Old and New Testament Views On the Nature and Place of Woman

Part One: Old Testament

By Abraham Van Luik, abevanluik@thoughtsandplaces.org

The vast sweep of the narrative from Genesis to Malachi
makes it necessary to select the parts of the Old Testament to be
examined here. It is the Pentateuch, the first five books,
reputedly authored by Moses, that sets the stage for the rest of
the Old Testament in terms of defining humanity's place in
relation to God. Hence, the Pentateuch receives special
attention here.
The plan is to highlight selected episodes as described in
the Old Testament that have implications regarding men-woman or
or God-man-woman relationships.


The Genesis story of Adam and Eve is true myth: an
explanation of mankind's present state. Of special interest in
the context of defining woman's place are the "curses" pronounced
on the serpent who beguiled Eve, on Eve for beguiling Adam, and
on Adam for hearkening to his wife (see Gen. 3:14, 16, and 17).
When the serpent and Adam are cursed, God is represented as
prefacing the curse with: "Because thou hast"... . When Eve's
curse is pronounced, however, it is presumably for her being
beguiled or tempted into transgressing a commandment, and for in
turn beguiling Adam, but God is not represented as making that
cause and effect relationship explicitly clear with a "because
thou hast." That the fall of Adam, and not of Eve, is usually
the occasion that is cited as having brought death into the world
partakes of this same spirit: man is accountable for the
transgressions of the woman under his authority.
The curse of Genesis 3:16 itself has been variously rendered
into English by the King James Version (KJV), Revised Standard
Version (RSV), The Jerusalem Bible (TJB), and the New English
Bible (NEB), respectively, as:

I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception
[Hebrew: increase thy discomfort and thy size (i.e., in
the condition and process of pregnancy)] in sorrow
thou shalt bring forth children and thy desire shall
be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. [KJV:
footnote inserted into text]

I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing in
pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire
shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.

I will multiply your pains in childbearing you shall
give birth to your children in pain. Your yearning
shall be for your husband, yet he will lord it over
you. [TJB]

I will increase your labor and your groaning, and in
labor you shall bear children. You shall be eager [OR
feel an urge] for your husband, and he shall be your
master. [NEB: footnote inserted into text]

The latter rendering from the New English Bible (NEB) has
great appeal because it seems to encompass a greater field of
view: the fall will cause woman more work and more suffering,
and part of her work will be the bearing of children. Also, her
emotional dependence on her husband, and its natural result, are
forecast. In addition, it appears to be but a slight variation
of Adam's curse:

... accursed shall be the ground ... With labor you
shall win your food from it ... It will grow thorns and
thistles for you, none but wild plants for you to eat.
You shall gain your bread by the sweat of your brow ...
. (Gen 3:17-19, NEB)

The theme of this curse is the same as the theme of Eve's
curse: labor and suffering will be the result of the fall. The
physical struggle against the elements, for survival, will
increase the dependence of the physically weaker upon the
physically stronger. The vulnerability of the physically weak to
the elements and to the physically strong could, presumably,
result in the whole complex of security needs that translate into
the "urge", "yearning", or "desire" on the part of the woman for
the man.
The curses thus are simple forecasts of what will happen in
this physical realm, this physical, imperfect, fallen plane of
existence. The curses describe natural man in a fallen state,
and by contrast say that prior to the fall, the maintenance of
life was not dependent on great, difficult, physical labor the
reproduction of life was not a painful or a sorrowful experience
and there was, therefore, no advantage towards ensuring either
survival or reproductive success in being biologically superior
in strength or function. Biologically dictated hierarchies of
stronger over weaker are, so it seems, a mark of a fallen state
or plane of existence.
The Pentateuch contains much that is difficult to reconcile
with twentieth century morality. The story of Lot is an example.
Lot receives two visitors, men, and asks them to stay the night.
His neighbors descend on his house and say: "Bring them out,
..., so that we may have intercourse with them." (Gen 19:5b, NEB)
Lot answers:

No, my friends, do not be so wicked. Look, I have two
daughters, both virgins let me bring them out to you,
and you can do what you like with them but do not
touch these men, because they have come under the
shelter of my roof. (Gen 19:7b-8, NEB)

Lot's curious gesture evidences two societal practices:
guaranteeing the safety of your houseguests, and a father having
total power and authority over the fate of his dependent
daughters. It is a great curiosity that it is Lot's unnamed wife
who is harshly punished for her minor indiscretion, while nothing
is recorded regarding God's view of Lot's willingness to
sacrifice his daughters to save himself. In comparison, Lot's
wife's looking back was, perhaps, no more than a human gesture of
sorrow and compassion for her former neighbors.
Another story with implications regarding the value of woman
is found in Genesis 22, which tells the story of Abraham's
greatest trial, wherein his willingness to sacrifice his son is
determined. As a result of his great display of faith, he gains
promises such as:

I will bless you abundantly and greatly multiply your
descendants until they are as numerous as the stars in
the sky and the grains of sand on the sea-shore. Your
descendants shall inherit the cities of their enemies.
All nations on earth shall pray to be blessed as your
descendants are blessed, and this because you have
obeyed me. (Gen 22:17-18, NEB)

The materialism implied in the promises Abraham received
might be attributable to zeal in the descendants of Abraham who
may have transcribed this writing during times of great
nationalistic ferver. But the more serious part of the story's
shortcoming is that Sarah is never mentioned and appears,
therefore, to have no part in this trial, again suggesting, as
did the failure to say that Eve's curses were for her breaking
her commandment, that man covenants with and is therefore
responsible to God, and not woman. She is not mentioned as
having a part in the promise either, but it is curious that she
was previously given a very similar promise: ..."she shall be the
mother of nations the kings of many people shall spring from
her." (Gen 17:16, NEB)

Similarly, previous to the trial of Abraham's faith the Lord
had already decided that this man, Abraham ..." will become a
great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will pray to
be blessed as he is blessed." (Gen 18:18, NEB) So what was
gained by the trial of Abraham's faith?
Christians see it as an education for Abraham, wherein he
learns what it is like to have to sacrifice a strongly loved
child to a brutal fate in order to accomplish a higher purpose.
If that was the purpose of the trial, then the story should have
included some indication of Abraham's knowing that sacrificing
Isaac would serve some defined purpose. But Abraham was only
obeying a voice which he thought was the Lord's, and he never
questioned or sought a reprieve as in the case of the impending
destruction of the cities of the plain.
Given that Sarah and Abraham had each, separately, already
been promised that which was gained by the willingness of Abraham
to sacrifice Isaac, could this story be an interpolation designed
to raise the stature of Abraham and Isaac and diminish that of
Sarah? We will return to this theme in Part Four of this book.

