The sinister side of Judeo-Christian Scripture and tradition regarding women

A brief summary of texts

by Ken Sehested

            Thanks to our recent presidential election, more people know the meaning of “misogyny.” As with so many lingering patterns of structural discrimination (which is different from, and far worse than, simple prejudice), gender inequity remains even in societies considered culturally “advanced.”

            Within the Judeo-Christian world, resistance to gender equity has deep roots in Scripture and church history. While it is true that alternative texts and traditions can be identified in these sources, it is still imperative that we openly confront and address the elemental texts and pretexts authorizing overt and covert patterns of domination.

            What follows is a brief summary of such texts.

§Genesis 3:16. Men are to rule women, women are to submit to men.

§Genesis 4:19. Lamech became the first known polygamist when he took two wives. Subsequent men who took multiple wives included: Esau with 3 wives; Jacob, 2; Ashur, 2; Gideon, many; Elkanah, 2; David, many; Rehaboam, 3; Abijah, 14. Jehoram, Joash, Ahab, Jeholachin and Belshazzar also had multiple wives. Solomon holds the record, 700 wives of royal birth, as well as 300 concubines!

§Genesis 19:6-8. Lot, identified as “righteous” in the both Testaments (cf. 2 Peter 2:7-8), sough to fend off a mob attempting to rape the two male visitors at his home by offering his two daughters instead.

§Genesis 29:20-21. Wives are taken as property transfers.

§Exodus 20:17 & Deuteronomy 5:21. In the Ten Commandments, the prohibition against coveting involves a specific list of properties (house, slave, ox, donkey), including “thy neighbor’s wife.”

§Exodus 21:2-4. Male bonded servants are free after six years, but if he has a wife, or children, they remain the property of the master.

§Exodus 21:7. A man can sell his daughter.

§Exodus 21:10. Men never ask women to marry them, they just take them as a property exchange with the woman’s father or owner.

§Exodus 22:18. “You shalt not permit a sorceress [“female sorcerer,” “witch”] to live.” The language used is explicitly feminine. Witch-hunts predate Judeo-Christian history, and were widespread over many cultures around the world. (And, in some places, are still practiced.) With some exceptions, most of the targets were, and are, women.

§Leviticus 12:1-5. God says that a woman who has given birth to a boy is ritually unclean for 7 days. If the baby is a girl, the mother is unclean for 14 days.

§Leviticus 18:8; Leviticus 18:16; Leviticus 20:20-21; Deuteronomy 27:20. A woman’s “nakedness” is the property of her husband.

§Leviticus 27:3-7. The “equivalent value” of girls and women are less than that for boys and men.

§Numbers 3:15. The census counts only males.

§Numbers 30. A vow taken by a man is binding. But a vow taken by a woman can be nullified by her father, if she is still living in her family of origin, or by her husband, if she is married.

§Deuteronomy 22:13-21. Requires that a woman be a virgin when she is married. If she has had sexual relations while single in her father's house, then she would be stoned to death. There were no similar virginity requirements for men.

§Deuteronomy 22:28-29. A virgin who is raped by a man must marry her attacker.

§Deuteronomy 25:5-10. If a woman is widowed, she is required to marry her former brother-in-law. The man could refuse to marry her. Women were not given a choice in the matter.

§Deuteronomy 25:11. If two men are fighting, and the wife of one of them grabs the other man's testicles, her hand is to be chopped off.

§Judges 19:22-25. Another example of a man offering his daughter and a concubine for rape.

§Judges 21:19-23; Deuteronomy 21:11-14. Women may be kidnapped as part of the spoils of warfare.

§1 Samuel 18:25-27. King Saul sells his daughter to David, and the selling price is not monetary but the “foreskins” of 100 Philistines. (David actually collects 200.)

§2 Samuel 12:7-8. According to the Prophet Nathan, God gives David the property and wives of others.

§Ecclesiastes 7:26. “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.”

§Jeremiah 6:12; 8:10. According to the Prophet Jeremiah, when the people sin, God gives their wives and other property to others.

§Hosea 3:1-3. The Prophet Hosea is explicitly ordered by God to purchase a wife.

§Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 1:12, 13:8; Psalm 119:89, Isaiah 40:8. Neither God nor the laws ever change.

§All four Gospels record “the feeding of the 5,000” miracle. Matthew (14:21) adds “in addition to women and children.” But Luke (9:14), Mark (6:44), and John (6:10) do not.

§1 Corinthians 11:3-9. The order of divine hierarchy is God over Christ, Christ over man, and man over woman. If a woman does not cover her head, her hair is to be cut off.

§1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Women are to be silent in church.

§Ephesians 5:22-24. Wives are not only to submit to husbands, but to treat them as they treat God.

§Colossians 3:18. Women are to submit to their husbands.

§1 Timothy 2. Women, but not men, have dress codes; are to learn in silence and submission; and certainly never teach nor have authority over a man. A woman’s salvation does not come by faith but through childbearing.

A brief sampling of comments from key Christian theologians (2nd to 16th century Christian leaders)

St. Tertullian (c. 155 to 225 CE): “Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die.”

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215). “[For women] the very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.”

Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE), though not a Christian, had a profound influence on Western theology. “The female is, as it were, a mutilated male.”

St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE). He wrote to a friend: “What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman. . . . I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274 CE). “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence.”

St. Albertus Magnus (1193–1280 CE). “Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his.”

Martin Luther (1483 to 1546). “No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise.”

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Some of this information is adapted from
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