The Bible is radically feminist
In Christianity, the female rises. The male disappears.
The word used for sex, in the Bible, is ‘know’ — the man knows the woman. The female, that is to say, is the source of knowledge. To ‘know’ is to know her. This speaks to a fact of Jewish spirituality that Christianity never knew: The female is the conduit to God.
“Women are not subjugated in traditional Judaism,” as Shaye J.D. Cohen explains, “they are venerated. In the spiritual sphere, they are naturally superior to men.”
Throughout the Bible, the man is to study the female. “All that Sarah says to you, listen to her voice,” God tells Abraham in Genesis 21:12.
Let’s talk about the Bible, and women?
To Christianity, the later tradition, the woman was the cause of all the problems. “Eve” was the beginning of “evil.”
This was a gross misreading even of Genesis, where Eve is entirely positive—though her name isn’t ‘Eve’. In Hebrew, she is ‘Chava’, which means, in Hebrew, ‘mother of all life’.
She appears in every way to be better than the male human. “It appears from Genesis that whatever is superior was created later,” says Ahron Soloveichik.
The male human, indeed, is never named—he just tends to go by the name ‘Adam’, which is just the name for earth. His ‘name’ is dirt.
And in the course of biblical narrative, he’s phased out of existence entirely. Jesus becomes the ‘New Adam’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:45–50), as Christians become his ‘bride’ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25–26), which is to say . . . the ‘new Eve’.
She’s a role model in every way.
When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. — Genesis 3:6
“Eve is someone who is moved by beauty and is motivated by a desire for wisdom,” notes Jerome M. Segal.
The ‘curse’ God placed on her is that she’ll have pain in childbirth, and that, as in Genesis 3:16: “Your longing will be for your husband.”
She accepts the pain that is required to bring new life into the world, and she accepts she’ll love a man who won’t love her back—as biblical narrative works to provide her a man who can.
Genesis 3:16 is answered in the Song of Songs 7:10, where the woman says: “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.”
The New Adam will love his ‘wife’ as the old one never did.
How often have Christians said that Jesus’ disciples being men meant that men were better, and rightfully in charge
As if those rowdy disciple boys, with their swords and objections, were ever near Jesus’ heart, or understood him even for a minute.
The opposite is the truth. The disciples are a class for slow learners!—as they flunk every test, and are expelled. The male is dismissed.
The disciples provoke in Jesus, notes Leif E. Vaage, “a growing sense of frustration at their unflagging failure to grasp what he embodies and displays before them.”
The presentation of the Twelve seems “to eliminate them from the field of possible exemplars of discipleship.”
To re-read the Gospel story without the blinders of later Christian misogyny is to see another story. It begins with a gesture of female independence: Mary gives birth alone.
As Joseph C. Plumpe notes: “human births ordinarily are dependent on the will and the initiative of the man, the father; but Mary bore her Son independent of the antecedent will of a man or human father . . .”
It begins by God asking Mary for her consent, in Luke 1:35–38. “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” the angel says.
Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Male humans are never that great in the Gospels, or certainly anyone in charge. Jesus sighs at the ‘teachers of the law’ in Mark 12:38. “They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…”
He turns to the poor widow, in v.42—calling his disciples for the important matter of looking at her.
See the unseen, the unnoticed, Jesus says. See into the subtle, the non-overt. See those who help, who guide, who teach, who feel — if silently, and discreetly. Notice the unnoticed. That is where God, and women are.
And where men don’t usually go.
Note Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, in John 3, the Jewish leader who seems confused, who has made no use of his extensive training. Jesus moves along to the Samaritan Woman in John 4, with whom he is engaged, at length, in a dynamic interplay.
“Nowhere in the fourth gospel is there a dialogue of such theological depth and intensity,” notes Sandra M. Schneiders in The Revelatory Text. “She is a genuine theological dialogue partner gradually experiencing Jesus’ self-revelation even as she reveals herself to him.”
This pattern replays over and over. The ‘sinful woman’ of Luke 7:36–50 (who I take to be Mary Magdalene) does her work when the men sit scoffing and judging . . . the classic male activities.