On the positive side, the characterization of Sarah as the
mother of nations and of kings (Gen 17:16) is rather egalitarian.
Also, the story of Rebecca at one point marks her as a woman of
spiritual stature and prophetic gift by indicating God spoke to
her: "So she went to seek guidance of the Lord. The Lord said to
her"... . (Gen 25:22-23, NEB)
Genesis, as the rest of the Pentateuch, assumes that
polygamy is the social norm. The nature of man-woman
relationships in the society described in Genesis is well
illustrated by the story of Jacob's marriages to Leah and Rachel.
Leah's pitiful plight is described in Gen. 29:30-35. She
was unloved, and she knew it. And God knew it, so he gave her
sons. Her sons gave her hope of becoming loved by and united
with her husband, since she was providing him sons and his
favorite wife wasn't.
The immediacy of God in these accounts gives an aura of
divine approval to these strange proceedings. It appears that
the man's great ambition in life was to have numerous sons, and a
woman's stature was dependent upon her bearing them. Hence, we
have Rachel uttering the pathetic cry, "Give me sons or I shall
die." (Gen 30:1, NEB) This was the cry of a woman who has
failed as a woman, and in her desperation she offered her
slave-girl to her husband, who obliges and has two sons by her.
Not to be outdone, Leah also enters her slave-girl into the
competition, and Jacob has two sons by her. One wonders what the
point of it all might be, and how God could be so intimately
involved in this entire state of affairs, where women compete
using their reproductive capacity, and where the reproductive
capacities of their slaves are marshalled as if they were just so
much machinery.
It is also not evident that Jacob does anything to defuse
the warfare of the womb, he just continues his impregnation of
his wives and their slaves, until Rachel becomes a sacrifice to
her maternal, and his paternal, ambitions: she died bringing
forth a son. Shortly thereafter God changes Jacob's name to
Israel, and even after the death of his favorite wife he is told
to: "Be fruitful and increase as a nation a host of nations
shall come from you, and kings shall spring from your body." (Gen
35:11, NEB) God's message seems to be that human life on earth
is the life of men, and is suggestive of the idea that women are
the devices man uses to reproduce himself.
It is Israel's posterity, in the end, that matters. The
wives Israel uses to increase his "nation" seem to lack
importance: it isn't Israel and Rachel's nation, or Israel and
Leah's nation, but only Israel's. Rachel's sacrifice in
childbirth is like the sacrifice of Isaac: a testament to the
righteousness of the men making the sacrifice, which sacrifice in
both cases is rewarded with the promise of nations flowing from
that man's loins. The only real difference is that God preserved
Isaac so he could have his seed, but Rachel was allowed to die.
The seed of Isaac that grew within her was saved, of course.
Besides his eleven sons, Jacob also had one girl, Dinah,
borne by Leah. Dinah had a traumatic experience. While visiting
women of the region: "Schechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, who
was ruler of that region, saw her, carried her off and raped her,
and so dishonored her." (Gen 34:2, TJB)
How this affected Dinah, the account does not state. But it
does state that the young man was "captivated" by Dinah, and that
..." he fell in love with her and comforted her." (Gen 34:3, TJB)
The young man asks his father to arrange for her to become his
bride. The father negotiates with Jacob and his sons. The sons
pretend to be sincere and to negotiate in good faith. Their
terms are that all males in the town where the rapist and his
father live be circumcised.
The townspeople agree to this ordeal, presumably because the
rapist..."was held in respect above anyone in his father's
house." (Gen 34:19, TJB) While the townsmen were still in great
pain, two of Dinah's full brothers enter the town and murder all
the males. They take Dinah from Schechem's house, showing that
she was still being held captive there and illustrating the
strength of Schechem's bargaining position.
The rest of Jacob's sons then come and plunder the city.
They bring back livestock and everything of value in home or
counryside, including all wives and little children. Jacob
complains that if their acts bring about retaliatory attacks from
the people of the country ... "I shall be destroyed, I and my
household with me." (Gen 34:30, NEB)
God intervenes and tells Jacob to move to Bethel. Jacob
instructs his sons to get rid of the foreign gods they picked up
as part of their plunder, and also tells them to ... "purify
yourselves, and see your clothes are mended." (Gen 35:2, NEB)
In Bethel, God appears to Jacob and promises him that "The
land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac I give to you and to your
descendants after you, I give this land." (Gen 35:12, NEB)
Apparently wholesale slaughter, robbery, kidnaping, and whatever
else was inflicted upon innocent villagers was not sinful or even
worthy of mention by God. Jacob worried about retaliation and
his survival, and not about the dastardly deeds of his sons. The
record never clarifies how Dinah felt about her ordeal, or how
she felt about the carnage effected to avenge her loss of honor.
One also wonders how well the captured women and children were
integrated into Jacob's household, and how they viewed Dinah and
From this episode it becomes apparent that the civilization
in the midst of which Jacob finds himself thinks little of rape,
even by its most prominent citizens. It almost seems as if rape
is a way to meet women and gives one the option of marrying them
if one likes them. Furthermore, the will and desire of a woman
are of little consequence, it is the will and desire of her male
relatives that determine her fate without her even being present
or consulted. The patriarchal family of Jacob blended into this
milieu without any problem, they understood the rules, but broke
them to avenge their sister's honor. In the process they showed
again that in their ethical system men are collectively
accountable, not women, hence men are killed and women are
The racial or cultural distinctions between peoples are
puzzling in this part of the Old Testament: When Esau married
two Canaanite women, his parents, Isaac and Rebecca, grieved
bitterly. (Gen 26:35) Yet it was fine for Abraham to have
children by Hagar the Egyptian, and by his concubine Keturah,
whose offspring he ... "sent ... away eastwards, to a land of the
east, out of his son Isaac's way." (Gen 25:6, NEB) The
difference appears to be this: wives have to be of the correct
lineage, but concubines do not. Furthermore, children of
concubines are not as important as children of wives.
To illustrate, Jacob's mother cried, "I am weary to death of
Hittite women! If Jacob marries a Hittite woman like those who
live here, my life will not be worth living." (Gen 27:46, NEB)
Jacob is sent to Laban's house and obtains his two daughters for
wives. But he also has children, who also become patriarchs of
Israel, by his other two wives: the two slaves, Bilhah and
Zilpah, who were Canaanites. These two women appear to have
become his slaves after he has children by them. (Gen 32:22)
Bilhah and Zilpah and their children knew their place,
however, when Esau and 400 men came upon Jacob and his family.
Fearing attack, Jacob led a column formed by placing his two
slaves and their children in front, Leah and her children next,
and Rachel and her son Joseph last. (Gen 33:2) This ranking was
an attempt to save his favorite wife, of course, and whether the
story is illustrative or prescriptive is not clear. The lower
status of the concubines illustrated here is no surprise, but the
lower status of their children seems to be well illustrated here
also. Although they also became patriarchs of Israel, there was
no hesitancy about sacrificing them first in this fearful
situation. Israel's strategy was that his brother might get
weary of bloodshed, or might have dissipated his anger, before he
got to the end of the line.
Further insight into the purpose of woman in the society
described in the Genesis account is given in Chapter 38 of that
book. The story of Judah, son of Jacob and Leah, is of special
interest in this regard. Judah married a Canaanite woman named
Bathshua and they had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er's
wife was Tamar, "But Er, Judah's firstborn, offended Yahweh
greatly, so Yahweh brought about his death." (Gen 38:7, TJB)
Judah told Onan to "Take your brother's wife, and do your duty as
her brother-in-law to produce a child for your brother." (Gen
38:9, TJB)
Onan has intercourse with his brother's widow, but withdraws
in time to spill his seed on the ground. He knew the child would
not be his and did not want to produce a child for his brother.
This angered God and he ... "brought about his death also." (Gen
38:10, TJB)
It appears from this narrative that a woman's purpose in
this society was to perpetuate a man's name and family in this
world. That the women of this society accepted this role is
illustrated by what happens next. Tamar begins to realize that
Judah's third son, Shelah, who was supposed to do his duty toward
her when he grew up, was not going to do so because Judah feared
for his life. Apparently Judah felt that Tamar was responsible
for Er and Onan's deaths, and he sent her back to her father's
house to protect his young son Shelah. (Gen 38:11,14)
After Judah's wife dies, Tamar takes the initiative and,
dressed as a prostitute, showed up on a road she knew Judah would
be traveling. Judah saw her and said: "Come, let me sleep with
you." (Gen 38:16, TJB) Judah promised her payment the next day,
and she asked for his seal, its cord, and his staff as assurance
until she received payment. The next day Judah sent a friend to
make payment, but she was not to be found. (Gen 38:12-24)
Three months later Judah learns that his daughter-in-law,
the unmarried widow of his sons, has played the harlot and gotten
herself pregnant. He orders her to be burnt. As she is being
led to the place of execution, she sends the seal, cord, and
staff to Judah with the message that these belong to the father
of the child she carries. Judah admits his error in not giving
her to his third son as required. She has twins, and they are
acknowledged as Judah's sons. (Gen 38:24-30 46:12 1 Chron 2:4)
As usual, there are a number of curiosities in this story.
But Judah's wanton behavior, and his willingness to put his ex-
daughter-in-law to death for the same behavior, are enigmas of
the first magnitude. The power of this patriarch over the life
of a female in his family extends from orchestrating her sex life
after she is widowed to banishing her to her father's house at
his pleasure. Even there, however, his power over her is total:
he can take her life if she violates the moral standard. Yet he
can violate that standard without risk.
The motivation of Tamar appears sincere. As far as the
record goes she was quite adamant that justice be done and that
she become one of Judah's sons' wives. Whether she wanted to
raise up children to the name of her first husband, or whether
her motives were the retention of status or security cannot be
judged from the record. It is entirely possible that her motive
was similar to that which brought Lot's two daughters to take the
iniative and have children by their father: ... "that we may
preserve the seed of our father." (Gen 19:32, KJV)
With this our examination of Genesis ends.


In the book of Exodus, the sister of Moses, Miriam, is
introduced as "the prophetess." (Ex 15:20, KJV) That her stature
was considerable is borne out by Micah, who has the Lord saying:
"I sent Moses and Aaron and Miriam to lead you." (Micah 6:4, NEB)
The story of Miriam and Aaron's speaking against Moses
because he had taken a Cushite (Ethiopian [KJV]) wife, is found
in the book of Numbers, Chapter l2, verses l-l5. Miriam and
Aaron apparently challenged Moses' special status before the Lord
by saying: "Is Moses the only one with whom the Lord has spoken?
Has he not spoken to us as well?" (Num 12:2-3, NEB)
God summons the three with his voice, and they approached
the Tent of the Presence, where Aaron and Miriam are told to step
forward. They are covered by a cloud, and the Lord proceeds to
tell them that mere prophets have visions and dreams wherein the
Lord directs them in riddles or "dark speeches," [KJV] but Moses
is special, he enters into the very presence of God, is spoken to
clearly and face to face, and commands great fear and respect.
(Num 12:6-8) "Thus the anger of the Lord was roused against them
and he left them and as the cloud moved from the tent, there was
Miriam, her skin diseased and white as snow." (Num 12:9-10, NEB)
Aaron and Moses pray to the Lord to heal her. In answer,
he, God, directs that she be cast out of the camp for seven days,
after which she returns healed.
Why did not Aaron suffer the same fate? Was it because
Miriam took the initiative in criticising, or was it because she
was a woman? The record does not say. All it says is that the
Lord was angry with both of them.

The Law of Moses

The Law of Moses has the distinction of having been dictated
by God. It is contained in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and
Numbers. A summary is given in Deuteronomy. The discussion that
follows is selectively focused on issues dealing either
specifically with women or dealing with closely related human
rights issues.
It is of immediate interest that the law is directed at men:
"Yahweh said to Moses, 'Tell the sons of Israel this,'"... . (Ex
20:22, TJB) That this rendering is not an artifact due to the
use of The Jerusalem Bible (TJB) can be shown by examining Exodus
l9 and 20, where Moses' encounter with Yahweh on Sinai is
described. In the King James Version (KJV), "the people", a term
routinely translated as "the sons" in the TJB, is used for the
intended audience of the law. The "people" were told to prepare
themselves for the presence of God by washing their clothes and
holding themselves in readiness for the third day when Yahweh
would ... "descend on the mountain of Sinai in the sight of all
the people." (Ex 19:11, TJB)
"All the people", however are ... "the House of Israel, the
sons of Jacob"..., (Ex 19:3, TJB) and to confirm that women were
not invited to see the Lord's descent, Moses ... "said to the
people, 'Be ready for the third day do not go near any woman."
(Ex 19:15, TJB) This theme will be revisited in the following
section regarding ritual uncleanness.

Ritual uncleanness

The above reference to abstention from sexual contact with
women as a requirement for ritual purity becomes part of the law:
"When a woman has slept with a man, both of them must wash and
they will be unclean until evening." (Lev 15:18, TJB)
Not all the laws regarding ritual cleanliness are equally
applied to men and women as this one is, however. Purification
of a woman after childbirth, for example, entails a seven-day
period of uncleanness with a thirty-three day period of impure
blood if the baby was a boy. If the baby was a girl, the
uncleanness period was doubled to fourteen days, and the period
of impure blood was doubled to sixty-six days, according to the
twelfth chapter of Leviticus.
Sacrifices for sin are prescribed in Leviticus 4 and 5. For
sins of high priests or the whole community of Israel, a young
bull must be sacrificed. For the sins of a private individual, a
she-goat or a female lamb should be used, unless the individual
can't afford to sacrifice a goat or a lamb, in which case a pair
of turtle doves, or two young pigeons, or some wheat flour will
do. The hierarchy of efficacy is unmistakable: within the same
species the male is a more efficacious sacrifice for sin than the
Leviticus l6 describes the great "Day of Atonement", the
annual day when a young bull, a goat, and a ram are sacrificed,
and a second goat is sent into the desert carrying with it all
the faults of ... "the sons of Israel." (Lev 16:19,21,34, TJB)
This phrase, "the sons of Israel", is variously translanted as
"Israelites" (NEB), "people of Israel" (Revised Standard Version,
RSV), and "children of Israel" (KJV). Similarly, in Exodus l9:6,
the "children of Israel" (KJV) turn out to be only the "sons of
Israel" (TJB) because of the admonition ... "come not at your
wives." (Ex 19:15, KJV)
The various translations consistently translate the same
nouns in the same ways. Therefore, there are a number of
instances where the NEB gives "Israelites", the TJB gives "sons
of Israel", the KJV give "children of Israel", and the RSV has
"people of Israel". The obvious question is, which one is
correct? And the disconcerting answer is "all of the above".
The translations that give gender-neutral renditions are
literally correct because in the society that produced the
originals of these scriptures it was the men that constituted the
nation, the people, or the family heirs. The TJB is correct in
saying "sons" because from our culture's perspective it may be
obvious that the ancients used gender-neutral nouns with an
implied gender. This can be further illustrated by examing
Exodus l2:37 and Leviticus 25:55.
In Exodus l2:37 the "children of Israel" (KJV) are described
as being... "about six hundred thousand on foot that were men,
beside children." Women are neither counted nor mentioned, only
implied to be present by the mention of the children, who are
also not counted. The RSV says "women and children", for which
textual support is lacking, judging by the use of "dependents"
and "their families" by the NEB and TJB translators.
The Lev. 25:55 reference is even more obvious. It follows a
detailed discussion of all the ways that a male Hebrew slave may
be redeemed, including the Jubilee year when all male Hebrew
slaves (but not female Hebrew slaves or non-Hebrew slaves of
either sex) are to be freed because (KJV): ... "unto me the
children of Israel are servants they are my servants whom I
brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." The
plain meaning is that male Hebrews are God's and not man's
servants. The "children of Israel" (KJV) are, therefore, the
"sons of Israel" (TJB). The contention that female Hebrew slaves
were not to be freed at the time of Jubilee will be explored in
the next section.
The Law of Moses, which ensured forgiveness of sin and
prosperity in the land, was enjoined upon the men of Israel, they
were accountable to God. They were also responsible for the
obedience of their dependents and the strangers within their
gates (see Ex 20:10, for example). Much later Joshua reads the
entire law to ... "the full assembly of Israel, with the women
and children there, and the strangers living among the people."
(Josh 8:35, TJB) The inclusion of the non-Israelites in this
meeting shows it to be an information meeting, and not a
covenant-making meeting, however.


