So, why is it that what Genesis tells us about the place of women in creation is pretty much the opposite of what most of us were taught? (Part 1)
If your experience was like mine, you were told that the creation stories in Genesis place women in an inferior status to men. Nope. (See my previous post.) In fact, the language used by the authors of those ancient stories makes it clear that the woman was created to be the man’s partner, his equal. So, what explains the millennia old, so-called biblically-supported inferior status of women? Spin. Mistakes were made. The usual. Here, in summary, is what happened: The Israelites assumed that Yahweh would protect them, provided they remained faithful to the covenant. But in 586 BC, Jerusalem was overrun by the Babylonians and most of its citizens were marched off to exile. Fifty years later the Persians defeated the Babylonians and gave the Israelites permission to go back. Some stayed, but those who did return carried with them a troublesome question: Exactly what had their ancestors done to lose Yahweh’s protection? Nobody knew, and the elders who might have remembered were dead, along with their knowledge of the sacred texts and their meanings. With their past out of reach, and no place else to look but their holy writings, the role of the scriptural interpreters—those who took it upon themselves to try to discern the possible meanings within the texts—was born.
Two things here worth noting about these early interpretive efforts: None of the interpreters was a woman, and; because nobody was left who understood the meanings within the ancestral texts, the best they could do, however sincere and thoughtful their approach, was guesswork. More tomorrow.
A Few Notes About My Blog
This is not a religious blog, because Genesis is not religious, not in the way we tend to think about religion—that is, belief in a formal or informal set of beliefs about a Supreme Being.
What you will not find in a reading of Genesis:
- Anyone trying to convert anyone else;
- People praying together. Yes, Jacob did pray. Twice. The first time was the morning after the dream about the ladder, the second, twenty years later, on hearing the scouting report that Esau was bringing 400 armed men to their reunion. This, the brother he’d cheated, who, last he’d heard, was "consoling himself by planning to kill you";
- Anyone whose personal presentation—i.e., manner of speaking, vocabulary, the sort of real and false piety now ubiquitous in the media—signifies him or her as a "religious" person.
What you will find in a reading of Genesis:
- Characters who occupy a deeply ironic, unique place in the human imagination. On the one hand, their moral/spiritual DNA is embedded in the foundations of Western civilization. On the other, but for biblical stories and commentaries, no proof of their existence is to be found in the vast archeological record. They are probably fictional creations, yet they have and continue to shape us as a society and as individuals, those of us who are religious and those of us who are not;
- Three thousand year old stories achingly human in their narratives of stupidity, greed, bravery, cunning, courage and the rest. In other words, stories and characters that are universal, that, if the reader wants, can be a conduit into the self, and into the deeper matters of being human. In fact, I would say that anyone who does a close reading of Genesis, who looks deeply into the characters, will find reflections of his/her own best and worst selves.
One last thing: Because these stories and characters have shaped us all, they belong to us all, the unreligious as well as the religious. Think of them as property held in common.