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The portrayal of women in the Bible or their role has been a subject of research for long. The Holy Book portrays women differently, and they emerge as influential persons or leaders; they are sexually unclean and they cannot offer sacrifices during menstruation; they are the centers of their households or wives and mothers, but they are not socially and economically equal to men (Belmonte et al. 3). The analysis of the Bible, especially the Book of Proverbs, also reveals the subject of women’s wisdom versus their folly (Ventureyra 2). The research uses the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, from which the paper draws its readings about women. To understand the issue of how the Holy Book portrays women and the role that they play in society, such sources of information as the Bible, ancient writings, and the apocryphal gospels are indispensable for this research. However, internet sites of academic nature also provide reliable information about the place of women in the Bible.
The research finds that the Bible generally portrays women as inferior to men. However, the book has typical examples of women who are influential people and who play important roles in the history of the Hebrew community and the development of Christianity in the New Testament. Thus, women such as Sarah, Tamar, and Miriam have crucial roles in the Bible. The authorship of the Bible, in which the male characters dominate, is the core factor that contributes to its one-sided view that favors men more than women (Just, “The Gospel According to John” 13). The language the Bible uses is masculine because it describes God in masculine terms, an issue that creates the feeling that men are closer to God than women are (Frymer-Kensky 48). The research also finds that the Holy Book praises women for excelling in their domestic chores and supporting their husbands’ excellence; they are objects of sexual attraction to men, while problems related to sexuality, such as barrenness, affect them, and the laws of the temple alienate them from entering the temple of offering sacrifices when they are unclean.
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Women as Influential People in the Bible
Some of the women, depicted in the Bible, emerge as influential people who play great roles that determine the history of the biblical community, especially the Hebrews. The research of Belmonte et al. handles the subject of women in the scriptures such as the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran. According to Belmonte et al., Sarah is one of the influential female characters in the Hebrew Bible (4). She was Abraham’s wife, and God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled through her, as she became pregnant at the age of 90 and bore Isaac (Belmonte et al. 4). However, women are also cunning, and Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, is an epitome of such a female character. Rebekah conspired with Jacob, her younger son, to steal Essau’s blessings, and Jacob later became Israel.
Tamar is a scheming woman, as depicted in the Hebrew Bible, because after the death of her first two husbands, she dresses as a prostitute and cunningly seduces Judah, later having his child. The union between Judah and Tamar is the genesis of the lineage that advances to King David and Jesus (Belmonte et al. 4). Another woman, who plays a vital role in preserving the history of the Hebrews, is Miriam, Moses’ sister. The Egyptian law required the death of all male children of Hebrew decent, but Miriam defied this rule, and she let infant Moses to float down the waters of the River Nile. Thus, the Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses and took him to the palace where he would grow to release the Israelites from captivity in Egypt (Belmonte et al. 4). These women and many others played determinative roles in the history of Hebrews, or Israelites, which made them influential people.
Despite the Bible portraying women as influential people in some aspects, the issue that undermined this portrayal was related to the fact that men were the dominant writers of the scriptures, so they wrote them for men accordingly (Just, “The Gospel According to John” 13). Thus, the Bible largely ignores women’s perspectives regarding other women since that they do not constitute the majority of the book’s writers (Just, “The Gospel According to John” 13). Nevertheless, some female characters are depicted prominently in the Bible (Just, “The Gospel According to John” 13). For example, Martha and Mary, the sisters to Lazarus, are compassionate and faithful women who look for Jesus to raise their brother from death, a miracle that Jesus performs (The New Revised Standard Version, John. 11.38-45). The resurrection of Christ is also discovered by a woman, Mary Magdalene, who visits Jesus’ tomb early in the morning of Sunday and finds it open. The risen Jesus and some angels appear to her, and Christ gives her the message of His resurrection to pass it to His disciples (Just, “The Gospel According to John” 12). The Gospel of John also mentions women at the foot of the cross, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of them (John. 19.25-27). Other women at the foot of the cross are Mary, the wife to Clopas, and the sister to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The presence of women at the foot of the cross demonstrates their compassionate feelings following the death of Christ. The fourth gospel of the Bible, the book of John, is noteworthy for portraying women as prominent personalities that shape the Biblical story of the New Testament. Other famous women include the Samaritan woman, whom Jesus meets at the well, and Mary. who anoints Jesus at Bethany, as well as the woman caught in adultery, and she is used to teach about forgiveness (Just, “The Gospel According to John” 13). Therefore, although the Bible’s writers are men mostly, the book still has prominent women.