Exodus 2l:1-ll gives the rules for slavery within the Hebrew
nation: A Hebrew slave must be set free after six years' service,
with his wife if he was already married when he became a slave.
If the owner provided him with a wife, and children were born
during the six-year period of servitude, the man could not leave
his master at the seventh year unless he left alone, since ...
"wife and children shall belong to her master." (Ex 21:4, TJB)
If he desires to remain with his wife and children, he must
volunteer for lifelong slavery.
A woman slave, however, ... "shall not regain her liberty
like male slaves." (Ex 21:7, TJB) She becomes a slave by being
sold by her father, (Ex 21:7) and sexual relations with her
owner, or her owner's son, or her owner's slave are assumed as a
matter of intent at the time of purchase. She becomes a
concubine, hence cannot be set free after six years' service. If
she does not please her master, however, her father must be given
the opportunity of buying her back. If she loses favor when an
additional wife is brought into the household, and she is cheated
of food, clothing, or conjugal rights as a consequence, she may
leave her master without having to pay him for his loss.
Presumably, the preceeding provisions were dictated by God.
This does not speak well for God. The crassness of this buying
and selling of women is shocking. The notion of lifetime
ownership with sexual privileges, unless the woman ceases to
please, or someone else becomes more interesting, in which case
she may be returned to her vendor for a cash refund or be ignored
until she goes away, is utterly foreign to contemporary,
enlightened notions of human or divine justice. In modern
practice, married women are also sent home or easily replaced and
left to fend for themselves when they cease to satisfy or please.
The source of these provisions in the Law of Moses, as in the
modern practice, is not divine.
Brutality toward slaves is also a given in this so-called
law of God. Its extent and victims are, however, subjects of
Hebrew slaves were to be treated kindly: "You shall not
drive him with ruthless severity." (Lev 25:43, NEB) The Hebrew
slave was, thus, more of an indentured servant. Real slaves,
however, male and female, were to be bought from the surrounding
nations. That these were in a different category of slave is
apparent from: "These may become your property, and you may
leave them to your sons after you you may use them as slaves
permanently. But your fellow Israelites you shall not drive with
ruthless severity." (Lev 25:45, NEB)
More than likely, the following provisions pertain to the
treatment of non-Israelite slaves:

When a man strikes his slave or slave-girl in the eye
and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free in
compensation for the eye. When he knocks out a tooth
of a slave or a slave-girl, he shall let the slave go
free in compensation for the tooth. (Ex 21:26-27, NEB)

It is not correct to see justice in these provisions. The
owner has either destroyed the effectiveness of his working
property or he has caused a health problem that could cost him
time, effort, or resources to deal with. There was no medical
benefit or welfare-services center available: the hurting slave
or slave-girl was a stranger in a strange land in a very
unenviable position. The following should dispel the notion that
the law provided for a modicum of justice in the slavery system
allowed in Israel:

When a man strikes his slave or slave-girl with a stick
and the slave dies on the spot, he must be punished.
But he shall not be punished if the slave survives for
one day or two, because he is worth money to his
master. (Ex 21:20-21, NEB)

It is extremely difficult to entertain the notion that this
inhumanly cruel legislation could be inspired in any way, shape,
or form by a God that is just.

Women taken in war

The subject of women taken in war allows additional insight
into provisions in the law regarding women and slaves. The
subject needs some introduction.
When the invading Israelites first met the Midianites, the
"daughters of Moab" invited the sons of Israel over for some
ritual celebrations, including sexual intercourse with their
women, in honor of Baal. Yahweh sent a plague upon Israel,
killing 24,000, and ordered the destruction of these Midianites.
(Num 25)
The Israelites obeyed and killed all the men, bringing the
women and children, livestock and property, back as booty. Moses
was enraged at their sparing the women, the very ones who had
..."perverted the sons of Israel," (Num 31:15, TJB) and ordered:
"So kill all the male children. Kill also all the women who have
slept with a man. Spare the lives only of the young girls who
have not slept with a man, and take them for yourselves." (Num
31:17-18, TJB)
The "take them for yourselves" provision is expounded in the
ground-rules for war given in Deuteronomy 20:10-20. If the war
is waged against peoples inhabiting the nearby lands that the
Lord has promised to Israel as a patrimony, then ..."thou shalt
save alive nothing that breathes." (Deut 20:16, KJV) For more
distant towns, however, ... "you are to put all its menfolk to
the sword. But the women, the children, the livestock and all
that the town contains, all its spoil, you may take for
yourselves as booty." (Deut 20:14, TJB) The women captives may
be selected for 'wives': ... "if you see a beautiful woman among
the prisoners and find her desirable, you may make her your wife
and bring her to your home." (Deut 21:11-12, TJB)
Before this marriage is consummated, however, a
sophisticated, month-long ritual of humiliation is to be carried
out to help her make the transition from person to possession:

You shall bring her into your house, where she shall
shave her head, pare her nails, and discard the clothes
which she had when captured. Then she shall stay in
your house and mourn for her father and mother for a
full month. After that you may have intercourse with
her you shall be her husband and she shall be your
wife. (Deut 21:12-13, NEB)

Her 'wife' status is somewhat different from that of a wife
obtained from among the nation of Israel by more conventional
means, however: ... "if you no longer find her pleasing, let her
go free. You must not sell her, not treat her harshly, since you
have had your will with her." (Deut 21:14, NEB) For the same
verse, the RSV has "you shall not treat her as a slave, since you
have humiliated her." This variant reading allows a clear
connection to be made between the forced sexual act that
punctuates the month-long ordeal that makes her compliant, and
her humiliation. It is a month-long attack on her identity,
showing her by her loss of hair and clothing that she has lost
her former identity, and rape is used to establish her new
What could possibly become of a woman so discarded in a
society that is alien, if not hostile towards her? The topic of
the next section may provide one answer, enslavement by a man
other than her original humiliator is also not ruled out by the


The law says:

No Israelite woman shall become a temple-prostitute,
and no Israelite man shall prostitute himself in this
way. You shall not allow a common prostitute's fee, or
the pay of a male prostitute, to be brought into the
house of the Lord your God in fulfillment of any vow,
for both of them are abominable to the Lord your God.
(Deut 23:17-18, NEB)

It is unfair to read something into the absence of a
specific prohibition of prostitution by the non-Israelites living
in the land. That prostitutes were 'abominable' to God is not a
prohibition per se, but it is permission to abuse or punitively
use or mistreat the prostitute. The only prostitute that is
singled out for destruction in the law is a priest's daughter.
Her actions profane her father and therefore she must be burned.
((Lev 21:9) The common man's daughter is under no such threat,
however, unless she tries to pass herself off as a virgin and
marries: if her lie is discovered, she is to be stoned by the men
of the city at her father's doorstep. (Deut 22:21)
A father in Israel may sell his daughter to be a slave, but
he should not prostitute her to be a whore. (Lev 19:29) Nowhere
is the user of the whore condemned, however, and in this context
the foreign women, mentioned in the previous section, who were
acting in the capacity of ritual or temple prostitutes were
considered guilty of perverting the sons of Israel, and their
entire city was destroyed, all but the virgin girls. It is not
clear whether God's plague on the men who participated with them
was punishment for sexual misconduct on the part of the sons of
Israel, or punishment for expressing ritual love for Baal.
The story of Judah and Tamar is instructive here. Tamar was
judged worthy for death for playing the whore, Judah was not
liable to any punishment for using her, however. He admitted
only to the fault of not providing her his youngest son to be her
husband. (Gen 38:26) Genesis 38:2l may be interpreted as "cult
prostitute" (RSV) or "temple prostitute" (NEB) where the TJB and
KJV have simply "prostitute" or "harlot". This reinforces the
idea that prostitution by non-Israelites was more acceptable than
prostitution by Israelites, since this probable identification of
her as a temple prostitute was by the man bringing the money, who
was perhaps trying to minimize his embarassment at having to ask
the local people for the whereabouts of the harlot that was
plying her trade at this same location the previous day.
It was a real stigma in the society of Israel to be an
unmarried woman without also being a virgin. To underscore the
previously asserted notion that the scapegoat and other
sacrifices were mainly intended for the men of Israel, it may be
noted that there was no repentance that could ever remove the
stigma of lost virginity in a woman: Priests and high-priests
were not to marry divorced women, or widows, or prostitutes.
Only virgins would allow him to maintain his holiness before his
God. (Lev 21:7,13-14)

Rape and seduction

Non-virginal single women had greatly diminished prospects
of finding themselves married in the society of Israel as it was
characterized by the Pentateuch. This applied to widows,
divorcees, prostitutes, and also to single girls who may have
either lost their virginity or even just lack physical proof of
virginity. The law was, therefore, adamant that a man who
successfully seduced a virgin pay the girl's father for value
lost and marry her, unless the father strenuously objected to the

If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and
sleeps with her, he must pay her price and make her his
wife. If her father absolutely refuses to let him have
her, the seducer must pay a sum of money equal to the
price fixed for a virgin. (Ex 22:16-17, TJB)

The money being exchanged is the bride price, paid to the girl's
In the discussion of the story of Dinah's rape, the custom
of one of the indiginous peoples was shown to be that a rapist
had the option of marrying his victim. In order to so he must,
however, negotiate with the girl's father and pay the price he
establishes. (Gen 34) The law of Moses prescribes and regulates
this practice, but it seems that the objective in the regulation
is to fix the price, in other words, to protect the interests of
the men:

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed and seizes
her and lies with her he must give the girl's father
fifty silver shekels she shall be his wife since he
has violated her, and as long as he lives he may not
repudiate her. (Deut 22:28-30, TJB)

