Genesis Women

As I have been reading through the book of Genesis I have found it a bit curious how the women are treated. In Genesis 36:40, we have a woman, Timna, named as a cheif descended from the line of Esau. I have identified Timna as a woman, because in vs. 12 the same name is given to Eliphaz' concubine and in vs. 22 Timna is the sister of Lotan. In another instance, Rachel, the wife of Jacob, is a shepherdess as identified in Genesis 29:6 and 29:9. Here are two women who have stood up in this period of time as leaders with careers.

Yet, the rest of the book is a bit dis-heartening. Widowed Judah sleeps with a "prostitute" and openly shares this fact with his peers (See Genesis 38). Yet, when his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar is found to be pregnant and "guilty of prostitution" Judah exclaims, "Bring her out and have her burned to death!" Then Judah hears the entire story and pardons Tamar recognizing her as more righteous than himself. As I read this I wondered, "If it is okay for Judah to be with a prostitute and if the punishment for a prostitue is death, then who is supposed to be the prostitute for Judah?"

As I have been reading through Genesis the role of women in the society has intrigued me, as well as the culture's attitude about sex, birth, marriages, and relationships. I am keenly aware how my feminity and gender influence the lense through which I see Scripture and wonder how the same stories read via the perspective of a man. Being aware of how my gender influences how I read the text, and having had an increased awareness of race relations these past few years, I begin to wonder how an African-American man or woman whose family has lived in the United States since the days of slavery interprets Scripture.

Imagine with me how our theology might be changed if the church was truely diverse in our interactions. Imagine how much deeper and wider our understanding of God might be. What would happen if we really communicated and could clearly articulate how our life circumstances and worldview has lead us to interpret Scripture. How would the Church be different?


Katie Z. said…
I would love to comment - and apologize if this is not entirely thought out - I wanted to do it right away b/c otherwise I will forget!

First of all - have you read "The Red Tent"? I thought it was an amazing story - it looks at Jacob's family - from the perspective of Dinah (and through the lens of a woman living in the modern world - it is the author's interpretation of those events). It spoke to me in ways much of scripture hasn't b/c it was written by a woman.

My initial response to your questions is: the bible IS a product of a patriarchal culture, of course we will find double standards and laws that benefit men (ie: can sleep with prostitutes). I took a class on Law in Ancient Israel this past semester - interestingly enough, adultry is defined as sexual relations only between a married woman and a man who is not her spouse, or between an engaged woman and someone other than her fiancé. While the commandment says: do not commit adultry - the laws all refer to incidents in which a man sleeps with a woman who belongs to another man.

So, Tamar "becoming" a prostitute would have been in violation of that command... she belonged to another man (even though she was widowed), she was righteous because she FORCED Judah to fulfil the leverite marriage laws (though through trickery).

I think you are right. I think the treatment and place of women in much of the Old Testament that we read and use can be damaging to women - without creative commentary. The Jewish tradition of midrash has definately become my friend... these texts are not meant to be read literally and then their contexts and stories prescribed onto our own. Rather, we can and should explore the various perspectives that we come to a text with and we can and will find God in the midst of those stories as well.

I firmly believe that the narratives of the Old Testament (and New) are the stories and experiences of people who experienced God. They are inspired by God, not in the sense that the words were given to be put on the page, but that out of their holy experiences, people were inspired to tell their stories. And I believe that God continues to inspire our reading of texts as well. =)

There are a number of books that do examine the scriptures from various perspectives... you can find womanist, feminist, black, latino/a, liberationist, etc. etc. commentaries and resources out there. Most of them creatively and faithfully wrestle with how we can use these scriptures in our lives today.

But they don't have to be academic responses. Your notion of hearing how other people understand and interpret scripture is right on! There is this practice called lectio divina (maybe you have used it before), where you read a passage, and everyone comments on the word or phrase that stuck out to them. And hear everyone's comment on the feelings it invoked, and how it speaks to them today. That would be a fantastic tool to use in a group of diverse people to begin to glimpse the differences in our readings. =)

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