The Old Testament Wrap–up IV: The Bible’s Treatment of Women

Once in a while, a film comes along that looks so bad it’s probably worth a look. Showgirls is on this list. Sadly, Glitter even managed to disappoint for this purpose. Other bad movies are amusing because they reflect a deep-seeded anxiety, which gave rise to films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (The Russians are coming!), The Blob (Science is out of control!), and The Leprechaun (Bad Ireland?).

And then there was the trailer for 2007’s Teeth, whose central premise is that there’s a monster in a woman’s vagina. Looks like someone has issues with women.

You could also say that the Bible—or the people who wrote the Bible—has similar issues with women, which is why they are treated like trash (for the most part) when they even show up. Now, perhaps the Bible merely reflects the general sentiment towards women during the eras covered.  Given this, it would explain why two women (in two separate stories) are offered to a mob in place of guests.

First, in Genesis, a mob demands that Lot send out his male visitors (who are angels) so they can rape them. Take my virgin daughter and rape her instead, Lot says. Then, in Judges, there is the similar story of the Levite and his concubine.  When they are discovered resting in a town square, an old man finally shows them hospitality and offers them shelter.  Some hostile townspeople hear of the visitors’ presence and arrive at the old man’s house, where they demand that the Levite be handed over so that they can rape him. The old man offers his virgin daughter and the concubine instead.

These two stories alone are enough to paint a grim picture of how women were considered in the Bible. But some prominent women do take center stage, and when they do, their stories are pretty inspiring.

  • Deborah, a prophetess, who, when consulted, devises a successful army campaign (Judges 4).
  • The nameless woman who stabs and kills Sisera (Judges 4:21)
  • Esther, who uses her wits against Persian King Xerxes to protect her people (Esther).
  • Rahab, the prostitute who hides the two Israeli spies so that they can eventually escape Jericho (Joshua).
  • And there’s Jezebel, who, unfortunately, uses her influence for evil (1 Kings).

The disrespectful picture of women is much more prevalent in the Old Testament, but as the above list demonstrates, women could occupy an important position in a story.  Given these types of stories, it’s strange to me that women don’t hold higher positions in a few of the religious organizations who follow the Bible—women can’t be priests, they believe, for example.

Although I understand why they weren’t priests back then—paralleled with status in society—times have changed, and even the positive stories about women demonstrate that females are just as capable as men. Why aren’t these stories discussed more? Perhaps if they were, I would not have had the unfortunate idea that the Bible is completely sexist.

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About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: http://goo.gl/yvT24K His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to 5Writer.com. On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: www.BibleProjectBlog.com Follow his work at: www.BradWindhauser.com VirgoWriter@gmail.com
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