“You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair,” Jesus chides them, prompting them to learn from her example.
They never do.
When he washes his disciples’ feet, or cooks for them, Jesus is doing the job of a wife. This fact is noted later, by Maimonides (1135–1204) in the rules for marriage called the Hilkhot Ishut 21:7: “wash his face, hands, and feet…”
They object. And they’ll never wash anyone’s feet. They never see that serving is the activity of angels. Note Matthew 4:11: “Then the devil left him, and angels came and served him.”
Then note Luke 4:39, of Peter’s mother-in-law after an exorcism: “The sickness left her, and she got up and began serving them.”
No disciples ever do this—the activity of angels. They are locked into power models, self-advancement, politics. Never to become ‘the Bride’.
In depictions of Jesus’ life, there’s few women around? Isn’t he out around the countryside with his twelve male friends, his boy band?
Not exactly. Look into the unseen. Here is Mark 6:7: “Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.”
As Joan E. Taylor notes, this ‘two by two’ language is a clear pointer of Genesis 6:21—the animals that Noah loads into the Ark. This would mean, then, a pair, a male and a female.
Does that seem unlikely? Note, at the crucifixion, in Mark 15:40–41 (cf. Mt 27:55–56), there’s “many” women followers watching from a distance.
If they’re in that scene, they’re in scenes prior? As Larry Hurtado notes, the reader then “retroactively inserts them into the whole preceding account of Jesus’ activities.”
If starting out with the idea of male primacy, male supremacy, the scripture then prompt us to re-read, re-conceive.
From only seeing the visible, we’d see more. The two-by-two pairs split, leaving—at the Crucifixion—only the female. The ‘New Adam’ and the New Eve are alone with each other.
The stories of women in the New Testament are actually very involved, but they move with subtlety—not always a male specialty.
Note Luke 8:1–3: “Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”
Rob Bell helps out. “This movement started with women not only being fully empowered participants but also bankrolling the work.”
The hints are a trail laid down to follow. Joanna gets money from her husband who gets it from Herod . . . the son of the great king who’d attempted to execute Jesus as an child.
It’s the great design of biblical narrative: your enemies end up strangling themselves . . . through secret feminine channels.
Jesus’ initial meeting with Joanna isn’t described, but seems to precede his calling of the disciples. She realizes there is work to do, things to pay for and arrange.
No male disciple offers to do this, and it’s a very necessary service. Jesus has a strange relationship with money, which he seems to associate with malign energy (cf. Mt 17:27; 22:21).
He is, after all, a temple in himself (cf. John 2:21), and in the Bible, women guard the temple.
We see them in Exodus 38:8 and 1 Samuel 2:22 — “the women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting.”
This tells us something crucial about God. In order to talk to Him, you have to go through a woman. If she doesn’t let you in, you don’t get in.
Their function isn’t noted, overtly, but Susan Ackerman follows the trail of clues, noting the apparently forgettable detail that the women have mirrors.
This reflects, she suggests, an ancient belief that mirrors as “apotropaic weapons” repel evil spirits. The women are “guardian figures” — and the guarding that needs to be done, in a temple, is against rival spirits.
The women around Jesus, then, might likewise be cleansing the energy around him, making his movements through the world possible. They are contenting with malign energies, blocking their entrance.
Joanna is there until the end — when the Twelve (male) disciples have left. She is, as Richard Bauckham and other scholars argue, praised by Paul, in Romans 16:6, using her Greek name — Junia.
Where the male disciples, Peter, James, are seen in scenes of doctrinal conflict, with endless disputes, Joanna/Junia has none. She is an unbroken record of service.
She is the wheel that doesn’t squeak — that makes forward motion possible.
If just as a literary narrative, the Bible encourages us to see it as a female composition. The New Testament gospels, for example, don’t encourage one to think that the male disciples—distracted, anxious, vainglorious—are remembering the words of Jesus.
It is the women who are listening, and who take note. This theme comes up in the Gospel of Mary.
Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know that the savior loved you more than other women. Tell us the words of the savior that you remember, which you know and we do not. We have not heard them.”
One wouldn’t look at the depictions of Peter, the ‘Sons of Thunder’, etc., and imagine they’re hanging on every word of Jesus?
One can imagine them, later, scratching their heads, trying to remember all those puzzling things they’d said.
From Mary his mother to Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ teachings must be recorded, and relayed, substantially by women.
Women are the investors and early adopters of the Jesus teachings.
In Acts 16:13, Paul gives his first sermon in Europe to women “who had assembled there.” His first convert is Lydia. Note Acts 17:4:
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
Or the astonishing Priscilla, who realizes, in Acts 18:26, that Apollos has everything wrong.
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Here, as in Paul’s later references to her, she tends to be listed first. A Jewish woman in 1st century Rome who sees a man speaking ‘boldly’ might not feel encouraged to go tell him he’s getting everything wrong, but she does — by a process of invitation and discussion, not by argument.
Christian commentators, and scholars, typically read the Bible with an expectation of masculinity being the benchmark, and male authority the intended goal, but this is not so.
In an outrageously brilliant non-scholarly paper “Priscilla Teaches Paul: Luke’s Hidden History of Paul’s Development in Acts,” Richard Murray demonstrates how the approach to Apollos creates the new movement in Christian discipleship: into the feminine.
It’s not arguing in the Temple (cf. Acts 9:28–29) — which produces no results.
As Priscilla and Aquila had approached Apollos, Murray suggests, they must’ve done a similar service for Paul when meeting him in Acts 18:1–3. They’d approached him, invited him to their home.
A new scene thus appears by indirection. The less important scene — for Apollos will be mostly insignificant — suggests the truly important one: the discipling of Paul.
As Murray relates:
Priscilla and Aquila make three appearances in Acts of the Apostles; the three appearances are all in Chapter 18. Immediately after each of these three appearances, the Apostle Paul will register great evolutionary leaps in his ongoing growth, in his own personal development, in his working relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Paul is becoming feeling, conversational, compassionate, nurturing, which is to say, feminine. By Acts 19:1–7, he is approaching new believers in the same mode. He has become spiritually female.
Paul takes to continually affirming female teachers and models. He says Timothy “learned” from his mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:5; cf. Acts 16:1).
Timothy’s gifts, he’s suggesting, came through this maternal lineage. Whatever is special in Timothy came from them.
Paul is himself a woman. In Galatians 4:19, he calls himself a woman in labor. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, he’s a nurse weaning a child, and in 1 Corinthians 3:2, a weaning mother.
“With only a few exceptions this striking ‘transgendering’ Pauline self-description in terms of symbolic birth-labor has been ignored — it does not fit into any of the standard Pauline interpretations and stereotypes,” notes Brigitte Kahl, in “No Longer Male: Masculinity Struggles in Galatians 3:28.”
Paul frequently calls his readers women, though we imagine they are, in physical reality, often Jewish men. There they are, in 2 Corinthians 11:3, being called ‘Eve’, the deceived girl in Eden.
In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul tells the Jewish men to be a ‘pure virgin’. Most immediately it means not to be sullied by worship of other gods (insistently imagined in the Bible as men).
But it contains the pointer, in human terms, to look to the female as a guide.
Women were the obvious Christian clergy. Primary spiritual instruction is understood, in the Bible, as God’s breastfeeding (cf. 1 Pt 2:2–3; 1 Thess 2:7–8; 1 Cor 3:1–3; Heb 5:12–13, etc.).
I suspect it was women who were the bulk of early teachers. The discussion of female problems in 1 Timothy, in the context of church staff, seems to suggest so.
But somehow men took over, with absurd readings of passage after passage, mangling the references. Doing what men do? The woman is the cause of all our problems! The woman isn’t to speak!
Is that the kind of woman Jesus will want as a wife? I wouldn’t think so.
There she is in Revelation 19:7–8, getting ready:
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.
Spiritual practice, until then, is becoming ready for this state? In the Bible, to be ready for eternity, to meet God . . . you become the Bride.
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