Women in the Bible

Women in the Bible are victors and victims, women who change the course of historical events, and women who are powerless to affect even their own destinies.

Eva by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1528)

Ancient Near Eastern societies have traditionally been described as patriarchal, and the Bible as a document written by men from an age where men and women played very different roles in society.[1]:9[2]:166–167[3] Marital laws in the Bible favored men, as did inheritance laws, and women lived under strict laws of sexual behavior with adultery a crime punishable by stoning. A woman in ancient biblical times was always subject to strict purity laws, both ritual and moral. Recent scholarship accepts patriarchy, but argues for heterarchy as well; heterarchy acknowledges that different power structures between people can exist at the same time, and that each power structure has its own hierarchical arrangements.[1]:27 Male dominance was real, but fragmentary, with women having spheres of influence of their own where women were in charge even while still being under the authority of a man.[1]:27 There is evidence of equality concerning gender in the Bible.

The majority of women in the Bible are unnamed, with named women making up only 5.5 to 8 percent of all named characters in the Bible. Women are not generally in the forefront of public life in the Bible, and women who are named are usually prominent for reasons outside the ordinary. For example, they are often involved in the overturning of human power structures in a common biblical literary device called "reversal." Abigail and Esther, and Jael, who drove a tent peg into the enemy commander's temple while he slept, are a few examples of women who turned the tables on men with power. The founding matriarchs are mentioned by name, as are some prophetesses, judges, heroines, and queens, while the common woman is largely, though not completely, unseen. The slave Hagar's story is told, and the prostitute Rahab's story is also told, among a few others.

The New Testament refers to a number of women in Jesus’ inner circle, and he is generally seen by scholars as dealing with women with respect. The New Testament names women in positions of leadership in the early church as well. Views of women in the Bible have changed throughout history and those changes are reflected in art and culture. There are controversies within the contemporary Christian church concerning women and their role in the church.


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