Feminism & the Bible: Examining the Christian Myth of Creation
Originally written in the early 1990’s for an absolutely amazing class on the bible as history and literature. My later notes, to clarify the paper, are in blockquotes.
The story of Genesis in the bible has been used throughout history as an excuse for, and explanation of, why women should be subjugated by men. This does not mean that Genesis actually says such a thing. It mostly means that men throughout the last 2000 or so years have used the story to justify their (often aberrant) behavior. Their rationale seems to run along the following lines: god created man before woman, therefore man is more important than woman. As god demands obedience, and abuses those who disobey, so man has the right to do the same to woman. After all, she is a “second thought,” she is merely the “helpmate” (the usual translation of the word from the original written language) of man.
This rationale conveniently forgets everything created before man is not considered more consequential than him. If things were created in increasing order of wonderfulness (which is today generally believed), then woman (not man) is the shining pinnacle of the deity creating in Its own image.
A closer reading of Genesis will reveal that it says nothing of the kind. Indeed, there are arguments to be made which say (if anything) that woman is as important, if not more so, than man. For intellectual entertainment, I will delineate one below.
In his article “Woman, a Power Equal to Man,” R. David Freedman raises questions concerning the correct translation of Genesis 2:18. One of his comments concerns one particular word which can be translated as either “to save” or “to be strong”.
He comments, “He is surely not creating this creature to be the man’s savior. This makes no sense.” I find myself asking why he feels this way — why should that make no sense? Let us look somewhat more at the bible, to see if we can determine the ‘sensicalness’ of this possible translation.
First of all, god has sons. Genesis 6:2 refers to them. Later, in Deuteronomy 32:8, god divides up the lands of the world much as a patriarch might portion out his property to his sons for them to steward. Also, god must be talking to someone in Genesis 1:26, and his “Sons” are further mentioned in Job 38:7 as being rather joyful at the creation of the world.
Where did these sons come from, anyway? Perhaps from the female companion?
Very well, if god has sons, does he (of necessity) have a female companion? If one looks later in the bible, one finds references to “Sophia” being YHWH’s companion, who helped him to create the universe. YHWH translates roughly as “Lord” or “God”; “Sophia” means “Wisdom.” The concept of an almighty being without wisdom or conscience is truly terrifying. It is entirely possible to believe that YHWH considered Sophia his “savior” from being a thoughtless brute.
Let us now look at the first human. Nameless, he named all the other animals. Other than neglecting to name himself and being created in god’s image, he doesn’t really seem any different from them. Indeed, in Genesis 3:12, Adam reveals himself as a whiny tattletale while attempting to clear himself of all blame. He tries first to place the blame for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil on Eve; then, astonishingly, he places blame on his creator!
Earlier in Genesis he doesn’t seem much better. I quote from Illuminations (a bible-study magazine article); “Adam, in fact, reveals himself to be rather reserved, taciturn and, to put it mildly, not terribly energetic. During the entire story he plays a miserable walk-on role….” Perhaps it is this emotional situation with Adam which god wishes to rectify.
Eve, as is also pointed out in Illuminations, is the first theologian, can act independently, and takes responsibility upon herself, as well as looking out for her partner. When she eats the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she does not hoard the information, but shares it with Adam. How miserably he repays her!
Thus I present this argument to interpret god’s actions in creating woman as a savior — a gesture to give Adam wisdom and save him from brutishness. Bear in mind, however, that this argument, like all the others before it for the last 4000 or so years, is merely an attempt on my part to see what I wish to see in the bible. There is no way to know exactly what the bible really means. Also, as long as the emotional baggage of 4000 or so years of interpretation is attached to the bible, it will be somewhat pointless to try to use the bible in a spiritually significant way for women.
The story of Genesis is, in the popular mind, the story of why women are less than men. Until that miserable and inaccurate rendition of this story is expunged from popular consciousness, the bible will remain simply another patriarchal tool to justify the atrocious treatment and subjugation of women.
