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The Position of Women: The Bible

The claim that Christianity had a hand in elevating the position of women in Western society is an oft repeated one. Like most of the claims we have seen, it is patently false. In this section we will take a look at what the Bible says about women. The Old Testament is a product of an ancient Semitic culture that never held women in any high esteem. In the Ten Commandments, for instance, women were listed among a man's possessions: [1]

Exodus 20:17
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

A woman is therefore, part of a man's property, like his house, ox and ass. Thus adultery in the eyes of the ancient Hebrew was the robbing of another man's sexual possessions. A married man does not commit adultery when he sleep with an unmarried woman. Wheres a married woman sleeping with an unmarried man commits the crime.

Daughters are at the disposal of their fathers; who alone has the right to offer them as sexual offerings to any man. This is clearly shown in the episode of Lot who was visited by two angels. [2] The homosexual men of Sodom surrounded Lot's house and demanded that he hand over his two guests to them. Lot, instead of just chasing them away, actually offered the favours of his two daughters to the mob:

Genesis 19:7-8
And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Obviously Lot considers rape a less serious crime than homosexuality. But what kind of man would let his virgin daughters be subject to such a treatment?

A similar story, even more abhorrent, is to be found in the book of Judges. [3] A Levite man was travelling with his concubine through Benjamite territory. At evening time he was invited by an old man to spend the night in his house. That night, while they were "making their hearts merry", a mob of Benjamites demanded the old man hand the Levite over for homosexual purposes. The next part is best told by the Bible itself:

Judges 19:23-26
And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly. Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing. But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go. Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light.

The Levite discovered his concubine, dead, in front of the house. He promptly cut her body into twelve pieces (Judges 19:29) and sent each piece to each tribe of Israel as a declaration of war against the Benjamites. The next chapter of Judges showed that God approved of the Levite's actions (who was the one who actually pushed his concubine out to the man and must be by any consideration an accessary to her murder) for he guided the Israelites through their battle with the Benjamites.

But it was the story of Adam and Eve, more than any other in the Old Testament, that was to be used repeatedly by the New Testament writers and the church fathers as proof of the woman's inferior status. This story, given in chapter three of Genesis, tells of how the serpent tempted Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. Eve then persuaded Adam to do so. As a result both Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden of Eden.

The heritage of this Semitic culture, with its contempt for women was passed on to the early Christians, who considered the Old Testament as part of the divine revelation. Thus we find the story of Adam and Eve used in the pseudo-Pauline letter of Timothy to justify the inferior status of women:

I Timothy 2:11-14
Let the woman 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. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

Injunctions for women to maintain their inferior status are to be found everywhere in the Pauline epistles:

Ephesians 5:22-24
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

I Corinthians 11:8-9 KJV
For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

I Corinthians 11:4-7
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

I Corinthians 14:34-35
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 will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

Coupled with the treatment of women as second class citizens is the New Testament's pathological hatred of sex. (It should be remembered that the New Testament writers were all, without exception, men.) This is clearly evident in the epistles of Paul. To him, marriage is not an expression of love between a man and a woman but functions merely as a safety valve for sinful lust:

I Corinthians 7:8-9
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

The abhorrence and renunciation of sex is also present in the gospels. Jesus is represented in the gospel of Matthew as saying:

Matthew 19:12
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

This sex-hatred and misogyny found its fullest expression in the myth of the virgin birth. Mary was to be the archetypal Christian woman, one completely submissive to God's will. Mary acquiescence to be made pregnant by the Holy Spirit could not have sounded any sweeter:

Luke 1:38
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

Mary conceived Jesus virginally and without lust. No other woman in history could ever claim that; they will always fall short of this unreachable ideal. This was to be another element in the Christian suppression of women.

It is from the Bible, of course, that the church fathers derived the misogynist teachings. When Christianity became a dominant force in the Roman Empire around the fourth century, the position of women detoriorated. This situation was not improved until the nineteenth century. Today this Christian misogyny continues to express itself in the Catholic church's opposition to abortion and birth control.

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1.Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: p178
2.Howell-Smith, In Search of the Real Bible: p24-25
3.Ibid: p25-26

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