The Role of Women in Religion
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The Role of Women in Religion
The role of women in religious scripture dictates an inferior position in society. Beginning with the creation of Adam and then Eve, as his helpmate. Her purpose was that Adam would not be lonely. This origin provides the ground work for inequality of genders on the basis of religious scripture. The roles prescribed determined that women should be in a subordinate position to man. The female role and relationship with God is defined by the various books of the Old and New Testaments, the reported actions of Jesus Christ, and finally the Qur'an.
Initially, Old Testament describes women as the corrupter of man. However, through interpreting the action of Jesus Christ, we see that he holds women in equal roles as men, to include mention of female apostles. The New Testament does not promote equality but does mention the acts of Jesus. Finally, the Qur'an places women in a subservient role allowing men to keep their under control, by any means. Interpretations of the Gods word under the disguise of organized religion are the product of the gender discrimination of the time and continue to paint women as lesser creatures in the eyes of God.
The books of the Old Testament, and variations, are recognized by the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. Each paint women as the temptress responsible for the mistakes of men. Women were the cause of the first punishment given to mankind. Eve persuaded Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, from the tree of knowledge. For this act, inspired by woman, mankind was forever punished and expelled from paradise.
There are many examples of woman’s negative influence in the Old Testament. In Genesis 19:30-36, Lot's two daughters made their father drunk with wine on two successive nights. Each daughter committed incest with her father, and became pregnant.8 This is illogical, if Lot was so drunk he probably could not have performed physically and it occurred over two separate nights. He could have been unwitting the first night but not the second. Again in Judges 16, Delilah seduced Sampson in order to find out the secret of his great strength. This ultimately led to Samson's death.8 1 Kings 11 describes how Solomon's many foreign wives and concubines convinced him to worship other gods and build Pagan temples. This led to his downfall.8 The moral to these stories seem to be that women are responsible for the mistakes and men are easily corruptible by women.
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One would assume this is telling men to beware of women and their influence.
It is possible the deceitful ways of women were brought about by the treatment women typically received in scripture and society. One example of disregard was again with Lot and his daughters. In Genesis 19, The men of Sodom gathered around Lot's house, and asked that he bring his two guests out so that the men can "know" them. To “know” is interpreted as a desire rape the visitors. Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the angry mob instead.8 For this deed, Lot is regarded as an honorable man and was saved when the city was destroyed. A similar story occurs in Judges 19:16-30, some men in the city wanted to "know" a visiting Levite. The owner of the house offered his virgin daughter and the concubine of the Levite so that they could "do to them whatever you wish." The man sent his concubine outside to the gang, who proceeded to serially rape her. She died of the attacks. The Levite only learned of her death when he was leaving the house in the morning and stumbled across her body. The woman was clearly considered expendable and of little value.8
8 THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE CHRISTIAN GOSPELS, 2004. 20 October 2004. .
The story of Sarah and Abraham seems to hit all the negative female themes but also gives Sarah more power than is typically held during the time. In the story, Sarah could not conceive, a woman’s sole purpose of the day. She suggested that Abraham take the Egyptian slave woman, Hagar, as his wife. With Hagar, he had a child named Ishmael. Much later, Sarah did conceive a child and told Abraham to send Hagar and his eldest son, Ishmael away. She had used her influence on Abraham to encourage he take a wife and her jealousy forced him to send them away. So much influence, by a woman, of the time was uncommon. During the Second Temple period, women were not allowed to testify in court trials. They could not go out in public, or talk to strangers. When outside of their homes, they were to be doubly veiled. "They had become second-class Jews, excluded from the worship and teaching of God, with status scarcely above that of slaves." 5
Through the actions of Jesus Christ, there seemed to be a break from the gender roles society had prescribed and more emphasis on equality between men and women. Christ overthrew many centuries of Jewish law and custom. He consistently treated women and men as equals and, in doing so, violated numerous Old Testament regulations. He refused to follow the behavioral rules established by the three main Jewish religious groups of the day: the Essences, Pharisees and Sadducees.7 "The actions of Jesus of Nazareth towards women were therefore revolutionary." 5 There is, however, very little emphasis placed on these actions in the current versions of the New Testament Bible. The social structure and implications of gender equality in time when the Bible was written are the likely cause for the misinterpretation in the New Testament.
5 Metzger, B.M. & Coogan, M.D. "The Oxford Companion to the Bible". Oxford University Press. New York, NY. (1993). P. 806 to 818.
Women were involved in primary roles in the first Christian churches. One example is when, in Romans 16:7, Paul refers to a male apostle, Andronicus and a female apostle, Lunia, as "outstanding among the apostles" (NIV) The Amplified Bible translates this passage as "They are men held in high esteem among the apostles." The Revised Standard Version shows it as "they are men of note among the apostles." The reference to them both being men does not appear in the original Greek text. The word "men" was simply inserted by the translators.9 Many translations, including the Amplified Bible, Rheims New Testament, New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version simply picked the letter "s" out of thin air. They converted the original "Junia" (a woman's name) into "Junias" (a man's name).Junia was first converted into a man only in the "13th century, when Aegidius of Rome (1245-1316 CE) referred to both Andronicus and Junia as "honorable men." 2 The use of women as messengers from God would have been revolutionary for the time. Jewish tradition at the time was to not allow women to be taught. Rabbi Eliezer wrote in the 1st century CE: "Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman...Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity." 6
In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus taught Mary, sister of Martha and Luke 8:1-3 describes the inner circle of Jesus' followers: 12 male disciples and an unspecified number female supporters (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and "many others.").7 In Matthew 28:1-