Thanks for writing!
I suspect (since humans are complex creatures) that there are lots of reasons for all the things we do. That being the case, I think your explanation works quite well for all the cultures where sex and women are conflated as “dirty,” such as they are to varying degrees in the three religions of “the Book.”
Funnily enough, Lysistrata’s sex strike concept is still being effectively used today. I’ve read of women in some parts of Africa using it to get their men to stop fighting. Nothing like the classics! :)
Thx for yr writings.
One reason given for why sex is degraded which chimes for me is this.
Men’s need for sex puts them in the power of women, so priests have to be celibate to prevent them from coming under the influence of women. Sex is blackened as evil, women are painted as tempters, this allows the male to keep power to himself, he like adam ‘cant help it’
When women who have just been as brainwashed as men became aware, lysistrata provides an effective model
I just read your review of The DaVinci Code, and loved it. One thing you said caught my attention:
For that matter, why the anger and shock at the very concept of Jesus perhaps not being as pure as the driven snow.
It’s interesting that even as you were defending the premise that Jesus being married would not matter in the grand scheme you, perhaps unconsciously, comment that sexual union, even within the sanctity of a marriage, sullies a person. Unles I misinterpreted and you were pointing out just that. It is kind of early, and I could use more coffee. ;-)
And I have this site on my RSS feeds now, so I’ll be back. :-)
I will admit I believe marriage, as it is now constituted, is no longer a socially and individually healthy relationship form. The staggering number of divorces (over 50%, with some people doing so repeatedly!) says to me this ritual no longer addresses the very real needs of its constituents. I’m also quite turned off by the rampant commercialism of the “wedding mafia” who make a living on this cultural practice. That people keep engaging in it, despite these two huge downsides, says to me there’s a real need for a societally validating ceremony which also addresses our individual needs for companionship and family (small plug: I do have other Firestarters which discuss my take on some of the current forms of marriage).
My comment which you quote, however, is indeed meant to address the perplexing issue of why Jesus (the theoretically pure and “sacrificial Lamb of God”) having married and supposedly engaged in sex is somehow “filthy.” A similar furor to the one over The DaVinci Code was created by the movie Last Temptation of Christ, in which Jesus did not even appear to have married Mary Magdalene in his dream vision — he merely lived with (and presumably had sex with) her.
I find it weirdly sad that the three Religions of the Book are, throughout much of historical time, almost the only major religions in the world where sex is considered perverse and “dirty” — rather than a purifying and uplifting symbol of unity with the deity.
I’m so pleased to hear you find my writings interesting! Thank you for dropping by, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. :)
The problem with the Bible is that you can pretty much use it to justify any argument you wish. The scriptures are so broad, and frequently so ambiguous, that everyone from John the Baptist to Adolf Hitler has been able to find passages that back up their agendas. There is a brilliant website http://www.godhatesshrimp.com/ where they, satirically, point out that not only does Leviticus condemn homosexuality as an abomination, but also the eating of shellfish among other things. While a lot of the Bible is a good guide for building a working society, a lot of it is aimed at the subjugation and control of the masses, especially women. Just out of curiosity have you read The DaVinci Code? Granted it is a piece of fiction, but there are many interesting ideas in it(the book, not the lackluster movie) about the original place of women in the Bible and how they were expunged relatively recently.
Hi, Rick! How nice to hear from you! Hope you enjoy my thoughts. :)
In regards to biblical justifications: oh, yes, I’m keenly aware of that, believe me. I’ve come to consider the bible a literary smorgasbord — a huge and fascinating array of varyingly skillful writings which people pick and choose from to suit their intellectual palates. And yes, that is a great web site you mention — I found it a couple of years ago and nearly hurt myself laughing. :)
Re whether I’ve read “The DaVinci Code,” may I recommend the following review? It is my intent, over time, to shift all my writing into this blog, but I’m doing it little by little so I don’t overwhelm myself. You’re still welcome to comment on either site — I adore feedback!