Humanity, dignity, authority, role, and the position of women in society have always been controversial. Some communities and cultures across the globe have cultural practices and norms that look down upon women, portraying them as the weaker sex whose opinion is of no value in decision-making. Other religions represent women as the ultimate source of evil and even forbidden from serving in the house of worship or mixing with men during the worship programs.
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On the contrary, women activists have emerged to defend the position of women and their role in priestly ministries. Therefore, there is a need to revisit the Bible and critically analyze these different views with the sole purpose of coming up with a common understanding of the position of women, as depicted in the Old Testament. This paper aims to analyze two different articles that portray two different attributes of women, as portrayed in the Old Testament. The aim is to develop a common understanding of the position of women in the Old Testament. The two articles are:
- Rooke, Deborah W. “Feminist Criticism of the Old Testament: Why Bother?” Feminist Theology 15.2 (2007): 160-174. Print.
- Everhart, Janet S. “Serving Women and the Their Mirrors: A Feminist Reading of Exodus 38:8b.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 1.66 (2004): 44-54. Print.
Rooke D.W. Perspective of Women
Rooke’s argument on the position of women in society is mainly based on the story of creation and the fall of man, as presented in the book of Genesis Chapters 2 and 3. In establishing the background for her argument, Rooke argues that texts are always subjected to multiple interpretations, and the analysis is predominantly determined by the reader, who is always guided by cultural and personal standards.
She argues that an analysis that finally appears convincing to us is guided by our preconceptions, life experiences, and our cultural conditioning (Rooke 161). Based on this, Rooke argues that Genesis chapters 2 and 3 will undoubtedly appear to support the subordination of women for those who have been brought up believing that women are inferior to men. However, if one refuses to follow the traditional way of thinking and seeks to analyze the chapters from a feminine point of view, they will get a new light from these passages and eventually have a different perspective of women (Rooke 162).
According to Genesis chapters 2 and 3, sin enters the world through a woman. Therefore, a woman is commonly considered to be a vessel through which sin gained access to the world. In some arguments, it is argued that the snake chose a woman because it knew that the woman was weak and could easily succumb to lies. Rooke, on the other hand, rubbishes this claim and argues that the woman is not responsible for the sin problem, but God is. Rather than blaming the woman, Rooke puts the responsibility to God for two reasons: God lied to humanity that the day they will eat of the fruit, they will die. Secondly, God wrongly punished the snake for telling the truth and unmasking the hidden character of God.
She argues that the assumption that God is always right is wrong, and just like the subordination of women, the assumption is also culturally conditioned (Rooke 163). Resultantly, Rooke explains that rather than blaming the woman, people should blame God for being such a deceitful and possessive deity who demands complete and unquestionable obedience and always ready to punish anyone who contradicts his rules (Rooke 163).
To further cleanse the woman from the sin problem, Rooke argues that God and man crafted the sin issue. She explains that the snake was created by God, and the man who named the snake determined its character. Furthermore, man was given dominion over all the animals; as such, he ought to have controlled the behavior of the snake rather than allowing it to deceive the woman. The act of God creating the snake meant that man determined its character; the two crafted their source of fall into sin. In retaliation, God is portrayed to have unjustly punished the snake for unveiling His hidden character. From this explanation, Rooke argues that man and God should take full responsibility for the sin problem and leave the woman out of the self-inflicted pain of the sin problem (Rooke 164).
The question of the tree of knowledge is used as the final point to vindicate the woman as the source of the sin problem. Rooke argues that there was no point in God creating the tree of knowledge and making it useful, attractive, and tempting. In so doing, Rooke claims that God intentionally crafted a trap through which the woman was to fall into sin and make God pass unjust punishment to her and the snake. God should, therefore, take responsibility for the sin problem and stop blaming the woman in whichever way (Rooke 165).
Based on these three points of argument, Rooke dismisses claims that the woman was responsible for the entry of sin into the world; instead, the larger responsibility lies with God Himself and man. She argues that people should depart from the traditional, culturally conditioned thinking and approach the issue from a feminist point of view (Rooke 166).
