Board index Women

Misogyny, Feminism, and the role of women in the church. Does the Bible treat women as inferior? What is the role, or place of women in the church? A MUCH disagreed-about topic.

I think this contributes to the discussion

Postby jimwalton » Sun Oct 26, 2014 9:20 am

I want to post this here both for my reference and the reference by others. It's from an article called, " 'Eves' of Everyday Ancient Israel" by Carol L. Meyers, Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2014, pp. 51-54, 66, 68. I'm just posting a few excerpts here.

While there were certain activities in the household that the women exclusively did, such as the grinding of grain into flour, anthropologists note that most household activities were not performed exclusively by one gender. ...

Although the Bible may have its biases, details of daily life are largely realistic. Because Biblical authors intend to communicate with an audience, they surely used background information that rang true.

Anthropological studies can also elucidate women's relationships with other members of their families, especially their husbands. Were women really as subordinate in Biblical times as many people think? Anthropological studies from societies similar to ancient Israel provide useful analogies. Interactions between household members are an example. Because women often have critical roles in maintaining household life, the senior woman in an extended family is often in a position of parity and interdependence, not subordination, with her husband for most aspects of household life. This is an especially significant observation for ancient Israel because the household was the major unity of society for most Israelites. ...

Feminist Biblical study has grown exponentially in the past 25 years. [One recent book] deals specifically with how issues of gender are handled in translations of the opening chapters of Genesis. Looking at these and other studies, it became clear to me that the negative images of Eve that persist until today can be traced to ancient sources beginning in the Greco-Roman world. Those images were influenced by ideas about women that were current in Greco-Roman times but not in Iron Age Israel. ...

Social scientists alert us to what they call "presentism," the phenomenon in which perspectives and ideas that we take for granted in today's world affect how we understand the past. We tend to read the present into the past anachronistically, which can lead us to misunderstanding the past. It is surely true that human beings have much in common throughout time, but there are also sometimes basic differences, and these must be taken into account. For example, today cooking and cleaning and caring for young children are often seen as unpaid housework. These chores may be undervalued, even trivialized. But in a pre-modern peasant society without supermarkets and day-care centers, these tasks have significant economic value. They are essential for household survival, and they earn women positive regard.

Similarly, "presentism" can affect how we view the division between work and family, between what is public and what is private. How these divisions are understood may be very different between a post-industrial capitalist society, on the one hand, and a pre-modern agrarian society on the other. In the latter, the household is the workplace for both women and men, and household activities for both women and men were connected to larger community and kinship structures.

Consider the concept of patriarchy. Typically this concept has been taken to imply near total male domination in families and in other social institutions. But anthropologists, classicists, feminist theorists, theologians and others who have more recently studied the concept have shown that this understanding of patriarchy does not take into account that women often had considerable agency in certain aspects of household life and that women's groups and institutions had their own hierarchies. Moreover, focusing so exclusively on the supposed subordination of women can result in overlooking other inequalities that were a result of social class or caste. Servants, slaves, and people of other ethnicities held inferior positions in ancient Israel. And men who were not of the priestly tribe were excluded from the national priesthood.

To get a balanced view of Israelite society in the Iron Age, the broader picture must be considered. Patriarchy is a term that was invented millennia after the Iron Age and is probably unsuitable for characterizing ancient Israel.

A more accurate term, although it may initially seem to be a jarring neologism, would be what recent anthropologists are calling "heterarchy." This concept allows for multiple but different ranking systems in any given society. Heterarchy recognizes the existence of inequalities in multiple areas of life but also understands that these inequalities were not necessarily all-pervasive.
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