Women’s Bodies and the Bible by Janet Rudolph


Trigger Alert:  The bible on its face is quite violent to women.

Amidst the ugliness that is American politics in general and abortion politics specifically, I began to look for guidance to understand what is happening. I ended up pulling out two books that I read long ago. The first is Woe to the Women-The Bible Tells Me So by Annie Laurie Gaylor. Gaylor, in turn, was inspired by the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her The Women’s Bible which was originally published in two parts (1895 and 1898).

I had forgotten how inspired I have been by both books. Together, they motivated me to begin looking at how the bible is a foundational paradigm of our culture. I started researching how translations have been altered from original meanings. I have already written a few blogs about how the representations of Eve have been changed to strip Her of the roots of Her original power. Take a look here and here.

These books reminded me of why such work is necessary. Here is what Stanton wrote in her introduction:

The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgement seat of Heaven, tried, convicted and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage, maternity, a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection, she was to play the role of a dependent on man’s bounty for all her material wants . . .

No wonder women in America have only had the vote for less than 100 years. No wonder men can think and say phrases like “consensual rape.” (Yep, captured on video, spoken by Barry Hovis, Missouri legislator, 5/17/2019). I’ll never forget another despicable thought about rape by a politician; “Rape is kinda like the weather. If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” (Clayton Williams, Texas, 3/1990) I think attitudes like that perfectly express why we have the “suffering, anguish, silence and subjection” that Stanton described.

Stanton and Gaylor both ascribe such attitudes to what has been ingrained in us through the bible. I agree.

As Gaylor points out, rape in the bible is never considered a crime against the woman but instead is a crime against another man’s property. This is seen in Deuteronomy where a woman’s body is treated as an object that is purchased for cash; a repulsive variation of “if you broke it you bought it.”

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife. (Deuteronomy 22:28)

2 Samuel graphically describes using the public rape of women to punish their husbands’ indiscretions. It is the biblical version of a whipping boy only in this case, involving the humiliation and rape of women.

Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. (2 Samuel:11-12)

In Leviticus, women who are raped must pay a gruesome punishment price (how dare she be raped) while the man is offered penance and forgiveness.

And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 19:20-22)

The “curse” or “stain” of Eve can never be undone in biblical beliefs. Women are sinful “harlots” while men are unwitting victims of seduction.

Proverbs 7:9-27 tell a story about a woman seducing an avowed innocent youth “with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart.” She is described crassly. She is loud, someone who “lieth in wait” with an “impudent face.” The story tells how “with the flattering of her lips she forced him.” I read this and wonder what an impudent face would look like. I also wonder how her lips could have “forced him.”

In case, there is any doubt of where the evilness lies, the moral at the end of the Proverbs story makes it plain. It lies with women.

For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.

Even if we don’t know these stories explicitly, they have seeped into our society’s consciousness. They still function today in men’s (even sometimes women’s) words, beliefs and actions. How else can the words “consensual” and “rape” ever be used together? The beliefs underlying these stories show up today in our justice system, our politics, our ecology, and most recently and glaringly, in the anti-choice legislation raging through state legislatures.  How can we go on if we can’t reclaim the very most basic of our human rights? The right of our personal body integrity. WE MUST CHANGE THE NARRATIVE.

 

Janet Rudolph is a twice ordained shaman, the latest as an alaka’i which is a Hawaiian spiritual guide.  Rudolph has walked this path for over 20 years traveling around the world to learn and experience original teachings from differing cultures.  Using a technique she calls “spiritual forensics” which includes cross-cultural explorations and ancient Hebrew translations, she has delved into the Bible’s pagan roots to uncover its hidden magic.  Rudolph has written two books on the subject of ancient Biblical teachings. One Gods: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible and When Eve Was a Goddess: A Shamanic Look at the Bible.  A third book, When Moses Was a Shaman will be out soon.

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Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, Body, Breaking News, Embodiment, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Gender, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, Rape, Rape Culture, Sexual Violence

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16 replies

  1. Janet, these are truly horrible passages and I agree that they underlie the current horrible anti-abortion movement. However, as these are Old Testament passages some Christians will say “the New Testament is different–not the law but the prophets” etc.

    So it is important to underscore that it is Protestants and Roman Catholics who are leading the abortion ban movement. Jews hold the most liberal views on abortion of any religious group in America and liberal Jewish groups have opposed restrictions on a woman’s right to choose. Liberal Protestant groups have supported this right as well as have Catholics for choice.

    So we must ask, what causes some religious groups to take one stand and some another? It is clear that values other than those found in the Bible and traditions are coming into play. It seems that the way we interpret and whether we use texts like the ones you cite depends on “our standpoints.” If we have a prior commitment to male supremacy and male control of women, we will cite those texts. If, despite having been brought up in the contexts of Biblical religions, we believe women are human and capable of controlling ourselves, then we will ignore or dismiss those texts.

    This is not to say the texts have no influence, but it is to say that in the case of the idiot Republicans male and female who vote for these laws, the Bible is probably not the main cause of their views, rather, centuries of white male supremacy is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Carol, You say a lot in your post. To say “idiot Republicans” almost diminishes them to clown status. These people have serious power and and aim to use that power to diminish women and minorities and any vulnerable class of people.

    I would also add that the centuries of white male supremacy came from somewhere and the bible is a prime source. It certainly softened up the ground enough for people to fall in line. Why would women have ever given up their/our power????

