Gilgamesh And The Inevitable Essay, Research Paper
The Hebrew Bible and Sexism
The Hebrew Bible is a book of wisdom. Within its pages are many noble and just intentions that, in practice, would benefit all of mankind. The Ten Commandments, for instance, are generally altruistic in aim. If everyone obeyed them, the world would certainly be a better place. And although these passages serve to benefit mankind there are many within the scripture that simply don t. Many of these segments support and even advocate sexism, both in belief and in practice. The role of women in the Old Testament establishes that women are inferior to men. It presents the concept that women must live their lives in such a manner as to preserve this inferiority. The Hebrew Bible is sexist towards women.
This is definitely not the path less-taken . Feminist writers have supported this view of the Hebrew Bible for years. Phyllis Bird writes: women are portrayed as objects in the Book of Genesis (3). Alice Bach states that: [women] are man s ruin – it is Eve who causes humanity to be expelled from paradise (4). Feminists often argue that women are portrayed as a commodity. Men offer their daughters for other men to have sex with a number of times in the Hebrew Bible. Feminists claim the Old Testament is sexist in its description of women. Women are generally described by their physical characteristics and not their intelligence. Many view the Hebrew Bible as sexist in its concept of a woman s purpose, which is to serve under man. These are just a few of the arguments made by those who see the Hebrew Bible as sexist. They are claims that are repeatedly supported throughout the text.
The Hebrew Bible presents five distinct judgments of women: 1) Woman are deceitful and/or lustful 2) Women are foolish and less intelligent than men 3) Women are property 4) Women are made to serve men 5) Woman can only survive with the aid of men. These aspects appear again and again in Genesis and Exodus.
The Old Testament conveys that women are deceitful and lustful. The Original Sin is a consequence of Eve s actions. This is significant in that it presents the concept that woman is the heart society s ruin. Even though the serpent tricks Eve, she ultimately deceives Adam by not telling him where she got the fruit. Her negligence establishes that women are untrustworthy because it is the first account of a woman in existence. Woman is therefore portrayed as deceptive from the very beginning. The portrayal of women being misleading continues throughout the Bible. Sarah attempts to lie to the Lord after she laughs at the thought of her being able to have a child: Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, I did not laugh. (Genesis 18:15). Women are again shown to be dishonest when Lot s daughters conspire to sleep with him without his knowledge: Let s get our father to drink wine and then lie with him to preserve our family line through our father (Genesis 19:32). These examples clearly show that the Hebrew Bible views women as deceptive in that they mislead men to commit sins. Women are also presented as conspiring/deceitful in that they divide men from one another. Rebekah , for example, divides men by giving birth to twins who must compete for their father s blessings. Rebekah also promotes this division by conspiring to trick Isaac into believing that Jacob is Esau: she also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. (Genesis 27:16). Her actions lead to the dispute between the two brothers. This shows that the Bible views women as responsible for dividing the relationships of men.
Women are depicted as less intelligent than men in the Hebrew Bible. Eve for example is foolish enough to be tricked by a snake. This is significant because GOD gave man the right to have dominion over all animals. It could be argued that she was able to be tricked because she had no concept of good or evil, and therefore was unaware that anyone would attempt to deceive her. If this is true then, Eve should not of know that it would be good to have knowledge in the first place. This, in effect, shows that woman is foolish and easily tricked by that which she is supposed to rule over. Sarah is foolish enough to think she can lie to the Lord about laughing over the possibility of bearing another child (Genesis 18). She is shown to be intellectually inferior to man because she does not grasp the power of God and his relationship with her husband. The best example of women being portrayed as less intelligent is when Lot s wife looks back at Sodom and Gomorrah: But Lot s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26). The Bible essentially is saying that only man is wise enough to avoid disaster and that woman is not. Women are illustrated as only being intelligent enough to serve as objects.
