I started this project way back in September 2015 and it feels like that was forever ago. I wanted to see just what the Bible had to say about women and how the women of the stories were treated. In US culture there are these dichotomies that we are asked to choose between and one of the most popular to mention is directly from Biblical images. Are we only given the choices of the mother or the whore? Can we only be saved or sacrificed and never be the center of our own stories?
As I’ve read so far, none of that is true. There is a lot more to women of the Bible and the perspective of women and the way women are seen by God than we are accustomed to talking about and I’m not even to the way Jesus treated women yet. In preparation for starting the New Testament in September, I’m going to spend this month refreshing what all happened in the books of the Old Testament.
If you want to look at the thirteen posts that walk through Genesis, click here.
Yes, there were more “named” women in this book, but these were the ones who had a story to tell. Remarkably, none have a particularly noble or virtuous story to tell, though some might attempt to convince us of this. It’s interesting to me that the same people who use the Bible to explain what a virtuous woman is use some of these women as examples and completely leave out their shortcomings while doing so. Shortcomings are a fact of life and ignoring that great women have had them simply paints the wrong picture of what it could be to be great or virtuous.
- Eve – maybe a little ambitious when she ate the fruit, but not ill-intending, she was the first of three women that God spoke directly to. Unfortunately, the only words from God that she received was a curse that people have tried to use against all women for all time and don’t actually read that way when you look at the text. He’s talking to Eve and never says that “women” will any of it, just “you”.
- Sarai/Sarah – impatiently created her own problems. Had she believed in and waited for God’s promised son, she would have saved herself a lot of headache. Her impatience did work out well for the whole line of Ishmael, and so what plagued her worked out well for a whole bunch of other people instead.
- Rebekah – okay with deceiving her husband in favor of her favorite son and against her other son. Not sure why, except that she did get a promise/prophecy from God stating that things would work out that way. Maybe she thought she was helping the process along.
- Rachel – the loved wife between herself and her sister who stole her father’s “household gods” for some reason that’s never given to the reader. Pimped out her husband to the other wife over some mandrakes
- Leah – lived despised by her husband despite giving him many sons and eventually dies, her death only noted in conjuction with her husband’s desired burial place. Tricked Jacob into marrying her in the first place dressed as her sister. Okay, it was her father that wanted her to do it, but that doesn’t entirely excuse her participation.
- Dinah – raped by a prince, imprisoned in his home, liberated and avenged by her brothers and then never mentioned again. What happened to her?
- Hagar – The second woman that God spoke to. He made her a promise about her son being a great nation and took care of them when they could have easily died in the desert.
- Tamar – took matters into her own hands after being twice widowed and neglected by the family she had married in to.
- Potiphar’s wife – rejected by Joseph, she displays terrible behavior and character by making a false accussation against him.
- Lot’s daughters – raped their father to get pregnant but they could not have possibly thought themselves the last people on Earth, as so many have espoused. They left a populated city after their flight from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah so they had seen other people already.
What are the virtues of a Genesis woman?
Not sure, really. After the Eve episode one might assume that it was unquestioning obedience, but Sarai and Abram get two other countries in trouble with her obedience to lying on behalf of her husband. After Hagar and Tamar, you can’t even insist that being the wife of the man fathering your children is all that important so far.
Of all these women and their good or bad behavior, Eve is the only one who is cursed or reprimanded in some way by God. She was the first to disobey, and she paid for it. Aside from that, it doesn’t yet appear that there is a “right” way to be a woman of the Bible. Perhaps one will appear later.
- God was not overly concerned with the culture of the firstborn being the chief inheritor. While some firstborns are mentioned in the lines of succession, they do not have particular blessings bestowed upon them. Of the all the inheritances mentioned, they hardly go to the firstborn. In case you don’t remember who they were:
- Cain (okay he totally deserved it as a murderer, but still doesn’t get the birthright and that’s the point)
- There is a lot more to Genesis than the stuff we generally hear about, but there are quite a few stories that are commonly told here. The problem is that if it isn’t part of a story, people had a tendency to leave it out altogether. An example of this is the Nephilim.
- It is easy to get several meanings from the same set of words from different people. It’s also possible to get different meanings from a single verse based on the verses around it or the intent of the entire chapter. I’ve heard it said plenty but it’s evident this early. Don’t pick apart the Bible, things can be easily taken out of context.
- A lot of messed up stuff happens in this book, but there was only one universal command or rule given by God so far and it is quickly disobeyed, which is not to eat of the fruit of that one tree in the Garden. After that, no further guidance or rules are given as to how people should live their lives except in those cases where God specifically talks to people about their specific lives.
- Adam and Eve
- Cain and Abel
- Noah and the ark
- the Tower of Babel
- the life and death of Abraham
- the life and death of Isaac
- the life and death of Jacob, who becomes Israel
- the life and death of Joseph
- the great famine in Egypt
I didn’t find this book specifically misogynist. Does it not paint women in the best light? Well, no there doesn’t appear to be a good light for anyone, except maybe Joseph. Everyone else lied or cheated or raped or murdered or stole or doubted. Are women mostly there for procreation? Yeah, they are, but so are men. The only men in this book asked to do something great are Noah and Joseph. Everyone else is just promised a bunch of descendants. Does it take place in a culture that appears to have been misogynistic? Yes, but that doesn’t make it any more misogynistic on its own than Jane Austen. Not so far.
It occurs to me that the problem with this book is more the way the stories are passed to us than the meaning of the book itself. We find people of both genders just being people. They aren’t perfect and they don’t pretend to be but we try to make them great on Sunday mornings or demonize them for their faults when they are just people. They are flawed and complex, just like people are and the characters of any good story should be.
Feminists want more stories like these, where women are neither on pedestals nor only valued for their womb. We want stories where men can weep and want children, where they can be great and gentle at the same time. So much of the Bible is about perspective, and I can understand why not everyone sees it this way, but take a look for yourself. These are just people.