Women as Unequal to Men Socially and Economically
The female gender is unequal to the male socially and uneconomically, which is depicted in the Bible. The language of the Bible, as Frymer-Kensky claims, makes one think that God is a man. The author states, “There can be no doubt that the God of the Biblical Israel is male,” (Frymer-Kensky 48). Thus, the reference of God, using masculine quality is the genesis of gender inequality. Since the Bible’s language is male-centered, its cumulative impact causes the alienation of women (Frymer-Kensky 48). Another effect involves the book carrying intimations of masculine theology, which means that since God is male, every man has some aspect of godliness because men and God are perceived to belong to one clan, while women are alienated in a separate group (Frymer-Kensky 49). Frymer-Kensky describes this relationship as follows: “God and men share something indefinable that women lack” (49). Furthermore, the fact that only the male images are used for God implies that in the Bible, men assume high social and political status of power, and women are their subjects. The Bible’s imagery and power loop completely exclude women, which makes them inferior to men (Frymer-Kensky 49). Consequently, women’s relationship and closeness to God are more distanced as compared to men because the Bible’s language is masculine.
Women are not socially and economically equal to men because they assume positions that are inferior to men’s. According to Ackerman, the authorship of the Hebrew Bible is the starting point of gender inequality since all its writers are men. Thus, such patriarchal figures as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as well as and Moses, the redeemer of the Israelites, proves that the Hebrew Bible holds men in higher regard than women. The roles of leadership, prophecy, kingship, and other dominant positions are preserved for men in the Hebrew Bible. Even the role of poetry belongs to men. Thus, King David was a typical poet who wrote the book called Psalms, while King Solomon wrote the “Songs of Songs” (Ackerman 2). In the book of Exodus 19.15, the Bible addresses men, commanding them not to go near a woman (Ackerman 2). It symbolizes that women are inferior and unclean before men and God.
Eve is designated the significant role of the mother of the human race in Genesis 3.20. However, her position is corrupted by the role she plays in misleading Adam to fall into sin. Eve is charmed by the Serpent and she is easily tempted by Satan, which implies that sin comes to the world through women, which Ventureyra describes as woman’s folly (7). According to Ventureyra, women are scarcely mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as only 10% of the book’s characters are women (7). In the Book of Proverbs, the author mentions a strange woman, whom many people perceive as an adulterous person. The roles women play are inferior and sinful as compared to those of men. While discussing the strange adulteress, the book of Proverbs 9.17 mentions that “bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” It is an allusion to a kind of sexual seduction that depicts the woman as immoral.
The overall portrayal of women in the Bible is negative, and the strange female character in Proverbs is an archetype of the explanation (Ventureyra 11). However, the same book of Proverbs praises women, who are good wives, and examples of the verses of Proverbs that praise women for playing their wifely role properly include 5.18 and 18.22 (Ventureyra 11). Nevertheless, such praises tell much about the role of women in Hebrew society. Men, who praise these women, expect them to become good wives, taking care of their children and homes. Ventureyra explains that the woman, who is praised in the Proverbs 18.22, receives this honor for being wise (11). A wise woman, according to the verse, is the one who wakes up before dawn, attends to all the duties of the household, and raises her children (Ventureyra 11). The situation, where a woman receives praise, is tied to her subservient role within the context of marriage.
In Proverbs 31.19-23, the reader meets a man who praises his wife. The man’s socioeconomic excellence at the City Gate depends on his wife’s ability to sustain and accomplish much domestically. Thus, men’s financial excellence depends on their women’s submissiveness and taking good care of their homes and their children before they can get their freedom to excel in their work. Nonetheless, the woman, whom the husband praises, also supplements his efforts. She makes her investments without necessarily consulting her husband (Ventureyra 11). She is a wise woman because she excels materially alongside her husband, but the man encourages her to work even harder (Ventureyra 11). Women in marriage are to partner with their husbands to create a favorable environment for the excellence of both of them, although most roles of women fall within the domestic environment.
