penalty for homosexuality and various sexual transgressions.
21:7 Priests must not marry prostitutes or divorcees.
21:9 Burn daughters.
21:13-14 Priest must marry virgin, not “used” woman.
1:2 Census lists only men – women do not count.
5:11-31 Fidelity test for women only.
30:1-16 Woman’s vow invalid unless approved by her father or husband.
31:17-18 Kill all except virgins. Keep virgins for yourselves.
CH 12 Miriam punished for rebuking Moses.
20:14 Take women, livestock as plunder.
22:13-21 Stone non-virgin bride.
22:23-24 Stone rapist and rape victim.
22:28 Rape victim must marry rapist; rape victim’s father compensated for depreciation of his property.
25:11-12 Cut woman’s hand for touching foe’s penis.
24:1-5 Man can “send” wife from HIS house. Man must not marry “used” woman.
28:18 The FRUIT of your womb will be cursed – eclectic “pro-life” verse!
5:30 Women are spoils of war.
14:20 Samson gives wife to another man.
16:1 Samson visits prostitute.
CH 19 Concubine pack-raped and butchered.
21:10-12 Slaughtered all inc. women and children. Saved virgins for wives.
21:21 Abducted girls for wives.
Ruth shags Boaz.
15:2-3 Attack Amalekites, kill men, women, children and livestock.
22:19 Kill all inc. infants and livestock.
21:4-5 Men avoid defilement with women.
5:13 David took many wives and concubines.
CH 13 Ammon rapes his own sister.
16:21-22 Absalom sleeps with his father’s concubines.
6:20-23 Mischal punished with bareness.
11:3 Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
9:30-37 Brutal murder of Jezebel.
15:13 Put to death unbelievers.
11:21 Hoards of wives and concubines.
CH 1-2 Queen Vashti dethroned for disobedience; setting “bad” example to all other women.
51:5 Sinful since conception.
127:3 Sons are heritage from god.
137:9 Seizes infants and dashes them against rocks.
CH 5 Beware of wicked women!
CH 7 More of the above.
6:24 As above.
31:3 Do not waste strength on women.
3:16-26 Lord punishes haughty women.
4:4 Filthy women.
13:16 Ravish wives, dash infants.
19:16 Will be like women! (insult to Egyptians)
9:6-7 Slaughter all including children.
CH 16 Prostitutes, stoning, promiscuity…
CH 23 Tale of two adulterous sisters – reads like the script of a pornographic film. I bet you weren’t told this story at Sunday school!
13:16 Rip pregnant women, dash little ones. (Another “pro-life” verse!)
3:4… wanton lust of a harlot… prostitution… witchcraft.
3:5 I will lift your skirts over your face!
3:13… Your troops are all women. (insult to Nineveh)
5:32 Husband can divorce wife for adultery. Can wife divorce husband for the same?
CH 25 Sexist tale of ten virgins.
2:22 Mary must be purified after birth of Jesus.
2:49 Jesus rebukes his mother.
11:2-10… Woman created for man.
14:34 Women must be silent in churches.
5:22-24 Wives must submit to husbands in everything.
3:18 Wives submit to husbands.
3:22 Slaves must obey masters in everything.
2:11-15 Woman must not have authorityâ€¦she must be silent. Women can be saved with childbearing.
5:9-10 Widows should be faithful to husband and must wash saints’ feet.
2:18 Slaves submit to masters, even masters who are harsh.
3:1 Wives submit.
3:5-6 Sarah calls husband master.
CH 17 Destroy great prostitute.
14:4…they did not DEFILE themselves with women but kept themselves pure.