    As you know, like so many here, I have a history of being abused. For decades I was ashamed and still carry a pretty strong sense of shame. I’ve always wondered where this came from. Someone perpetrated something on me and I feel shame? That’s insane. But I am not alone. These are attitudes that have been shaped over millennia. They are deep deep roots and I feel that if they remain unconscious, they will grow. If we begin to see and understand these roots, they can be transformed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right Janet, I should have said white male supremacist Christian Republicans. My intent otherwise was not to diminish abuse nor the on-going contributions of the Bible to patriarchy. I was trying to guard against the assumption that the problem is the Hebrew Bible or Judaism, when in fact in the US the problem is with evangelical and Roman Catholic Christians, not the vast majority of Jews! There is an on-going issue with Christians, Goddess feminists, and even Jewish background feminists blaming the Jews for patriarchy when the contributions of Christianity are just as great and have had more political force in Europe and the Americas. For this reason I think it is important when citing the Hebrew Bible or Judaism as contributing to patriarchy also to cite Christian sources which may be easily found in the history of the witch persecutions, as well as in canon law and in the words of Protestant and Catholic theologians alike.

      Liked by 2 people

      • LOL Carol, when citing Jewish sources, also pick out a few juicy Christian ones. I will definitely give that some thought. Both Gaylor and Stanton do go into the New Testament as well so there is certainly lots of material.

        I wonder: Is it possible to explore the cultural damage and not make it a blame game? I don’t know the answer to that. I wish we could because I think it is important to took at these things with open hearts and minds.

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        • Jewish feminists have found it hurtful when Christian and Goddess feminists state or seem to imply that Jews or Judaism are responsible for patriarchy. They view it as a form of anti-Judaism. That is why it is important to state that Jews did not invent patriarchy and that Christians had the power to and worked to perpetuate it after 400 CE.

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      • I agree with you that we have to notice that patriarchal texts can be found in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and “ it is important when citing the Hebrew Bible or Judaism as contributing to patriarchy also to cite Christian sources.”. Plus, let us not forget the canon was probably formed in the mid-4th century by men!

        On another note, Janet, you might get a lot out of reading “Texts of Terror” by Phyllis Trible.

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        • Well Sharon and Carol, Certainly something to think about. What is the balance between an honest look and discussion about the roots of some of this dysfunction and the potential of offending others? That’s why I said, I am hopeful that there is a possibility of discussion without blame. Our cultural situation today is not good. What are the roots that we can disentangle to change those narratives?

          I cannot add to the discussion about the what happened in the mid-4th century as this is not my field of study. I am happy to read more about it but it is not my wheelhouse or my passion. I encourage you both to continue contributing those comments.

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          • I hope that there’s a possibility of discussion without playing the blame-game, too! I have no suggestions to offer, though.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Sharon thank you for mentioning Phyllis Trible’s writing. It is excellent, although I don’t remember it mentioning Christian texts, but certainly there are plenty.

          Liked by 1 person

          • She’s strictly a Hebrew Bible scholar. I just thought it’d be an interesting read, that’s all.

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  3. This is why I’m very thankful I wasn’t raised in any of the Abrahamic religions.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I spent several years in the 1980s as a student of Rocco Errico, whose mentor was George M. Lamsa, who taught that the original language of the Bible was Aramaic and that most of the awful phrases in the book are Aramaic idioms and are not to be taken literally. Unfortunately, too many believers do take them literally, which is one reason why that so-called good book is literally believed by possibly otherwise smart people.

    It was when Rocco began teaching about the OT prophets that I left and–thank Goddess, She called me to Her. The OT prophets were nasty old men. Your examples of passages in the Bible that turn women into chattel (and worse) are right on. Many thanks! How do we persuade those awful modern old men who talk about “consensual rape” to pay attention?

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  5. HI Barbara, you certainly ask the big question. How do we get people to pay attention????? This is why I do the work that I do; to give myself, and I hope others a basis to say “Hey wait a second there is another way to look at this, another set of paradigms we can use to base our cultural values on.”

    As you point out, there are a lot of problems with doing biblical translations. First is these are based on oral pagan teachings of the people of the Levantine. They were written down for the Babylonian exile by at least 4 different authors in the vicinity of the 920s to the 530s BCE. We don’t know when Moses lived (or even if he did) but scholars base his age to around 1300 BCE. So we are looking at a gap of between 400-600 years. And the world had already turned pretty patriarchal by the Babylonian exile so the writers likely had an agenda. William Albright pointed out there are not only multiple stories in the bible but there are other versions are not in the bible. Albright thought the editing process of what we know as the bible today went on long after the exile. William Dever wrote, “the biblical writers may have indulged in a good bit of ‘spin.'”

    Also the oldest extant verses we have of the written bible are a lot newer than that. More like the Dead Sea Scrolls at the turn of the millennia. So what was the original language? One of the most ancient Hebrew script we have is called Semitic Early and is based on Egyptian Hieroglyphics (mostly). Words form a rebus or picture puzzle which can give us a very different meaning than what translators have told us.

    And think about this – from the proposed time of Moses’s life to the written Bible, how drastically did language change? RE Friedman points out “In the simplest of terms, Moses was further from the language of much of the Five Books then Shakespeare was from Modern English.”

    And think about our modern US constitution it is only 200 plus years old and we can’t agree on what it says or means.

    And yet this book as it has come down to us, colors most of our world. Would we have permitted the level of ecological degradation that we have if we didn’t devalue the earth along with our female bodies?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As an Independent Catholic priest, I’ve often pointed to the two creation stories in Genesis. One, male and female he created them, and the later redacted post by the Priestly caste centuries later which says Eve was created by Adam’s rib. My husband, first ordained an RC priest, and I bless in the name of God Mother/Father..

    I don’t know how to redact millennia of mis-characterization except to keep writing and talking about it.

    Thank you for your post. JS.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for your post Janet. Yes, the multiples of stories certainly create an interesting dynamic in trying to understand original meanings. I like your reference to one story being “redacted” by a later one. Well put.

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