Here, as compared with the similar passage in 22:16-l7, as cited
above, the father does not seem to have the option to say no to a
marriage. The victim of the crime is to serve a life sentence
with the criminal. The man may, of course, already have other
wives, or may acquire others in the future. So this provision
for a lifelong committment protects the girl's father from having
to worry about supporting her in the future.
The similarity between the prescriptions for the seducer of
an unmarried virgin and the rapist of an unmarried virgin
indicate that, as in the story of Schechem and Dinah, rape was
seen as an act of love-blinded passion. It seemed to have the
same meaning as seduction, since it had the same penalty. And
the 'penalty' was marriage for both criminal and victim.
Strangely, nowhere in this legislation is the feeling, the
opinion, or the desire of the woman taken into account.
If a betrothed virgin is raped, both the rapist and the
victim are to be stoned to death if the crime was committed in
the city, where she could have cried for help. Only the rapist
is to be stoned if the rape occurred in the countryside, however.
In the countryside no one could have heard her cries for help,
hence she is as guiltless as a murder victim. (Deut 22:25-27)
The rapist is to become the husband of his victim if she was
not betrothed. But if she was betrothed, the rapist must die.
Why? Because ... "he has violated the wife of his fellow." (Deut
22:24, TJB) The rape of a betrothed virgin is, therefore, a
crime against a man.
Similarly, the rape or seduction of a married woman had to
result in the death of the rapist or seducer. The betrothed
woman was a married woman in the eyes of the law. In the case of
seduction, however, both parties had commited a capital crime:
"If a man is caught sleeping with another man's wife, both must
die, the man who has slept with her and the woman herself." (Deut
22:22, TJB)
It is worthy of note that while the marital status of the
woman is a prime factor in the judgement to be rendered in cases
of rape or seduction, the marital status of the man never enters
the discussion. This again accentuates the fact that polygamy is
the accepted marital norm in the society being discussed here.
If a married man rapes a virgin that is unbetrothed, perhaps his
greatest punishment will come from his first wife or wives when
he has to explain the new addition to the family. His wives
could make life miserable for him, perhaps, but not to excess,
because the power to divorce was in his hands, not in theirs.


In the law of Moses, permissible grounds for divorce are not
... she has not pleased him and he has found some
impropriety of which to accuse her so he has made out
a writ of divorce for her and handed it to her and then
dismissed her from his house ... (Deut 24:1, TJB)

The 'impropriety', judging by other translations' use of
"something shameful" (NEB), "some indecency" (RSV), or "some
uncleanness" (KJV), may have been intended to designate sexual
immorality as the ground for divorce, but that is by no means
clear or explicit. (See Deut 24:3)
A man who finds his wife unpleasant or otherwise not to his
liking would have no difficulty coming up with "some
impropriety." Since the divorce proceeding occurred at home,
without outside intervention, his power was nearly absolute. No
provision for the wife's initiating or obtaining a divorce is
mentioned in the law of Moses.
The context of this passage on divorce is of interest in and
of itself. The context is the assertion that if after a woman
has been thus divorced she has married another man who
subsequently divorces her, or if she becomes widowed, in neither
case may her first husband take her back. The reason he cannot
remarry her is that ... "she has become for him unclean." (Deut
24:4, NEB) The other three versions consulted say she is or has
been "defiled" (KJV, RSV, TJB) through her remarriage after
divorce. Since this is not a defilement that keeps her from
being allowed to marry anyone except someone who has previously
been married to and divorced her, the nature of this defilement
seems to be related to some taboo based on some notion of phallic
Whatever the nature of this taboo, it may be the prime
reason for the terrible double standard set up by this set of
laws. A man may seduce, rape, or divorce. He may ignore his
slave-girl to cause her sufficient anguish that she will leave.
A man may also capture a woman in war, force her to become
subservient to him, have intercourse with her, and send her away
if she ceases to please him. All these things he may do with no
greater penalty than having to marry his seduction or rape object
if he is caught. Unless the object belonged to a man, of course,
in which case the seducer and/or rapist must die for this heinous
offense against a man's right to purity in his woman.
This notion that a woman's impurity is a crime against a man
crops up in a few other places.

Sexual offenses

Sexual offenses such as incest, homosexuality, bestiality,
and adultery are summarily treated in Leviticus l8:6-23 and
20:8-2l. The list of forbidden sexual unions covered in these
verses includes that a man must not have sexual intercourse with:
a married woman his neighbor's wife his father's wife his
daughter-in-law a man a woman and her mother a woman and her
sister an animal (this prohibition applied to women also) the
daughter of his father or of his mother a woman during her
monthly period a mother's sister or father's sister the wife of
his paternal uncle and the wife of his brother (if his brother
is still alive). The absence of an explicit prohibition against
a man having sexual relations with his daughter is striking,
although prohibiting relations with a woman and her mother covers
a man's daughters implicitly.
Leviticus l8 makes it plain that polygyny is assumed in this
list by separating mention of a man's mother from mention of a
man's father's wife into two verses (7,8). Similarly, sister is
carefully defined as either a man's father's daughter or his
mother's daughter (v. 9), so as to include half-sisters
explicitly. Also, the prohibitions against intercourse with two
sisters, or a mother and her daughter, were apparently included
to set limitations on the relationships that could exist among a
man's wives.
Of greater interest than the list itself is the rationale
that accompanies some of the prohibitions. For example, a
mother's sister's nakedness should not be uncovered by a son
(they should not have sexual intercourse) because it is his
mother's nakedness. (Lev 18:3) Similarly, a father's wife's
nakedness (mother or 'aunt' in polygyny) should not be uncovered
because it is the father's nakedness. (Lev 18:8) The nakedness
of a paternal aunt is similarly the father's nakedness. (Lev
18:12) And the nakedness of a man's grandchildren is the
nakedness of their parents which is really the man's own
nakedness since the daughter-in-law's nakedness is his son's and
his son's is his own. (Lev 18:10,15) A brother's wife's
nakedness is, of course, a brother's nakedness. (Lev 18:16)
In these statements of rationale there is possible a
remarkable interpretation: perhaps a man would have intercourse
with a father or brother or neighbor's wife because of a perverse
desire to pollute the phallic purity of these men by destroying
their wife's purity with his own phallus. This obscure
possibility seems to have been legislated against in this great
detail. The previous section on divorce discussed the existence
of such a phallic- purity notion around which this type of taboo
was woven implicitly. On the other hand, these statements of
rationale may just simply reflect and confirm the all-pervasive
double standard in this portion of scripture: a man's purity is
sacred, a woman's purity has no existence unless it is with
reference to a man who is her husband or father.
These themes find further expession in rules governing a
man's options when he discovers or suspects that his wife is not
as pure as he expected her to be.

Unfaithful wifes or non-virgin brides

Elaborate provisions were woven into the law of Moses that
gave a man protection from unfaithful wives or from non-virgin
prospective wives who feigned virginity. If a wife was suspected
of unfaithfulness, the foundation for his suspicions may or may
not have had merit. Hence provisions are made to determine her
guilt or innocence:

... if a spirit of jealousy comes over the husband and
makes him jealous for his wife who has disgraced
herself, or again if this spirit of jealousy comes upon
him and makes him jealous for his wife even when she is
innocent: ... the man must bring his wife before the
priest. (Num 5:14,15, TJB)

The priest undoes the woman's hair and puts her under oath:

'If it is not true tht a man has slept with you, that
you have gone astray and disgraced yourself while under
your husband's authority, then may this water of
bitterness and cursing do you no harm. But if it is
true that you have gone astray, while under your
husband's authority, that you have disgraced yourself'
... Here the priest shall impose an imprecatory oath on
the woman. He shall say to her ...'May Yahweh make of
you an execration and a curse among your people, making
your thigh shrivel and your belly swell! May this
water of cursing enter your bowels to swell your belly
and shrivel your organs!' The woman must answer:
'Amen! Amen!' (Num 5:19-22, TJB)

Whether innocent or guilty, this polluted water, mixed with
dirt from the temple floor, ... "this water of cursing shall go
into her and be bitter inside her." (Num 5:24, TJB) If she was
guilty, ... "her belly will swell and her thigh shrivel, and she
will be an execration among her people." (Num 5:27, TJB) If she
was innocent, ... "she will go unscathed and will bear children."
(Num 5:28, TJB) In either case: "The husband shall be
guiltless," ... . (Num 5:31, TJB)
The wife who suspects her husband of infidelity is not
accorded a similar procedure to test his virtue. Perhaps this is
so because a husband is not 'under the wife's authority', or
perhaps a man's unfaithfulness is of no consequence as long as he
has not trespassed onto another man's property in his excursions.
In any event, the rules of evidence were different for the men:

A single witness shall not prevail against a man for
any crime or for any wrong in connection with an
offence that he has committed only on the evidence of
two witnesses, or of three witnesses, shall a charge be
sustained. (Deut 19:15, RSV)

A second provision for protecting a man against an
unvirtuous woman is found in Deuteronomy 22:13-2l. Here the
situation is a newly married couple. The man sleeps with his
wife, then turns on her and gives her a bad name by telling the
town that he didn't find evidence of virginity on his wedding
night. The newly wed woman must, with her father and mother,
produce evidence and spread the bloody cloth before the elders of
the town at the town gate.

If evidence of the girl's virginity is produced,

... the elders of the town shall take the man and flog
him and fine him one hundred shekels for publicly
defaming a virgin of Israel, and give this money to the
girl's father. She shall remain his wife and as long
as he lives he may not repudiate her. (Deut 22:18-19,

If, on the other hand, evidence of her virginity could not be
produced: ... "they shall take her to the door of her father's
house and her fellow citizens shall stone her to death for having
committed an infamy in Israel by disgracing her father's House."
(Deut 22:21, TJB)
Note the difference between a woman's unfaithfulness or
suspected unfaithfulness after and before marriage.
Unfaithfulness after marriage is an act committed under the
husband's authority, hence it is an offense against him. An
indiscretion before marriage is an act committed while under the
father's authority, however. In the first instance, she has
disgraced herself, in the second instance she has disgraced her
father's house. Additionally, the father shares the blame that
the girl has incurred by not being able to provide evidence of
virginity on the bedsheet, for whatever reason. Hence she dies
at his door.
Although the death penalty for not bleeding on a wedding
night is medically and hence ethically ludicrous, the result of
producing the 'evidence' of virginity is likewise cruel and
unusual punishment. Like the victim of the rapist, and the
surviver of the ordeal of trial by bitter water, the publicly
humiliated newlywed is also given a life sentence with her
All of these provisions reflect badly on the God who is
supposed to have dictated these laws to Moses. It could give one
second thoughts concerning the commandment: ... "thou shalt love
the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and
with all thy might." (Deut 6:5, KJV)


Vows are serious promises made to the Lord that must be
kept, or God will hold the failure-to-perform to the account of
the person making the vow. (Deut 23:21-23 Num 30:2-3) An
unmarried woman in her father's house may make a vow, and if her
father overhears it or later learns of it, and has no objection,
it is binding on her. If she marries and tells her husband of
her youthful vows and he does not object, it is binding on her.
A married woman's vows are similarly subject to ratification or
annulment by her husband. (Num 30:4-16)
The scriptural account concerning the rules on the making of
vows by women ends with: "These are the laws ordained by Yahweh
to Moses, concerning the relationship between man and wife, and
between a father and his daughter while still young and living in
her father's home." (Num 30:17, TJB)
A man's vows, in contrast, could affect wives, sons,
daughters, or servants and slaves. (Lev 27:2-29) If a man
changes his mind about the person or the property he has
consecrated to his God by a vow, he may purchase them back. If
he is purchasing back a person, he should pay the fee fixed for
that person. The fees are given in Leviticus 27:3-8. The fee
schedule is based on age and sex, with the working ages between
twenty and sixty requiring the greatest outlay for redemption
from laboring for the priests. For every age group, women are
cheaper to redeem. The ratios are five to three, three to two,
or two to one, depending on age group. Thus, between five and
twenty years of age, buying back a boy pledged for service was
twice as expensive as buying back a similarly pledged girl.