At the same time, in the New Testament, women also emerge as lesser beings, for instance, in the miracle where Jesus feeds 5,000 people. The book of Matthew 14.21 is categorical that the number of 5,000 people excluded women and children (Just, “Women in the Synoptic Gospels”). It implies that women and children are statistically insignificant because their numbers are not included as part of the count of people whom Jesus had fed.
Women and Sexuality
The analysis of the Bible’s Songs of Songs shows that the book embraces sexual discourse in a language that is appropriate for a man’s approach to God. The Bible does not exclude women while addressing the subject of sexuality (Young 81). Young explains that the reading of Songs of Songs by King Solomon reveals the issue of women’s equality and sexuality (81). Thus, the book is a love poem, whereby a woman praises the love of her husband in the following ways: “Let him kiss me with his mouth’s kisses, truly sweeter in your love more than wine, than the smell of your precious oil,” (Songs of Songs. 1. 2-3). King Solomon uses the voice of a woman to write the poem, which symbolizes the role of women in their marriages. They were praisers of their men, and they used sweet words to lure them into love (Young 82). Young analyzed that the Songs of Songs was about the poems that Solomon’s anonymous bride sang to him on his wedding night (83). Furthermore, Young explains that this text is a discourse of sexuality, whereby the real meaning is different from the surface suggestion and that the poem actually explores the king’s intercourse with a woman but using figurative language (84). However, assigning the voice to a woman, tells that the female characters in the Bible are men’s sexual objects. The fact that the poem leaves the woman anonymous refers to the immorality that the king directs towards women. The interpretation could be true, considering the number of wives Solomon had married. Therefore, women suffered the consequences of men’s immorality as any woman could have recited the song to the king due the voice’s anonymity.
Sexuality issues, such as bareness and diseases that affect females’ reproductive systems, affect women in the Bible. Hanah, the mother of Samuel, is a typical woman who offers sacrifice to God – her son (Young 86). She had the problem of bareness. The gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John also talked about the woman who had the problem of flow of blood for 12 years, but Jesus healed her (Just, “Women in the Synoptic Gospels”). In Mark 12. 18-27, the author narrates the story of the woman who had seven husbands. Apparently, women were not allowed to marry many husbands according to the law of the Pharisees. However, Jesus explains that in eternity, physical marriage between women and men is immaterial. The anointing to Jesus Christ at Bethany is a significant event in the New Testament, but the woman, who anoints Jesus with oil, is anonymous (Just, “Women in the Synoptic Gospels”). Consequently, the fact that an anonymous female character anoints Jesus with oil portrays the issue of female submissiveness to men.
Different issues, related to women’s sexuality, constrained them from offering sacrifices in the temple. In the book of Leviticus 15.19-30, a woman is deemed as impure or ritually unclean for a period of seven days during menstruation. Ackerman explained that biblical society’s establishments were extremely patriarchal and bureaucratic in nature; therefore, it was challenging for women to act as significant agents within the pro-men establishments (11). The priests in the temple of Jerusalem were mostly men, and they articulated the laws of purity that intentionally sidelined women, participating in the temple’s rituals, which was an aspect of biblical sexual or gender discrimination (Ackerman 11). The temple was the dwelling place of Yahweh (Ackerman 11), and the terming of women as spiritually and ritually unclean during their menses implied that they should not enter God’s living place during their unclean periods (Ackerman 11). Consequently, the Bible does not hold women’s sexuality at the same level as their counterparts because it restricts women from accessing the temple and participating in ritual during menstruation.
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In summary, the Bible does not assign women and men an equal status. Women are socially, spiritually, and economically inferior to men. The Holy Book praises women who excel in their domestic chores and support their husbands’ dominant roles. However, the overall male dominance in the Bible is a factor that is explained by the predominantly male writers of this sacred book. Some women in the Bible, for example, Sarah, Mary, Miriam, and Martha, are portrayed as wise, influential, and compassionate individuals who determine the history of the Hebrews and life in the New Testament. However, such heroic female characters are scarce as compared to males, represented in the Bible. Moreover, this book describes God by using masculine language, a factor that alienates women while bringing men closer to God. In terms of sexuality, women are not allowed to enter the temple, which is God’s dwelling place, and they cannot offer sacrifices when they are considered unclean. Thus, such a description of women in the Bible makes them inferior to men.