9 THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT EPISTLES. 2004. 21 October 2004. .
2 Daniels, Frank. "The Role of Woman in the Church.". part of the Religious Heresy Page. .
6 Rabbi Eliezer, "Mishnah, Sotah 3:4
7 THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE CHRISTIAN GOSPELS. 2004. 20 October 2004. .
7, after Jesus' resurrection, "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary" receive the first apostolic commission of any human -- to tell the good news of the resurrection to the disciples. This is reinforced by Jesus' appearance before the two women. The two Marys were thus the first apostles.7
When the bible is properly interpreted it teaches equality in men and women in various books, such as in Galatians 3:28,“'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' " 10 and "Luke expresses by this arrangement that man and woman stand together and side by side before God. They are equal in honor and grace; they are endowed with the same gifts and have the same responsibilities." 11
Equality is also demonstrated by the apostles letters. Romans 16 is a letter of recommendation, the earliest letter of recommendation for a Christian minister, and it's written for a woman, Phoebe. In the beginning of the chapter, she is said to have been a deacon, not a deaconess -- but a deacon in the sense of a preacher, a minister. Paul uses the same word for himself. He calls himself, in a number of instances, a deacon of the new covenant in 2 Corinthians. This letter also contains greetings to Junia (female) and Andronicus, who both have been "well-respected apostles before me." 4 Although, this may have been early Christian behavior, most religious leaders still argue the subordinate role of women.
7 THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE CHRISTIAN GOSPELS. 2004. 20 October 2004. .
10 Frank Daniels, "The Role of Woman in the Church." part of the Religious Heresy Page at:
11 Rabbi Eliezer, "Mishnah, Sotah 3:4"
4 Koester, Helmut Dr. “St. Paul: His Mission to the Greek Cities & His Competitors“. 13 September 1997. .
Many religious scripts have harsh views on the treatment of women. According to the Qur'an, “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made them to excel others and because they spend out of their property, the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (also) those on whose part you feel desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them…” 13
The founder of the Lutheran Church, Martin Luther, wrote in a letter to a friend, "If they [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are there." 3 and the catholic church opinion did not differ, as St. Augustine of Hippo wrote in 354 to 430 CE, "What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman......I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”1
Male dominance in intimate relationships are also dictated by scripture. In the Qur'an “Your women are your ploughing ground; plough them at your will, plough as much as you desire, standing up, sitting down and or lying down, through the front or the rear” 12 The Christian church recalls from the book, Ephesians 5:22, “Wives Submit to your husbands”. In reference to sexual relationships and all aspects of life.
In reading religious scriptures, one should consider that most currently was written by mortal men and tailored to suit the societies concerns of the day and are not in their first language. The message may be misinterpreted or perhaps lost in translation.
13 Qur’an, The Women [Nisa] 4:34, page 110.
3 Elllerbe, H. "The Dark Side of Christian History," Chapter 8, Endnote 103. Page 136.
1 Armstrong, "The Gospel According to Woman,". (1986). P. 52-62.
12 Qur’an, The Cow [Baqarah] 2:223, page 47
Armstrong, "The Gospel According to Woman,". (1986). P. 52-62.
Daniels, Frank. "The Role of Woman in the Church.". part of the Religious Heresy Page. .
Elllerbe, H. "The Dark Side of Christian History," Chapter 8, Endnote 103. Page 136.
Koester, Helmut Dr. “St. Paul: His Mission to the Greek Cities & His Competitors“. 13 September 1997. .
Metzger, B.M. & Coogan, M.D. "The Oxford Companion to the Bible". Oxford University Press. New York, NY. (1993). P. 806 to 818.
Rabbi Eliezer, "Mishnah, Sotah 3:4".
THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE CHRISTIAN GOSPELS. 2004. 20 October 2004. .
THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES (OLD TESTAMENT). 2004. 21 October 2004. .
THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT EPISTLES. 2004. 21 October 2004. .
“Who we are,". Christians for Biblical Equality. < http://www.cbeinternational.org >.
Witherington III, Ben. "Women in the Earliest Churches". Cambridge University Press. (Reprinted 1991). Page 129.
Qur’an, The Cow [Baqarah] 2:223, page 47
Qur’an, The Women [Nisa] 4:34, page 110.
Today there is a small but growing number of women in the parliaments of Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, and in the fall of 2002, the Moroccan parliament is hoping to bring women into 25 percent of its seats. Contemporary Muslim women heads of state have included Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Tansu Ciller of Turkey, and Khaleda Zia and Sheik Hasina Wazed of Bangladesh.
Women as religious leaders
Sufism is an important branch of Islam emphasizing mysticism and one's personal relationship with God. The tenets of Sufism were first articulated by a woman named Rabia, a freed slave who became a prominent scholar in the eighth-century city of Basra in Iraq. She refused to marry because she did not want any earthly distractions from her love of God. Fatima, the Prophet Muhammad's daughter, and Zaynab, the Prophet's granddaughter, are also very important role models of piety for women in the Islamic world.
Contemporary women are also important religious leaders. Zaynab al-Ghazali led the women's wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. There are numerous women teachers, preachers, and Islamist leaders in contemporary Iran, one example being Zahra Rahnavard. In the United States, Riffat Hassan is a well-known American Muslim scholar.
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