Inheritances for daughters are allowed in the law of Moses.
They are commanded by Yahweh for cases where there are no sons
(Num 27:5-11) and in cases where inheriting daughters became the
wives of kinsmen, so that inheritances would revert to men of the
same tribal lineage. (Num 36:1-12) Women served as place-holders
for inherited property until that property would revert to men
again through marriage. An unmarried heiress did, however,
maintain full control of her property.

Men fighting

A curious passage occurs in the law of Moses that covers the
contingency of two men fighting in the presence of the wife of
one of the men. If the woman attemps to protect her husband by
seizing the other man by his genitals to stop the fight ... "you
shall cut off her hand and show her no mercy." (Deut 25:11-12,
NEB) Apparently there was no law against the fighting men doing
violence to each other's privates, but for a woman to touch
another man's genitals was an affront that called down strong
medicine from heaven. It is difficult to take this provision
other than lightly and as being indicative of the real authorship
of these divine laws: men.
Another contingency covered in the law was the event wherein
two men fighting in the presence of a pregnant woman resulted in
a stray blow causing her to miscarry. In this situation, the man
who struck the blow that caused the miscarriage had to pay the
woman's master (TJB) or husband (KJV, NEB, RSV) a compensation
for his loss. (Ex 21:22)

Summary of the Pentateuch

In the law of Moses men are fully human and fully in God's
image and under his authority. Women and non-Israelites of both
sexes were created for the use of true man just as were the
beasts of the fields and the fowls of the air. The real meaning
of the creation story of Eve finally becomes apparent in all its
hidden meanings as the provisions of the law are understood:

Yahweh God said, 'It is not good that the man
should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.' So from
the soil Yahweh God fashioned all the wild beasts and
all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man
to see what he would call them each one was to bear
the name the man would give it. The man gave names to
all the cattle, all the birds of heaven and all the
wild beasts. But no helpmate suitable for man was
found for him. So Yahweh God made the man fall into a
deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his
ribs and enclosed it in flesh. Yahweh God built the
rib he had taken from the man into a woman, and brought
her to the man. The man exclaimed: ... 'This is to be
called woman, for this was taken from man.' (Gen 2:18-
23, TJB)

Woman is the crowning glory of the animal creation, with
enough of the substance of a man to make her 'bone from my bones,
and flesh from my flesh', recognizably suitable as a helper to
man when compared with the rest of the animal creation. Both
Adam and the animals are 'fashioned' from the dust of the Earth.
But woman is a derivative being --'built'-- from a redundant and
nonvital part of man so as not to diminish him.
The meaning of the following passage thus becomes ominous
and clear: "God created man in the image of himself, in the
image of God created he him, male and female he created them."
(Gen 1:27, TJB) Man is God's image, woman is man's image. Man
is the 'son of God' while woman came out of man. Keeping this
imagery in mind gives one a view of the devastating consistency
of the whole of the law of Moses and the Pentateuch where women
are concerned.

The remainder of the Old Testament

The remainder of the Old Testament is generally consistent
with the legal, political, sociological, moral and theological
framework of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses just
reviewed. As in any society, however, individuals will transcend
the limitations put upon them by the common understanding of what
is right, legal, and proper. This transcendance of the norms of
a society can be either positive or negative.
So in the Old Testament new lows are reached by Jephthah,
who makes his daughter a burnt offering becuse he cannot go back
on a vow to God (Judg 11:30-40) and by the Levite of Ephraim who
went to fetch his concubine who had left him in a fit of anger
and had gone home to her father's house. On the way home from
her father's house the Levite obtained lodging with a man whose
fellow townsmen demanded that the Levite be given to them so that
they might have sexual relations with him. The Levite pushed his
concubine out the door for the use of these men, thereby hoping
to save himself. They raped her all night while he slept. When
he arose to leave in the morning he found her on the doorstep,
and ordered her to get up and leave with him. She did not obey
or answer, she was dead. (Judg 19)
The Levite then caused a civil war by sending pieces of his
concubine all over the contry and demanding revenge. All Israel
except the tribe of Benjamin answered the call. The Benjamites
decided to protect the guilty, and God ordered their destruction.
When the conflagration was over, the army of Benjamites was left
without wives or any other possessions. (Judg 19-20)
A tribe was about to be lost from Israel, which was not
acceptable to the men of the eleven tribes that had wrought the
devastation. So the men of Israel destroyed a town that had not
taken part in this civil war. Every man and child was put to the
sword, and every woman also, except for 400 virgins who were
delivered to the defeated Benjamite army. Four hundred virgins
did not supply the need, however, and so Israel looked the other
way while the Benjamites went on a foray and stole supplementary
wives from a religious festival. Israel's own men prevented the
fathers and brothers of these girls from doing anything about the
kidnapping. (Judg 20-21)
Highs were also recorded in the Old Testament regarding the
status of women: Deborah was both judge of Israel and prophetess,
for a time. Yahweh spoke through her and her words and deeds are
recorded in Chapters 4 and 5 of Judges.
The wisdom literature, particularly Ecclesiasticus,
describes the female concept 'wisdom' in language strikingly
similar to language later used to describe the concept of the
Spirit of God or Holy Spirit. She is 'from the Lord', the Lord's
gift to mankind (Eccl 1:1,9-10) and poured out on all creation.
Righteousness brings her to a person, (Eccl 1:26) her service is
the service of God (Eccl 4:14-15) and allows correct judgement.
Obedience to her will result in her revealing herself and
bringing rest and joy. (Eccl 6:27-29) Especially striking are
these words: "She opens her mouth in the assembly of the Most
High, she glories in herself in the presence of the Mighty One:
'I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and I covered the
earth like a mist.'" (Eccl 24:2-4, TJB)
She is further compared with the tree of life, (Prov 3:18)
God's creative power, (Prov 3:19) and legitimate ruling power.
(Prov 8:15-16) She is God's first creation and his companion in
all subsequent creations:

I was by his side, a master craftsman,
delighting him day after day, ever at play in his
at play everywhere in the world,
delighting to be with the sons of men. (Prov 8:30-31,

She is 'from everlasting', (Prov 8:23) the pearl of great
price, (Prov 8:11) and: ... "the man who finds me finds life."
(Prov 8:35, TJB)
It is hard to miss: this wording is strongly reminiscent of
the New Testament's claims for Jesus Christ. Paul, in fact,
claimed these descriptions of Wisdom, the female aspect of Deity,
for Jesus by saying:

... Christ Jesus / who of God / is made unto us wisdom. (1
Cor 1:30, KJV)

And this brings us to Part Two: the New Testament.

New Testament Views On Woman

By Abraham van Luik, abevanluik@thoughtsandplaces.org

The relationship that is established between Jesus and the
law of Moses is important and not straightforward. It is
important because the claim is made by some Christians that Jesus
is the author of the law, the lawgiver. If this is the case, he
appears to be responsible for the inequitous and unethical
features of the Pentateuchal law: it is Jesus who is responsible
for the continuation of the social practices of slavery,
polygyny, the double standard, and divorce in Israel at the time
it was set apart as a nation.
Jesus' discourse on the law in Matthew 5 is supportive of
this view in one sense, but not in its entirety:

Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or
the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to
complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and
earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke,
shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is
achieved. Therefore the man who infringes even one of
the least of these commandments and teaches others to
do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom
of heaven but the man who keeps them and teaches them
will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matt 5:17-19, TJB)

Jesus then goes on to illustrate (Matt 5:20-48) how his
teachings are based on, but go beyond the law. You must not kill
(Ex 20:13) is expanded as a warning against hate, and anger, and
strife are said to be akin to murder. You must not commit
adultery (Ex 20:14) is expanded to include a warning against
lust. Divorce for any cause (Deut 24:1) is restricted to the
cause of "fornication only". The privilege of swearing binding
oaths to the Lord (Lev 19:12) is rescinded. The law of physical
retribution in cases of wrongdoing (Lev 24:20) is revoked. Love
your neighbor (Lev 19:18) has been expanded to love your enemies
also, overturning Deut 23:6 which commanded Israel to never do
anything to aid an Ammorite or a Moabite. Further teachings
concern giving to the poor in secret (Matt 6:1-4) secret and
proper prayer (Matt 6:5-13) forgiveness, fasting, and personal
ethics. (Matt 6:19-7:29)
Jesus' quotations of the law, prior to giving the new
expanded versions, were always preceded by ... "Ye have heard
that it was said by them of old time," (Matt 5:21,27,33, KJV) or
some variant thereof. (Matt 5:31,38,43) This wording suggests
Jesus is not claiming authorship, although a variant reading of
"told to the men of old" instead of "said by them of old time" is
favored by others, such as the RSV translators the Book of
Mormon's 3 Ne l2:20, however, has "by" as does the KJV.
His expansions of the law were prefaced by: "But I say unto
you." (Matt 5:22,28,32,34,39,44, KJV) This wording is consistent
with an intended replacement of Jesus' law for Moses' law, but it
is not particularly consistent with the above quoted assertion of
Matthew 5:17-l9. Verses 28 and 29 of Matthew, Chapter 7 (TJB)
suggest that Jesus did not merely quote scripture reverently:
"Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and his teaching
made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with
authority, and not like their own scribes."
In the New Testament, Jesus quotes the law to: l) confound
the devil (Matt 4:4,7,10) 2) to call the priest's attention to
his having cleansed a leper (Matt 8:4 Luke 5:14) to justify his
breaking the sabbath in order to eat from a field (Matt 12:1-8
Mark 2:23-28 Luke 6:1-5) 4) to justify his disciples not
keeping the law of handwashing prior to eating (Matt 15:1-9 Mark
5) to illustrate the hypocricy and lack of understanding of the
Scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23 Luke 13:14-15 John 7:14-24
8:7) and 6) to identify himself as the Messiah. (John 4:25-26
8:17-18 12:49)
On many occasions Jesus used the historical matter of the
Pentateuch as background or illustrative materials in parables
and explanations. On one occasion he used historical material
from the Pentateuch to liken his new disciples to the prophet
Moses. (Matt 10:19, using Ex 4:12) Jesus generally observed the
law as he understood it, not as the Pharisees interpreted it.
Whenever he was challenged on his non-observance of the accepted
interpretations of the law, he used the law to justify himself
and to silence his critics. His opinion of the "scribes and
Pharisees" is expressed in Matthew 23. Verses 2 and 3,
strangely, are respectful of their position as interpreters of
Moses, but verses 3 through 36 offer a lengthy rebuke of their
doctrines, customs, and practices. Their interpretation of the
law is seen as being overzealous on the performance of duties,
and utterly lacking in the recognition of the greater demands of
the Law: "judgement, mercy, and faith". (Matt 23:23, KJV)
The few times that Jesus used the law in a positive sense,
as a teaching which he endorsed, he gave summaries:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is
the first and great commandment. And the second is
like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the
prophets. (Matt 22:37-40)

