Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Status of Women in Non-Judeo Christian Cultures

Many decry the Bible, the two religions based on the Bible, and more importantly, the God of the Bible and his Son, Jesus Christ, as being male-chauvinist and sexist. Injustices to women in Judeo-Christian societies are very often blamed on the influence of the Bible.

While it is true, that over the centuries, many have abused the scriptures in socially successful attempts to validate their own male-chauvinist and sexist attitudes, the God of the Bible is not a chauvinistic God, nor is the Bible itself a sexist book.

Even a casual comparison between what the Bible teaches and how historically non Judeo-Christian societies have treated their women shows that the most humane and dignified treatment women have ever received has been in Judeo-Christian societies.

Compare Ancient Israel to Ancient Athens
A comparison, for example, between the patriarchal, ancient Hebrew culture portrayed in the Old Testament, and the politically patriarchal, but radically Democratic, 4th and 5th century Athenian culture, reveals discriminations against Athenian women that have never existed in either the Christians or the Jewish cultures, either before or after the 5th century, and are not espoused by either the Old or New Testaments of the Bible.

Women in Leadership
Athenian women were completely and absolutely excluded from any type of tangible power. They were not even considered citizens of Athens—only males could be citizens and participate in politics and own property.

Yet, in the Hebrew culture, we read about women doing both. The Israelites at one point were governed by a woman.

This same woman was their political, military, and spiritual leader. Deborah, the wife of Lapidoth, was prophet, Head of State, and commander-in-chief of the armies of Israel. The Bible records that in all of Jewish history, only two men ever held all three of those positions at the same time. They were Moses and Samuel. A chauvinistic God would never have allowed a woman to rise to such a position of prominence and power, nor would it have ever been recorded in a sexist book.

The Right to Buy & Sell Property
Although the hereditary rights of citizenship passed to an Athenian male through both his mother and his father, his mother actually possessed none of those rights. She was not considered an Athenian citizen, and besides the right to be involved in the politics of Athens, one of the most important rights of citizenship was the right to own property.

Since Athenian women were not citizens, they were prohibited from owning either houses or land.

There was no such prohibition placed upon the women of Israel. The Bible record reveals, in the book of Proverbs, a married woman who was also a shrewd business woman—and one of her businesses just happened to be the buying and selling of real estate.

We also see an example, in Joshua, of two daughters asking their father to deed them some valuable property, which he does. A chauvinistic God would never have allowed either of these two things to happen, nor would a chauvinistic book contain records of such things.

What about legal capabilities of Athenian women?
There were none. Below are a few examples:

A fourth century Athenian woman was under guardianship her entire life. If her husband died, she could place herself under the care of the guardian of her minor sons (she was not considered legal guardian of even her own children). If her sons had reached their majority by the time her husband died, she could choose one of them as her guardian.

She was considered incompetent from the moment of her birth until the moment of her death. During the course of her entire life, an Athenian woman never knew an autonomous moment.

On the other hand, Hebrew woman were never considered to be the property of their husbands or required to be under guardianship after marriage.

In the event of her husband’s death, a Hebrew women was not required to be placed under the guardianship of a male relative. She was the guardian of her own minor children.

The widow, Naomi, had male relatives when she returned to Israel from Moab after her husband died. But both she and her widowed daughter-in-law lived alone. Life was not easy for them, but they were free to live independently.

The Widow
The Old Testament story of the widow who, with the help of a miracle, was able to pay off her husband’s debt thereby preventing her sons from being sold into slavery is another proof that Israelite women were allowed to live independently of men and also retain custody of their minor children in the event of the husband’s death. This widow paid off the debts and retained guardianship of her sons.

Anna, a prophetess in the Bible, was married for only seven years before becoming a widow. She was not required to return to the guardianship of a male relative after her husband died. Nor was she required to marry again. She chose to devote the rest of her life to ministry as a single woman. She ministered to God day and night in the temple. She lived a completely autonomous life. A chauvinistic God would never have allowed a woman to serve him in such a way, and a sexist book would never have contained Anna's story.