From her account, several weaknesses and strengths can be seen. The major strength of the account is that Rooke creates a comprehensive background for her study. Before giving her account of the story, she first explains what is traditionally known and believed. Also, Rooke satisfactorily substantiates the blame that she transfers from the woman to God and man. However, her arguments are full of faults. First, her perspective is highly feministic. As she puts it, it highly culturally conditioned. It is, therefore, impossible to justify her claims from a neutral point of view. Also, her contrast is seemingly arising from the negative feelings she has towards those who subordinate women, rather than well-established facts. Most of her arguments are mostly based on emotions rather than facts from the same Bible she uses. Therefore, her postulates can hardly be accepted and believed to be the truth.
Everhart Account on Women in the Old Testament
Everhart’s point of focus is to create a different picture of the roles of women in the Old Testament. Traditionally, as Rooke explained, women were remembered for their role in the fall of man and never known to have played significant roles in the priestly work in the Old Testament. These two accounts are closely related and ideal for a comprehensive understanding of the perception of women in the Old Testament. Just after Rooke has vindicated women from being responsible for the sin problem, Everhart takes charge and provides evidence that women played a significant role in religious and Godly duties. Her argument is based on the book of Exodus 38:8 and other scriptures from the Old Testament.
According to Everhart, the role of women in priestly work has been shortchanged; women have been portrayed as having done nothing as far as religious duties are concerned. However, Everhart proves that, indeed, women were serving in the Lord’s house. According to Everhart, the women portrayed at the tent of meeting, as explained in Exodus 38:8, were engaged in the form of religious or cultic duties. Another account of women doing religious duties is captured in 1Sam 4:5, where the ark was carried into wars. Since this ark was housed in the tent of meeting and women were always present at the entrance of the tent, it is just literal for one to know that women were involved in waging war, as well as performing cultic services (Everhart 47).
Serving women are also depicted in the book of 1 Samuel 2:22b. Although most scholars have argued that these women were cultic prostitutes, there is no basis for such an argument. Therefore, these women must have been performing religious roles (Everhart, 49).
Everhart further argues, just like Rooke, that if one rereads Exodus 38 from a feminist perspective, then one will notice the services of women not only in that book but also in other Hebrew Bible books. Everhart mentions other important women in the Old Testament, in addition to the women of Exodus 38. She argues that from the women found in Exodus 1-2, the act of Zipporah performing a circumcision ritual in Exodus 4, Miriam singing a song of victory in Exodus 15, the donor and worker women of Exodus 35, and finally the serving women of Exodus 38, it is undoubtedly clear that women performed vital religious roles in the Old Testament (Everhart 54).
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Everhart’s account has strengths and weaknesses. Her major strength is that she bases her argument fully on the Bible, quoting the exact verses where the argument is derived from. It is, therefore, easy to follow and justify her arguments as none appears to be based on feelings. Even though she requests reading of the verses from a feminist perspective, her points can be clearly understood and proved by a neutral person. She also provides a comprehensive explanation of each point after providing sufficient background information for each. Her only weakness is the language used. The English language used appears to be somehow profound. Moreover, other languages are used without providing a clear interpretation as if she is targeting theologians alone.
From the two accounts, it is clear that the woman played a role in the fall of mankind. From the passages quoted by Rooke, it is through a woman that finally sin entered into the world. However, placing the responsibility for the sin problem onto a woman and using it to look down upon women is wrong and unacceptable. The man, too, had his role to play in the sin problem. In assigning responsibility for this problem, man and woman should be handled as a single entity, who jointly allowed themselves to be deceived and fall into sin.
However, blaming God for the fall is unsubstantiated and an act of running away from responsibility by feminists. Women also played vital religious duties, as shown by the Everhart account. Although their duties are not conspicuously mentioned like those of men, it is true that they play important roles in accomplishing priestly functions. As such, no one should undermine the role of women in Godly work; neither should one look down upon women because of the same. Just like today, the Old Testament women were central to the work of God, and their role should be appreciated by all.
Everhart, Janet S. “Serving Women and the Their Mirrors: A Feminist Reading of Exodus 38:8b.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 1.66 (2004): 44-54. Print.
Rooke, Deborah W. “Feminist Criticism of the Old Testament: Why Bother?” Feminist Theology 15.2 (2007): 160-174. Print.