Perhaps the most famous summary of all is, "Therefore all things
whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to
them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matt 7:12)
Asked what one must do to obtain eternal life, Jesus
answered, "Keep the commandments." (Matt 19:16-17, KJV) When
asked "which?", Jesus answered:

Thou shalt do no murder,
Thou shalt not commit adultery,
Thou shalt not steal,
Thou shalt not bear false witness,
Honor thy father and thy mother, [and]
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Matt 19:18-
19, KJV also Mark 10:19 Luke 18:20)

These condensations of the law, in the context of the
expansions on murder, adultery, and the concept of "neighbor"
especially, are indicative of Jesus' more ethical expectations of
himself and his followers. It is difficult to reconcile this
lawgiver with the one quoted by Moses.
The Mosaic practice of making slaves out of debtors is used
in one parable to show that man is to God like a servant is to a
king to whom he owes a great debt that he cannot repay. The king
orders him to be sold, with his wife, children, and property, to
pay the debt. The servant worshipfully begged for a reprieve,
the king was moved to compassion, and forgave the debt. (Matt
18:23-27) Succeeding verses show the man turning around and
putting his fellowman in irons for small sums of money owed and
overdue. The king hears of this and reinstates the man's great
debt, then hands him over to the torturers until repayment is
made in full. Jesus' warning is: "And that is how my heavenly
Father will deal with you, unless you each forgive your brother
from your hearts." (Matt 18:35, NEB) It could be argued that
Jesus taught, albeit indirectly, against slavery here, the type
of slavery of Deut. 25:39-43 wherein the treatment of the male
Hebrew slaves sold for satisfaction of indebtedness is regulated.

Deut. 25:44-46, regarding non-Hebrew slaves, is not covered,
Regarding the status of women, it is of extreme interest
that when asked if it was "lawful for a man to put away his wife
for every cause," Jesus answered in the negative. (Matt 19:3-7)
The followup question is, of course, "Why did Moses then command
to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?" (Matt
19:7, KJV) The answer was: "Moses because of the hardness of
your hearts suffered you to put away your wives" ... . (Matt
19:8, KJV)
Even though Moses in Deuteronomy 6 expressly says these were
the Lord's commandments, Jesus lays this particular one at the
feet of Moses, not the Lord. Whether this Mosaic relaxation of a
divine standard was approved by the Lord or not, Jesus does not
say. What he does say has been the cause of great confusion,
contention, and suffering over the millenia since his ministry:
the only acceptable ground for divorce is fornication. (Matt
19:9) In my opinion the caveat: "All men cannot receive this
saying, save they to whom it is given," (Matt 19:10, KJV) meaning
the inner circle of disciples (Matt 13:9-11,16,17) somehow fell
by the wayside when the leaders of the Christian movement became
fixated on becoming eunuchs for Christ (Matt 13:12) and lost
their perspective on the realities of the human situation.
Jesus taught nothing that was recorded in the New Testament
that could be construed to be aimed at specifically undoing what
the Law of Moses either taught or implied regarding the
relationship of women to men or to God. The New Testament,
however, is a collection of four interdependent pamphlets written
by men to convince their fellowman of the divine Messianic nature
of the mission of Jesus Christ. We should, therefore, not expect
much in the way of issues that would mean little to men who l)
revere the Law of Moses, 2) see no conflict between the Law of
Moses and the patriarchal structure of their and neighboring
societies, and 3) have an urgent agenda that simply does not
include specialized human rights issues as major points of
It is, however, in the gospel's background material, its
anecdotes concerning where Jesus went, what he did, and with whom
he met, that any possible differences between Jesus' life's
agenda and the short-term agendas of his biographers may become
discernable. The following pages, therefore, are based not on
what Jesus said or taught, but mostly on what he did, to whom he
spoke, or where he went. Compared to my discussion on the Old
Testament, also uploaded to CompuServe, the tone and perspective
in the following material is less interpretive, more speculative,
and more enjoyable to research, write, and hopefully to read.

The Four Gospels and Acts

Acts l:2 through 2:1 tells of Christ's forty-day
post-resurrection ministry and the awaiting of the day of
Pentecost. Acts l:2 to 3 says it was the apostles to whom he
showed himself, and verse 4 says: "And being assembled together
with them, commanded them that they should not depart from
Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father," ... (KJV).
Verse 8 clarifies: ... "ye shall receive power, after that the
Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me
both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the
uttermost parts of the earth." (KJV)
Acts 2:1 shows that, in obedience to the foregoing: ...
"when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one
accord in one place." Who were "they ... all?" The eleven?
Yes, but also others:

These all [the eleven apostles] continued with one
accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and
Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. (Acts
1:14, KJV)

There is no reason to believe that these women and Mary and
Jesus' brothers were excluded from Jesus'presence during his
forty day post-resurrection ministry (Acts 1:3), or from his
charge to be his witnesses in all the earth. (Acts 1:9) After
all, it was to women that he first revealed himself after his
resurrection and it was women who were the witnesses and
messengers of Christ's resurrection to the male disciples. (John
20:16-18 Luke 24:9-11 Mark 16:7,9-11 Matt 28:7,9-10)
Who were these women? Mary, the mother of Jesus (Acts
1:14) Mary Magdalene, the first person to see the resurrected
christ, and the only person to see him prior to his ascension to
the Father to receive "all power on earth and in heaven." (John
20:1,17 Matt 28:18) After his return from the Father, Jesus
again revealed himself to Mary Magdalene, together with Mary his
mother, and this time both of them were allowed to be the first
human beings to touch him in his resurrected state. (Matt 28:1,9-
10, "the other Mary" is identified in Matt 13:55 27:56)

Other women that were probably present were Jesus' maternal
aunt, Mary the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25), and "the mother of
Zebedee's children," named Salome. (Matt 27:56 Mark 16:1) Also
"Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Zuzanna, and
many others, ..." (Luke 8:3)
How and why were these women brought together? They had
apparently been with Jesus quite some time, and traveled with
Jesus and his disciples since they ... "came with him from
Galilee." (Luke 23:55 23:49 Matt 27:55 Mark 15:40) They were
already with him in his Galilean ministry, judging from these
words describing his travels through Galilean cities and

...and the twelve were with him, and certain women,
which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities,
Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils,
and Johanna ... , and Susanna, and many others, which
ministered unto him of their substance. (Luke 8:1-3,

Their "ministering" is variously translated as "provided for" or
"look after," and is mentioned also in Mark l5:4l. It appears,
therefore, that the traveling ministry of Jesus, without which
his messianic atoning mission would not have been possible, was
in part paid for by women, some married, ... "out of their own
resources," (Luke 8:3, NEB) who traveled with him and his
Anecdotal accounts of Jesus' dealings with women are few and
far between and only included as they fit the larger agendas of
the chroniclers. For example, the forgiven adulteress story is
included to show that Jesus had compassion and a sense of justice
that far exceeded that of the Pharisees and scribes. (John 8:3-9)