Personal Identity
As a rule, in 5th century Athenian writings, men were referred to by their proper names. With few exceptions, women were referenced only by their relationships to their closest male relatives. A woman was identified as so and so's mother, sister, daughter, etc.. A few Athenian women (related to men of note) are mentioned by their proper names, but by and large, even in legal proceedings where a woman may have been center stage, her proper name was not considered important. Therefore it was not even documented.

No such discrimination occurs in the biblical histories. If a woman was a main player in a biblical event, her name was recorded. Her closest male relative’s name may also have been recorded, but the woman herself was accorded the dignity of having her identity recognized separately from her male relative’s.

The number of biblical examples of this are too numerous to attempt listing them all, but just a few are: Miriam the prophetess and sister of Moses; Deborah, judge, prophet, commander-in-chief and wife of Lapidoth; Hulda, prophetess and wife of Shallum; Esther, cousin of Mordechai and Queen to Ahasaurus; Ruth the Moabitess who became the grandmother of King David; Naomi, wife, mother and mother-in-law to Ruth; Rahab the harlot; Rizpah, a concubine who took on a King and won. The examples can go on and on. A God who was chauvinistic and sexist would never have allowed the proper names of these women to be recorded. A chauvinistic book would never have listed their praiseworthy and heroic deeds.

In 4th and 5th century Athens, marriage and motherhood was the fulfillment and ultimate goal of every Athenian girl. Sound familiar? No one can blame the Judeo-Christian influence of the Bible on that one. Athens was a polytheistic society which acknowledged many gods—but the God of the Jews and Christians was not one of them. The women of Athens were limited, in the extreme, in the choices they could make for their lives.

There are cultures even today whose women are as limited as the women of ancient Athens. There are modern cultures that advocate for the torturing and killing of women who fail to produce a male child for their husbands, and yet we see women who never conceived a child spoken of positively in the Bible.

Nowhere in either the Old or New Testaments of the Bible is it even hinted at that the only avenue open to the women of Israel was marriage and motherhood.

There are women praised in scripture who either never conceived or whose personal choices led them never to become mothers. Esther is famous for rescuing her people from genocide. But there is no record that she ever became a mother.

If Anna, the prophetess, became a mother during her seven years of marriage, there is no record of it, nor is either her husband’s or her father’s name mentioned. We know very little of Anna other than it was her choice to live the remainder of her life, after widowhood, serving God as an unmarried woman.

A chauvinistic God would certainly never have allowed women to make such choices nor would these choices and have been recorded in a sexist book.

Negative Stereotyping of Women in Ancient Writings
In ancient Athenian writings, we see women negatively stereotyped on a consistent basis. Women were commonly described as drunkards, weak, fearful, vindictive, irrational, self-indulgent, etc..

Men, of course, are portrayed as just the opposite.

We see no such discriminatory stereotyping of women in the Bible. Equally as important, is the fact that men are not consistently described as being near perfect. The Bible records both the sinful and praiseworthy acts of both men and women.

In the Bible we see both men and women performing heroic exploits. In the Bible, we see both men and women behaving in both positive and negative ways. That kind of impartiality is rare to non-existent in any other body of ancient writings. That is because the Bible is not a chauvinistic-sexist book, nor is the God of the Bible a male-chauvinistic or sexist God.

Value of Muslim Women Today
Shall we take a look at modern day Islam and compare the value the Islamic sacred writings of the Koran and the Hadith place on women compared to the value the Bible places on women?

A Muslim woman is worth nothing aside from whatever subjective value her husband places on her. A Muslim husband can legally deny his wife the right to care for or breast feed a child from a previous marriage. There is no community property in an Islamic marriage, and a wife is completely dependent upon her husband for her daily sustenance. The Koran and the Hadith provide numerous instances in which a man can refuse to support his wife. It goes without saying that wife-beating is legal in Islam.

How about Hinduism or Buddhism?
What kind of rights do women possess in countries where these religions have dominated and helped shape the culture for centuries?

It was the influence of the Bible that stopped the abhorrent Hindu practice of suttee [sati] in India where widows were burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyres.

Only in the last year or so have laws passed in India making wife-beating illegal.

No claim that the Judeo-Christian God is a male-chauvinist or that the Bible is a sexist book can be backed up by with facts.

The fact is that, although men and women are continually attempting to create God in their own image, the God of the Bible is not a male-chauvinist, and the Bible is not a sexist book.

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