THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
Contrasting passages from the Hebrew
Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) that
either in negative
as equal to men, or
Women viewed as sexual predators, deceitfully and worthy of special punishment:
|Women as sexual predators:|
||Genesis 19:30-36: This passage describes how Lot's two daughters made their father drunk with wine on two
successive nights. Each daughter committed incest with her father, and became pregnant.
Their two sons, Moab and Ben-Ammi became the patriarchs of the Moabite and Ammonite
people, who were two of Israel's most serious foes.
||In Judges 16, Delilah seduced Samson in order to find out the secret of his great
strength. This ultimately led to Samson's death.
||1 Kings 11 describes how Solomon's many foreign wives and concubines convinced
him to worship other Gods and build Pagan temples. This was believed to
have led to his downfall.
|Women as deceitful and untrustworthy: |
||Genesis 39:7-20: Potiphar was an official in the court of the Pharaoh. His wife
unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Joseph. She later falsely accused him of attempting to
rape her, and had him arrested.
|Women singled out for special punishment:|
22:13-21: A bride who had been
presented as a virgin, and who could not be proven to be one, was to be stoned to death by
the men of her village. Verse 21 says: "Then they shall bring out the damsel
to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with
stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore
in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you." The
woman would be allowed to live if her previous owner --her husband -- could
produce evidence in the form of blood caused by her hymen breaking when her
husband first engaged in sexual intercourse with her. Of course, this would not
be much of a defense if she happened to have been born without a hymen or if it
broken broken because of heavy exercise. There appears to have
been no similar penalty for men who had engaged in consensual pre-marital sexual activity.
||Numbers 5:17-31 "Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some
dust from the tabernacle floor into the water....." This passage
describes the action that a husband could take if he
suspected that his wife had engaged in an adulterous relationship. He would
to the tabernacle, where the priest would make a magical drink consisting of holy water and
sweepings from the tabernacle floor. He would have the woman drink the water while he
recited a curse on her. The curse would state that her abdomen would swell and her thigh
waste away if she had committed adultery. In that era when medical treatment
was almost unknown, the treatment would probably have resulted in
her death. If she were pregnant at this time, the curse
would certainly induce an abortion. There was no similar magical test that a woman could require her husband
to take if she suspected him of adultery.
Women viewed as equal to men:
A visitor to this web site pointed out that there is a
group of passages in the Old Testament where men and women were treated
||Exodus 21:15-17: A person who murdered or cursed either their father or mother would be executed.
||Exodus 21:20-21: A slave owner who beat either his male or female slave so severely that he lived a few days without dying would not be
||Exodus 21:26: A slave owner who damages a
tooth either of a male or female slave during a beating was required to let the slave
||Exodus 21:28-31: The owner of an ox who had injured a
person would receive the same penalty, whether the victim was male or female.
||Exodus 21:32: A slave owner would receive equal
compensation if an ox gored one of his slaves, whether the victim
was male or female.
Women described as leaders:
A few unusual women
were viewed in a positive light, as intelligent individuals who played a significant part
in Israel's history. Examples include:
||In Exodus 1:17-21, Hebrew midwives were able to outsmart the Pharaoh and save the
lives of Jewish newborn boys.
||In Exodus 2, the birth mother of Moses was able to circumvent the Pharaoh's order
to kill all of the baby boys, and to save her son.
||Joshua 2:1-16 describes how Rahab, a prostitute, hid two Israelite spies and
saved their lives by misdirecting some soldiers.
||In Judges 4 and 5, Deborah is described as both a Judge of Israel and
as the leader of the army.
||In 1 Samuel 19:11-13, David's first wife, Michal, tricked soldiers and engineered
||In 2 Kings 22:14-19 and 2 Chron 34:23-7,
the prophetess Huldah was asked to validate the book found in the
Temple -- presumably the book of Deuteronomy. She spoke "....as the voice of God; 'Thus says the LORD' ...Jeremiah and Zephaniah were in Judah also at
the time but there is no record of their having been consulted." 1
||The Hebrew Scriptures describe many other female Prophets, including Miriam, Noadiah, and
||Throughout the Scriptures, Wisdom was personified as a type of female Goddess who was
present at the creation of the world, and who has intervened in human affairs.
Related essay on this web site:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still valid today.
- Frank Daniels, "The Role of Woman in the Church." part of the Religious
Heresy Page at: http://www.scs.unr.edu/
- M.C. Callaway, "Women in the Old Testament", a chapter in M. Smith
& R.J. Hoffmann, "What the Bible Really Says", Harper San Francisco,
CA, (1999), P. 198 to 211.
Copyright © 1997 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-SEP-13
Author: B.A. Robinson
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