The exchange between Jesus and this woman (John 8:10-11) is
another evidence of Jesus' teaching a new attitude toward the
letter of the law.
The story of the woman who was a sinner, who anointed Jesus
feet (Luke 7:37-50), was probably judged important because a
Pharisee is taught a lesson and Jesus' power to forgive sins is
illustrated. In the Matthew and Mark accounts of a similar
anointing and washing of Jesus' feet by a woman at a similar
supper in Bethany, the woman's name is not given. What was
probably also judged important is that Jesus foreshadows his own
death as part of this proceeding. It isn't until John tells the
same story that this woman's name is given, Mary. To the other
chroniclers she was just an anonymous, non-speaking audio-visual
aid for a lesson between Jesus and his disciples or between Jesus
and a Pharisee. That in all these cases Jesus' understanding of
and compassion for these women is illustrated and underscored is
probably just an unintended side-effect of including these
Likewise, the Samaritan woman was used to illustrate Jesus'
outreach to the non-Jews, and through her Christ brought "many"
Samaritans to himself. (John 4:7-42) The Martha and Mary
anecdotes are important because they are part of the background
leading to Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead. (John 11)
Nevertheless, both of these accounts of Jesus' interactions with
women have something to say about Jesus' regard for women as
individual persons and make a statement about his attitude toward
accepted social norms of behavior.
Jesus follows Mosaic law when he waits until he is thirty
years old to begin his ministry (Luke 3:23 Num 4:3-26), perhaps
so as to not defy morally neutral social norms and thereby
needlessly sacrifice acceptability and credibility. Yet Jesus
rejects selected social norms of behavior, such as when he
publicly speaks with, teaches, travels with, and is supported by
This behavior is part of a larger social statement that
Jesus was making in word and in action: a ministry to the outcast
of society including the blind, the lame, the leper, the deaf,
and the poor (Matt 11:5 Luke 14:13) publicans (tax collectors
for Rome) and sinners. (Matt 9:10 11:19 Mark 2:15 Luke 5:30
7:37-39) Among the strong denunciations of the hypocrisy of
those who criticized Jesus for his associations with publicans
and sinners was: ... "the publicans and the harlots go into the
kingdom of God before you." (Matt 21:31, KJV)
The Samaritan woman story in John 4 is of special interest.
Jesus is tired so he rests by a well outside a small town in
Samaria while his disciples go into town to buy groceries. A
woman comes to the well to draw water and Jesus asks her for a
drink, which request the woman questions on the gounds that Jesus
is a Jew and she is a Samaritan. (John 4:9) Jesus answers with a
reference to his being a source of living water, which at first
she does not comprehend. (John 4:13-14) Jesus rephrases his
declaration and she asks him for some of this wondrous water so
that she doesn't have to come out to this distant well anymore.
(John 4:5-15)
Jesus then asks her to fetch her husband, to which she
replies that she has no husband. Jesus agrees with her, telling
her that she's had five husbands and her present lover is not her
husband. (John 4:17-18) She perceives he has prophetic power and
brings up the conflict this causes her: Samaritans worship on
their mountain (Mount Gerizim) and Jews claim God can only be
worshipped properly in Jerusalem at the temple. (John 4:16-20)
Jesus replies that the physical place of worship is not
important, it is the spiritual location of the worshipper's
heart. Jesus did, allegedly, include a phrase which compared the
Jews and Samaritans, with the Jews being cast in a more positive
light of knowing what they worship and being the bringers of
salvation. The woman replied in a way that let Jesus know she
did not believe his contention regarding the favored status of
the Jews, but in that statement she also reveals her faith: ...
"I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is
come, he will tell us all things." To which Jesus replies, ...
"I that speak unto thee am he." (John 4:20-26, KJV)
His disciples come back with the groceries and ... "marveled
that he talked with the woman" ... . The woman departs to the
city, leaving her waterpot by the well, and tells the townspeople
to come out to the well to: "Come, see a man, which told me all
things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" Many believed
her word, and had their befief confirmed in a two-day visit with
Jesus. (John 4:26-30, 39-42)
The contrast of the disciples going to town and returning
with groceries, and the lone woman going to town and returning
with many who believed on her word is hard to miss. It is also
hard to miss the fact that by declaring himself the Messiah to
this woman, she became a witness in a special sense and
"testified" to her people accordingly. (John 4:39)
Finally, it is rather evident that Jesus did not consider
this woman unworthy of a one-to-one, serious, and important
dialogue with himself because of her sex life. He did not judge
her, but made her a partner in bringing salvation to her people.
"Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." (John
11:5, KJV) Martha and her sister, Mary, sent for Jesus when
their brother became ill. Jesus waited until he knew Lazarus was
dead, told his disciples that he was dead, and that he was glad
he had not been there because now they would have greater cause
to believe. Then he and his disciples left for Bethany, and when
they arrived they found out Lazarus had been in the tomb four
days already. (John 11:3, 6-7, 14-17)
When Martha heard Jesus had come she went out to meet him,
but Mary remained in the house, sitting. Martha makes a
statement to Jesus that in essence said that Lazarus would not
have died had Jesus been there, but even now whatever Jesus would
ask of God would still be granted. Jesus answers that Lazarus
will rise again, and Martha agrees, apparently thinking Jesus was
speaking of the resurrection. Jesus declares himself to be the
resurrection, and asks Martha if she believes in him. Martha
makes a strongly affirmative statement regarding her belief that
Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. (John 11:20-27)
The confession of belief that Martha makes in both her
statements, coupled with her going out to meet Jesus for an
eyeball-to-eyeball talk in private, testify to a close and
mutually respectful relationship between Jesus and Martha. After
this exchange, Martha goes back to the house and whispers to her
sister Mary that Jesus is nearby and desires to see her. She
quickly got up and went out of the village to where Jesus was.
Like her sister, she said to Jesus that her brother would not
have died had Jesus been there before his death.
Unlike her sister, however, she had thrown herself at his
feet prior to making this statement. It would be unfair to say
that her not making an affirmative statement of faith, as Martha
had done, showed a lesser faith. She also acknowledges Jesus'
position, by falling at his feet, and her tears were a form of
supplication that moved Jesus so deeply that he shed his own
tears. Then he raised Lazarus. (John 11:28-44)
Why were these anecdotes concerning Martha and Mary recorded
as they were? The faith and conviction of Martha was necessary
to set the stage: she declares him the Son of God, he declares
himself the resurrection, he has the power to raise Lazarus.
Mary's sea of tears confirm the fact that Lazarus is really and
truly dead. Jesus purposely arrived later than he could have so
that there would have been no reason for his disciples to suspect
things weren't as far along as it turned out they were. Jesus
was using this occasion as much to generate belief in his
disciples (John 11:15) as to generate belief in the general
populus. (John 11:45) So Martha and Mary were necesssary props
in the story that provided testimony of the reality of the death
of Lazarus, provided testimony to Jesus' power, and provided the
necessary pathos, respectively. A very hopeful interpretation
could also be, I suppose, that in a sense these two women were
used as special witnesses to his being the Son of God and having
power over death.
This story, as did the other stories, provides insight into
Christ's dealings with certain women. Repeatedly they were used
as special witnesses to his divinity. On a more personal level,
they were his friends and supporters. With them he could speak
privately, and in some cases he was so strongly tied to them
emotionally that their tears became his tears.
Martha appears to have been the bold, strong, and capable
one: twice we meet her serving food to Jesus and his companions
(Luke 10:40 John 12:2) and once we meet her in a very
straightforward dialogue with Jesus. (John 11:21-27) Mary, on
the other hand, appears to have been in awe of Jesus, and very
much the emotional one: three times we find her at Jesus' feet,
once to learn and listen (Luke 10:39), once to cry heartfelt
tears (John 11:32), and once to anoint his feet and wipe them
with her hair. (John 12:3)
The important lesson to be learned from all this is that
"...Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." Jesus
loved Martha and Mary, without regard to their personality
differences. That Lazarus, the man, got last billing may be
significant in this carefully worded story.
One more interaction between Jesus and a woman is worthy of
special notice. As Jesus was teaching in a crowd, an
unidentified woman yelled out her approval of Jesus, and Jesus
answered her:

While he was speaking thus, a woman in the crowd called
out, "Happy the womb that carried you and the breasts
that suckled you!" He rejoined, "No, happy are those
who hear the word of God and keep it." (Luke 11:27-28,

It may be easy to read an undeserved significance into this
exchange, but it could well be that Jesus was here saying that
living righteously, not mothering a righteous son, is the key to
a woman's happiness. If this was the intended meaning of his
rejoinder, then Jesus was making a doctrinally radical statement,
considering the Genesis accounts of women living only to give
birth: a woman's status before God is a function of her choosing
to do what is right, not motherhood per se'.
Although the four gospel accounts do not show women to have
been among those chosen as the eleven special witnesses, the
leaders, they are in fact used as special witnesses of Christ's
divine nature and mission, as has been well illustrated in the
material covered so far.
Perhaps their exclusion from membership among the twelve
special witnesses is another concession to the law, like the
morally neutral concession of waiting to start one's ministry
until the age of thirty, which was a move perhaps designed to not
offend the sensibilities of those to whom the message of Christ
is to be brought. If so, this concession is not morally neutral,
By including women among his closest and most intimate
associates, by making them special witnesses to his resurrection,
his divinity, and his authority, and then by excluding these same
priviliged women from leadership in the movement, Jesus aided and
abetted the continuation of the Old Testament's severe form of
patriarchy and allowed his later followers to dredge up Old
Testament provisions, including some from the law of Moses, for
use in defining and restricting the place of woman under the new
Christian covenent. In some significant ways, the positive things
noted above regarding the Christ's dealings with and attitude
toward women were systematically taken away by the authors of the
New Testament's letters.

The New Testament Letters and Their View of Women

Just as the Old Testament is the basis for New Testament and
subsequent Christian views of woman, the New Testament letters
are the location where the Old Testament philosophy regarding
woman is interpreted and re-institutionalized for the Christian
movement. Thus, the New Testament letters provide the proof
texts upon which negative or restrictive Christian views of woman
are founded.
For the sake of convenience, the following citations are
from the NEB except where noted otherwise.
Both Peter and Paul wrote letters to the churches
admonishing the members to live in accordance with the the
teachings and doctrines of the new faith. The church and its
internal structure was often likened to a body, a human body, by
Paul. Its officers and members represented different body parts
and functions, with none being superfluous and with Christ as the
literal head of the body (Romans 12:4-5 1 Cor. 10:17, 12:12-27
Eph. 1:22-23, 3:6, 4:15-16, 5:23 to 30 Col. 1:18 & 24, 2:19).
The relationship of wife to husband was characterized by the
same imagery (Eph. 5:23): ... "the husband is the head of the
wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church" ... . More
explicitly (1 Cor. 11:3),... "the head of every man is Christ
and the head of the womwn is the man ... .
Paul carries this doctrine to an extreme by saying of man
that (1 Cor. 11:7-8) ... "he is the image and glory of God: and
the woman is the glory of the man."
The reason for this lower status of the woman is that Eve
was taken from the body of Adam (1 Cor. 11:8) and she was
deceived and transgressed, not he (1 Tim 2:13-14). (The
assumption is made here that Paul wrote 1 Timothy) Another, more
obscure reason is taken from Genesis 6:1-2,4 where the origin of
the mighty men of legend is attributed to intercourse between
women and beings variously named as "angels," "watchers," or the
"sons of God" by translators. Because this occurred, women
should be veiled, their heads should be covered, to show they are
under man's authority. Of course men should not cover their
heads. (1 Cor 11:7-10) The final reason for her secondary status
is the most derogatory of all, however, because it is such a
cosmic statement of God's intent in creating humanity (1 Cor
11:9): "Neither was the man created for the woman but the woman
for the man."
In these few verses Paul distills the essence, the core
meaning, from the Genesis 2 creation account. His honesty is
devastating, although he appears to be trying to back off a
little by saying that: "Nevertheless, neither is the man without
the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For
as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman
but all things of God."(1 Cor. 11:11-12)
What follows, however, shows that Paul was not backing off,
but only taking observable biological reality into account in his
theology of woman and thereby nullifying its potential for
upsetting his theological framework for defining woman and her
place. The very next verse asks: "Judge in yourselves: is it
comely that a woman pray with her head uncovered?" (1 Cor 11:13)
The transition from defining what a woman is to what a woman
should look like and how she should behave is being made here by
Elsewhere Paul's admonitions regarding how a woman should
appear and behave reflect his adamance about women being the
cause of man's fall (1 Tim 2:13-14): according to Paul, they
should still show sorrow over their collective guilt and should
be severely restricted in their opportunities for learning and
their authority. Women, according to Paul's letter to Timothy (1
Tim 2:9-12) are to adorn themselves with ..."shamefacedness and
sobriety"... and good works. They are to ..."learn in silence
with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to
usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."
In what seems to be written as a direct confrontation with
women who were heady with their freedom in Christ, Paul cuts them
short with the following spiteful, hateful blasts invoking the
law of Moses!

