The awkward truth about The Bible’s women

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The awkward truth about The Bible’s women

Post by Guest on Thu Apr 07, 2016 9:14 am

The most well-known female biblical characters feel familiar to us because they’re so embedded within our culture. These women are represented in film, music videos, couture collections and featured in everything from plays to strip clubs. And yet, despite our cultural constructions and received understandings of female biblical characters, the Bible often tells us something very, very different about them.

Eve is no temptress

The Bible’s first woman is popular culture’s most enduring muse. Whether she’s flogging fruit juice, perfume or going vegetarian for Peta, the character of Eve is a regular in advertising.

Following centuries of representations as a maleficent femme fatale, we have come to know her as the temptress who lured Adam and humanity to their downfall and introduced sin to the world. The biblical text, however, is far less concrete about the “Mother of All Living” (Gen. 3:20).

In the Bible, Eve undergoes a character transformation from her introduction in Genesis 2 to the transgression episode when she eats the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3.

When God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, Eve is a voiceless, choiceless creature, while Adam makes plenty of noise about what he thinks of his new “helper” (Gen. 2:18) and demonstrates his power by naming and claiming her:

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken. (Gen. 2:23)

In contrast, we’re left in the dark about Eve’s thoughts on her new companion. We don’t know if Adam is more Donald Trump than Ryan Gosling; at this point, the text gives us no clue as to whether she’s happy with her imposed match or not.

Only a couple of verses later, however, and our silent biblical lady is suddenly the star of the show, chatting away with the serpent and eating the forbidden fruit. In a textual about turn, Eve has transformed into a biblical badass, making her own decisions, while her husband becomes the mute companion.

The biblical text is sparse but it’s clear that Eve does not need to tempt her docile mate; she merely “gives some to her husband, who was with her” (Gen. 3:6). While “femvertisers” represent Eve as an example of female sexual empowerment, the biblical narrator attempts to lay the blame for the transgression at her feet. She deserves a retrial.

The much-maligned Magdalene

Like Eve, the New Testament character Mary Magdalene has been the subject of centuries of bad press. Magdalene is often believed to be a prostitute although there’s no suggestion of it in the biblical text. Academics have argued that the early Church developed Mary Magdalene’s repentant prostitute persona as a bid to deny women a proper position in the church hierarchy.

Since then, a number of attempts have been made to “rehabiliate” the character from her reputation as a fallen woman. Melvyn Bragg, for example, has certainly put some time into discovering the “real Magdalene”, presenting a controversial Good Friday documentary in 2013 and a radio programme on BBC Radio 4 earlier this year. But despite the reams of research and hours of media coverage, including the heightened interest in the Gospel of Mary following the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, our fascination with the “penitent sinner” remains.

The discussion around Mary Magdalene, however, says more about cultural attitudes to female sexuality than anything about the biblical character. The persistent idea that sex workers are “fallen” women who should be rehabilitated or repentant has only relatively recently been challenged and the controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene speaks to centuries of the dominant ideology that shapes values around female sexuality and stigmatises sex workers on a moralistic premise.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

On the other hand, Mary, Mother of Jesus, is considered by many Christians as the “ideal woman”. As a virgin mother, Mary has the ultimate appeal to female respectability, combining the most culturally valuable female roles. But discussions surrounding the “ideal femininity” of Mary, Mother of Jesus, are inextricably linked with the control of female sexuality evidenced in attitudes to Mary Magdalene. The construction of “female virtue” is a cultural dividing practice to reinforce the social boundaries between respectable and unrespectable groups and classes.

The myth of Salome

We may be familiar with Salome as the daughter of the Herodias who danced for Herod in the New Testament (Mark 6:21-29; Matt. 14:6-11) but the character who requests John the Baptist’s head on behalf of her mother wasn’t named in the Bible.

The dangerous seductress we know derives from a heady mix of the first century historian Josephus, who named her but does not connect her with John the Baptist, and the 19th-century playwright Oscar Wilde, who wrote a scandalous play based on the character that was banned in London in 1892. Salome has now become synonymous with striptease thanks to the “dance of the seven veils”, which has no biblical basis but originated in Wilde’s play.

Cultural representations of Salome tend to be problematic because Salome is frequently exoticised and based around orientalised stereotypes of Middle Eastern femininity that “seem still to suggest not only fecundity but sexual promise (and threat)”.

Eve, Mary Magalene, Mary (Mother of Jesus), and Salome , then, are far more than biblical characters, they help to reflect and construct ideas and attitudes to and about femininity and female sexuality. In this way, they also tell us an awful lot about ourselves.