The Hebrew Bible depicts women as possessions. From the very creation of women, we are told that women are property. Woman is created out of an object: Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man (Genesis 2:21). This concept of a woman s creation forming from an in-animate thing clearly puts the woman as property of man. She is made from part of the man and therefore belongs to him. She is objectified like a sheep in a flock. One could, of course, argue that Adam was made from in-animate material as well. This is true, but Adam is not created from an object, which belongs to someone else. Eve is created from the possession of man, thereby classifying her as a piece of property. The fact that she is formed second, emphasizes her insignificance to man. While woman can be seen as completing man in being created after him, she is not created first. In most cultures, whatever occurs first is generally the most important. Woman is presented as second to man. Women are therefore inferior to man. This is also supported by the concept that God is a man. The masculinity of God mocks women in that it is the female gender, which brings life into this world (with the assistance of man, of course). God steals the creation rights from women whom are the gender that predominantly nurtures and raises newborns. Women are presented as property, which can be used as a commodity. They are never asked if they want to be wed. They are taken: I took her to be my wife (Genesis 12:19). Property is described as being taken or given. People are usually not objectified like this. This argument is strengthened when Lot offers his daughters to the horde of men determined to have sex with the two angels: Don t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters that have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do with them what you like (Genesis 18:7/8). The text once again places a higher importance over men than women. Lot is willing to let a horde of men rape his virgin daughters. Lot adopts the view that women are property as he attempts to let his daughters face the most gruesome of violations. If he had been successful, his daughters would surely have been killed. He treats his daughters like livestock or a mere possession. If he truly valued the life of women, he would certainly have been willing to die to protect his daughters. Women are possessions in the Bible as they said to belong to or to be owned by their husbands: You shall not covet your neighbor s house; you shall not covet your neighbors wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:17). This quote shows the texts view on women. It mentions women in the same list as slaves, homes, and animals. Therefore women are of equal standing with these possessions and thus are property themselves. Women, viewed as property, are commanded to serve men.
The Hebrew Bible emphasizes that women must serve men, that this is their calling in life. God created women to serve under man: It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner (Genesis 2:18). Jehovah clearly states men must have complete control over their wives. This is evident in the text as he commands women that: your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. (Genesis 3:16). Sarah refers to her husband as master (Genesis 18:12). This shows that not only are women made to serve men, but that they must also accept it without question. Rebekah fulfills this position by getting water: Drink, my lord she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink. (Genesis 24:18). These are just three of the many examples of women serving men in the Hebrew Bible.
It is also conveyed that women are unable to survive without the help men. Women are not allowed to be priests and therefore cannot directly worship God. They can only worship GOD through male priests: bring your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests (Exodus 28:1). Women cannot fulfill an important aspect of life in that they cannot serve God as priests. They are then dependant on men to complete this duty for them. Hagar is portrayed as desperate and helpless without the help of man she began to sob (Genesis 21:16). It is only with the help of a man that she is able to survive: Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water (Genesis 21:19). Both Rebekah and Rachel are barren and can only complete their duties as mothers by the help of a man: she was barren. The Lord answered [Isaac s] prayer and his wife became pregnant (Genesis 25:21).
Looking for quotes in the Hebrew Bible that promote a sexist view towards women is not anything like searching for a needle in a haystack. There are quotes on nearly every page of the scripture that support this position. I feel that it is obvious that the Bible does not view favorably upon women, or at least not as favorably as it does men. The position of women is not inferior in my mind. I feel that the concept of God being a woman makes more sense because it is women who physically bring life into this world. I regard the Bible as being sexist in both its gender of God and the role of women. Women in the Bible are never really described by more than their physical appearance. It always refers to them as beautiful , never as wise or intelligent. This is disheartening because women are more than just objects they are living, breathing, and sentient beings. They should never be treated as less than equal to men.
The Bible seems to be a construction of the cultural values of the time. I don t believe any creator would want its creation to be inferior to its counterpart. It doesn t make sense because we only exist with each other. We would not be able to survive without one another. We are therefore equal in importance. I feel the Bible was simply a way for people to explain the unknown, the concepts that our minds are to insignificant to unravel. The Bible was then used to promote cultural attitudes about life. Its many inconsistencies point out that humans conceived it, we are undeniably less than perfect. I doubt God would make so many factual and moral errors, but hey maybe he just like one of us. Maybe God is just some scientist billions of times larger than us, who happened to do a mix the chemicals and conditions necessary to form living cells. Maybe God didn t intend on creating us, but I feel the Bible intended on presenting man as superior to woman.
1) Holy Bible. New International Version. Zondervan Publishing; NY, 1973
2) Bird, Phyllis: Women in the Old Testament. Simon and Schuster; NY, 1974
3) Bach, Alice: Women, Seduction, and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative. Cambridge University Press; NY, 1997
4)Bach, Alice: The Pleasure of Her Text: Feminist Readings of Biblical and Historical Texts. Trinity Press Int l; Philadelphia, 1990
5) Bachofen, J.J.: Myth, Religion, and Mother Right. Princeton University Press; NJ, 1992