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is
not permitted unto them to speak but they are
commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

And if they learn anything, let them ask their husbands
at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the
church. What? came the word of God out from you? or
came it unto you only? (1 Cor 14:34-36)

Paul's negative attitude towards women is also displayed
when he says that women ..."shall be saved in childbearing, if
they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety."
(1 Tim 2:15) To be saved in childbearing probably means "woman
will be saved through bearing children." (RSV) Paul may,
perhaps, be making a reference here to the Genesis history of the
fall, wherein Eve is cursed with pain in childbearing and
patriarchy, suggesting that by bearing children and being
faithful under her husband's authority she may be saved.
Other readings may also be appropriate as indicated in
footnotes to the RSV and NEB: "saved by the birth of the child"
(RSV) and "saved through the Birth of the Child" or "brought
safely through childbirth" (NEB). The possible interpretations
thus include a promise of physically surviving childbirth if a
woman is faithful, her being saved in God's heaven if she bears
children and is faithful, and her being saved by Mary's bearing
Jesus -- thereby undoing Eve's work in the fall -- if she remains
faithful. It is the idea that she may be saved if she
aggressively obeys her curses at the time of the fall, seeking
to endure giving birth and patriarchy, that seems favored by the
context of Pauline thought, however. In the same letter (1 Tim
4:16) Paul indicates to Timothy that through fulfilling his
calling as a teacher he will save himself and others, so the idea
that he is here indicating that by a woman's devotion to her
calling she may be saved fits his general view regarding
salvation by faith, demonstrated through works. As Paul put it,
women should be adorned with "good deeds, as befits women who
profess religion." (1Tim 2:10, RSV)
To call on the one hand for women to bear children (1 Tim
2:15), and on the other hand proclaiming his personal preference
(1 Cor 7:6,25,40) for celibacy (1 Cor 7:1,8,26) and giving
others, men and women, the advice to also remain celibate and
thus better be able to serve Christ (1 Cor 7:32-34) seems
contradictory, however. I believe it is just an inconsistency
due to the difference in the timing of these letters, however.
In the letter to Timothy Paul is admonishing church
administrators to marry (1 Tim 3:2,12) in the context of a future
(1 Tim 4:1-3) that he didn't think existed at the time he wrote
his Corinthian letter.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul was sure the end-time
was very close (1 Cor 7:26-31), and felt that those who married
commit no sin but "shall have trouble in the flesh" (1 Cor 7:28)
which was probly a fear based on the coming tribulation mentioned
in Matthew 24, with particular reference to the statement
therein: "woe unto them who are with child, and to them that give
suck in those days!" (Matt 24:19) Paul admonished celibacy in
view of "the present distress," (1 Cor 7:26) suggesting he felt
that Matthew 24 was being fulfilled even as he wrote. This is
obviously not the same point of view as is expressed in the
letter to Timothy, where he indicates the time of the Lord's
return is unknown (1 Tim 6:14-15) and explicitly states: "I would
have younger widows marry, bear children, rule their households,
and give the enemy no occasion to revile us." (1 Tim 5:14, RSV)
The admonishment for younger widows to marry, have children,
and rule their households (1 Tim 5:14) should not be seen as
evidence of a Paul that is more positive about women. Paul is in
effect telling them to not be a burden on the church, but to go
find a home, get pregnant, and stay in it. The previous verses
describe the office of "widow" in the church, women who have no
means of support, no relatives who can support them, and who then
are supported by the church. (1 Tim 5:3-8) For the women to
merit this office, she must have a solid reputation for
faithfulness to one husband, have reared children, and been
exemplary in every way. (1 Tim 5:9-10)
Becoming an official widow entails taking a vow, apparently,
of devotion to Christ, perhaps much like in women's orders in the
Catholic Church. Paul did not want women under 60 years of age
in this order because they'd be prone to break this vow or
pledge, and remarry, which Paul saw as rebelling ("wax wanton,"
KJV) against Christ. (1 Tim 5:11-12) Although setting church
policy in this matter may be Paul's prerogative as a church
leader, question his judgement as one might, what follows is an
inexcusible, personal, mean and vindictive diatribe concerning
the nature of younger women who, because of the death of their
husbands, are not under a man's authority. If such as these were
to be supported by the church as widows they would ... "learn to
be idlers, gadding about from house to house, and not only idlers
but gossips and busibodies, saying what they should not." (1 Tim
5:13, RSV)
In other words they would associate with and talk with other
women and not be confined to their domiciles, ..."For some are
already turned aside after Satan." (1 Tim 5:15) This sort of
appraisal of the prospects for young widows' behaviors suggest
either a false perception of the nature of woman, or a reflection
based on legitimate observations, or both. No matter what the
reason for these observations or predictions, a strongly
patriarchal social setting is suggested wherein women and men are
rigidly confined into separate spheres, with men neither
understanding nor valuing the woman's sphere. In such a setting,
women may be in such a powerless state that the only way open for
developing a concept of self-worth lies in bearing tales about
third parties to others that allow agreement concerning mutual
superiority between the gossipers.
It is necessary to accentuate a few of the positive aspects
of the New Testament's view on woman. Women played an important
and active part in the early church. Perhaps they played such an
important part that at least some of the negative material cited
above was inserted into scripture to lower women's expectations
and discourage them. Women prophesied in church meetings (1 Cor
11:5 Acts 21:9), taught potential converts (Acts 2:4, also see
1:14), were friends and supporters of the apostles (Rom 16:2-15),
and hosted the churches in their homes (Col 4:15 1 Cor 16:19
Rom 16:5).
Two women are mentioned by Paul as having "labored side by
side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of
my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Phil
4:3, RSV) Also, one woman, Phoebe, was called a "deaconess" (Rom
16:1, RSV,TJB). In the KJV she is called a "servant" and in the
NEB one who "holds office." What is further said of her is also
of interest: The Roman church is told to "assist her in
whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a
succourer of may, and of myself also." (Rom 16:2, KJV) So, it
seems that Phoebe was traveling from Corinth/Cenchrea, in present
day Greece, to Rome to deliver Paul's letter and conduct some
other business on behalf of her home church at Cenchrea.
These three women, who are fellow laborers of the apostles,
who are messengers for the apostles, and who travel on church
business somehow do not fit the silent and submissive mold.
Perhaps the aforecited discouragements to women are the work of
interpolators who are trying to put Christianity back into the
social norms of the times? The most encouraging Pauline words
respecting women, however, are found in Galatians 3:27-29 (KJV):

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ
have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male
nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if
ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs
according to the promise.

Paul's words regarding Abraham, and seed, put us right back
into the patriarchal paradigm, however, and in its context the
above passage is not liberating: Paul's letter is directed at men
(Gal 1:11 4:31 5:13 6:1). But Paul does liken himself to a
woman "again in travail" with these backsliding Galation brethren
(4:19, RSV) and likens rebirth into Christ's freedom to birth
from a "free woman." (4:31, RSV, see also 4:26) None of this
compromises the basic negativity toward woman in Paul's writings,
however. After all, a society's using woman as a symbol of
liberty does not say anything about woman's freedom in that
society. It seems to say only that men associate liberty and
women, perhaps because both afford them pleasure and relieve them
of certain distasteful chores, if they are of the proper class.
Given that the New Testament church under Paul was
struggling for growth among the urban Jews and gentiles of the
cities of the Greco-Roman world, it was important not to offend
the sensibilities of these potential Christians. This was no
simple feat, since the religious and civil institutions of the
region and period were in a state of flux.
The civil authority that Paul judged to be "ordained of God"
and "the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him
that doeth evil" in Romans l3:1 and 4 turns into "the fiery trial
which is to try you," ... "your adversary the devil," who
"walketh about seeking whom he may devour" in 1 Peter 4:12 and
5:8. Yet even as this holocaust was upon the saints, they were
admonished to obey the civil authority, and honor the king, and
give no cause for offense to the gentiles (l Pet. 2:12-l7).
Slaves were enjoined to obey their masters, and wives were told
to be in subjection to their non-Christian husbands in this
context (l Pet. 2:18, 3:1).
Paul, in Eph. 5:2l-33, 6:1-9 and Col. 3:18-25, prescribes
the subordination of household members to the head of the house:
wives to husbands, slaves to masters, and parents to children.
On the other hand, both Peter and Paul also admonish heads of
households: husbands, parents, and masters, to treat their
respective charges humanely, recognizing that God is Master over
all and is no respector of persons.
The strategy of this fledgling, vulnerable organization was
apparently to Christianize existing institutions through
converting heads of households while not bringing themselves into
needless disrepute with neighbors or the state and thereby court
stagnation or destruction.
Wayne Meeks, in a recently published sociological study of
Paul's world [Meeks, Wayne A., "The First Urban Christians, The
Social World of the Apostle Paul," (Yale University Press, New
Haven, 1983), pp.75, 76-77 and 25 are cited], notes that the
earliest congregations were established in households, which were
"commonly regarded as the basic unit of the society." Meeks
notes a number of references to households being converted, with
men or women (Chloe in 1 Cor. 1:11, for example) being mentioned
as heads of these households. The church

... was thus inserted into or superimposed upon an
existing network of relationships, both internal --
kinship, clientela, and subordination -- and external
-- ties of friendship and perhaps of occupation. The
house as meeting place afforded some privacy, a degree
of intimacy, and stability of place. However, it also
created a potential for the emergence of factions
within the Christian body of a city. It may well be
the case that the incipient factions addressed by Paul
in 1 Cor. 1-4 were based in different households. The
household context also set the stage for some conflicts
in the allocation of power and in the understanding of
roles in the community. The head of the household, by
normal expectations of the society, would exercise some
authority over the group and would have some legal
responsibility for it. The structure ... was
hierarchial, and contemporary political and moral
thought regarded the structure of superior and inferior
roles as basic to the well-being of the whole society.
Yet, ... there were certain countervailing modes and
centers of authority in the Christian movement that ran
contrary to the power of the paterfamilias, and certain
egalitarian beliefs and attitudes that conflicted with
the hierarchial structure. It is significant that in
the later letters of the Pauline circle, Ephesians and
Colossians, the pattern of the common rhetorical topic,
... "on the ordering of the household," is adapted for
moral instruction among Christians, in the form of the
so-called Haustafel (Col. 3:18-4:1 Eph. 5:21-6:9 cf.
1 Pet. 2:13-3:7). In time, ... the whole church would
be construed as "the household of God," with great
stress upon the hierarchial order of the various roles
peculiar to the ecclesiastical organization. 9

Rather than Paul teaching these pagan converts a divine
patriarchal order of the family, Meeks describes it as being
almost the opposite:

... the church imitates the paterfamilias, the extended
patriarchal family that is ubiquitous in the ancient
world. This adaptation to local political and moral
sensibilities becomes more pronouncedly a doctrine as
time progresses, perhaps as conflicts arose because the
new order tended to disrupt families and to make wife,
slave, and older child spiritually accountable to one
other than the patriarch, either a church leader or the

Meeks notes that the conservative elements of Roman society
saw the encroachment of "foreign superstitions" that allowed
"more freedom for women to hold office alongside men than did the
older state cults" as:

... an insidious threat to the proper discipline of the
household, and therefore to the fabric of the whole
society. No doubt as a cult became more visible and
better established, drawing its adherents from higher
strata of the city, it would feel pressure to counter
such attacks by emphasizing its agreement with
traditional values. Whatever 'woman's movement' there
may have been would be suppressed early.

It is, perhaps, this sort of tension that can have Paul at
one time commending Phoebe, Priscilla, and Mary as workers in the
church (Romans 16:1-6) and at another time say that he does not
allow a woman to teach, but only to learn in silence (1 Tim.
2:11-12). At any rate, when the acts of Jesus and the Acts of
the Apostles are consulted, there seems to be definite evidence
of a more egalitarian movement afoot, where women and their
participation in cult are concerned. Yet, rhetoric from the
church as it expands into the Graeco-Roman world seems peculiarly
concerned with putting that particular genie back into its
paterfamilial bottle. And it hasn't really been let out since.

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