The Conversation

By Katie Edwards, Director, SIIBS , University of Sheffield

http://www.rawstory.com/2016/04/the-awkward-truth-about-the-bibles-women/


Why its so important even as Atheists to study and understand religion

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Re: The awkward truth about The Bible’s women

Post by Original Quill on Thu Apr 07, 2016 3:33 pm

Katie Edwards wrote:Like Eve, the New Testament character Mary Magdalene has been the subject of centuries of bad press. Magdalene is often believed to be a prostitute although there’s no suggestion of it in the biblical text. Academics have argued that the early Church developed Mary Magdalene’s repentant prostitute persona as a bid to deny women a proper position in the church hierarchy.

Since then, a number of attempts have been made to “rehabiliate” the character from her reputation as a fallen woman. Melvyn Bragg, for example, has certainly put some time into discovering the “real Magdalene”, presenting a controversial Good Friday documentary in 2013 and a radio programme on BBC Radio 4 earlier this year. But despite the reams of research and hours of media coverage, including the heightened interest in the Gospel of Mary following the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, our fascination with the “penitent sinner” remains.

The discussion around Mary Magdalene, however, says more about cultural attitudes to female sexuality than anything about the biblical character. The persistent idea that sex workers are “fallen” women who should be rehabilitated or repentant has only relatively recently been challenged and the controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene speaks to centuries of the dominant ideology that shapes values around female sexuality and stigmatises sex workers on a moralistic premise.

All of the talk about prostitution in the story of the Magdalena is a ruse.  Mary was the wife of Jesus, and as such she enjoyed a privileged position within the group that was the Jerusalem Church.  

After the death of Jesus, when the disciples of Jesus were grappling for position within the small group hierarchy, and ducking persecution themselves, Mary got shunted aside. One of the best ways to marginalize a single female in a face-to-face society is to accuse her of infidelity, and writ large, prostitution.  This is exactly what happened to the Magdalena.

Mary was pregnant at the time of the death of Jesus, and gave birth to Sarah, a daughter, in Egypt.  She traveled across North Africa and on to the South of France, where she established a home and established the Cathars, a competing church to the Roman Pauline Church.  http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/south-france-mary-magdalene-and-cathars  That is where Dan Brown’s story picks up.  The authentic work is really the history written by Richard Leigh, Baigent and Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1983), which served as a roadmap for Brown's fictional work.

The Pauline Church picked up on the disciples' dispute at the Council of Nicea, where Constantine was using the Church to create renewed identity for the Roman Empire.  The turn away from women (and the Magdalena) was an effort to create a male hierarchy of priests to steer the belief system.

Most of the references to “Mary” or “Our Lady” in France refer, not to the mother Mary, but to the wife Mary.  The Roman Church was at great pain to wipe out the Cathars. So they planted the false idea that all such references were to the mother.


Last edited by Original Quill on Thu Apr 07, 2016 3:42 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: The awkward truth about The Bible’s women

Post by Guest on Thu Apr 07, 2016 3:40 pm

I agree and believe she was his wife also, but clearly the Paul and Peter clan of the New testament who hated women, held sway better than most in putting across their views than the other followers of Jesus. Mary is fundamentally one of the most if not the most important character after Jesus in the narrative as again it is she who is first to meet him on his Resurrection. They could not leave that important part out as of its importance to the risen Jesus claim.

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Re: The awkward truth about The Bible’s women

Post by Original Quill on Thu Apr 07, 2016 3:55 pm

Agreed, absolutely.  Fascinating stuff.  One of the interesting sidelights of the maligning of women in early christianity was the change in place of worship.  Originally, worship time was around a dinner, where matters of religion intermingled with important civic matters.  The Last Supper, recalled today as an important biblical occasion, was such an event.

However, the supper setting emphasized the importance of women, who after all were crucial to preparation of meals and dining.  The Roman Church saw that the women were becoming important priestesses and ministers thereby. Indeed, the term 'minister' is a noun derived from the verb to minister, or to serve people, which women did do, spiritually as well as with supper. The Roman Church wanted to dissuade such traditions and usurp the role of ministration for their own.  So they devised the notion of a Church, on the Roman model of buildings set aside to memorialize events and beliefs.  Within the building, the Church, they could establish their own hierarchy of priests as monitors of the faith as well as the biblical stories.  And so they did.  However, the The Eucharis, or Holy Communion, is a sacrament celebrating the time when services were associated with supper.

The abandonment of the holy supper, as a situs of worship, was another attempt to push woman out of the way.

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Re: The awkward truth about The Bible’s women

Post by veya_victaous on Thu May 05, 2016 3:42 am

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