Misogyny

Ironically, one of the things about Christianity that is most troubling to me is the Bible, particularly the Old Testament and its sheer brutality. Much of the brutality is directed at women, and at least twice, women are offered to vicious mobs as something of a sacrificial offering.

The most well know is the story of Lot and the visiting angels.

1 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” 3 But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” (Genesis 19.1-8)

We know it gets more sorted: Lot’s daughters get him intoxicated and then seduce him.

"Lot and His Daughters" by Hendrick Goltzius

"Lot and his daughters" by Hendrick Goltzius (1616)

It’s difficult to imagine a reasonable explanation for all of this. After all, Lot was considered a generally righteous man:

and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— (2 Peter 2:7-8)

Righteous indeed: were anyone to make such an offer today, we would rightfully condemn him as shockingly evil. And yet St. Peter calls him righteous.

A lesser known but similar incident is recorded in Judges 19:

22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”

23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.”

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.

27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.

"The Levite finds his concubine dead" by Gustave Dore

29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!” (Judges 19.22-30)

This sounds bad enough already, but then Judges 20 continues the story:

1 Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came out as one man and assembled before the LORD in Mizpah. 2 The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand soldiers armed with swords. 3 (The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, “Tell us how this awful thing happened.”

4 So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, “I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. 5 During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. 6 I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel’s inheritance, because they committed this lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. 7 Now, all you Israelites, speak up and give your verdict.” (Judges 2. 1-7)

He conveniently left out a few details, but it was enough to encourage the Israelites to make war against the Benjamites. In the end, 28,030 Israelites and 25,100 Benjamites died. The inhabitants of Gibeah seem to have been slaughtered, and as the Israelites chased the remaining Benjamite solders into the desert, the Israelites “went back to Benjamin and put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire” (Judges 20.48).

The amount of sheer immorality in this account is staggering:   the misogyny of the Levite and his concubine’s father, the lie the Levite tells the Israelites to incite them to war, the incredible carnage of the war, and war crimes against the civilians.

I’ll write about more of my objections later, but this is a good enough start. Let the apologetics begin.

All images are in the public domain, retrieved  from WikiMeadia Commons.

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7 thoughts on “Misogyny

  1. Jared Olar says:

    Thanks for sharing these ponderings and concerns. You’re not the only one to be troubled by these kinds of things: the Church Fathers were too, and they grappled with these kinds of biblical texts, offering various interpretations.

    One of the important principles of sound biblical hermeneutics is to distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive narratives. The fact that Lot and the Levite as described as doing things that Christianity (and Judaism for that matter) exclude as morally unacceptable is not enough to establish that the biblical author intended to endorse or condone such acts. Going further, even if the biblical author may have personally approved of such acts, under the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture the interpreter would have to seek not necessarily what the human author’s personal opinions were, but what God intended the human race us to learn from a disturbing or bloody narrative such as we find in Genesis or Judges.

    Another Christian hermeneutic principle is to consider the cultural outlook and prejudices and beliefs current at the time a particular Scriptural passage was written. When seen through the Christian lens, the story told in the Old Testament, from Genesis down to II Maccabees, is the story of God’s faithful, repeated, steady “condescenion” — reaching out to where Fallen Man has hidden himself and seeking what was lost. Because of sin, the human race fell into great pits of depravity, and it was in those pits that God went in search of His fallen creature, working in and through human beings where they actually were, in all their sinfulness, ignorance, superstition, hatred, violence, bigotry, and lust. Some of the things in the Old Covenant were accommodations to the common state of affairs, because we were not ready yet for the full revelation of who God is, who Man is (and is to be), and what God’s will for Man is. Other things in the Old Testament were written not as examples to be followed, but as illustrations of the consequences of sin, as warnings of how not to act. That would be the case of the story of the how the Levite saved his own skin by throwing his concubine to be raped to death by a mob, leading to a disastrous, merciless inter-tribal war that nearly exterminated the Tribe of Benjamin. The repeated refrain, “In those days there was no king in Israel — every man did whatever seemed right in his own eyes,” is the author’s commentary on that awful narrative, and it’s not an approving commentary.

    What of the Old Testament’s misogyny? How do Christians deal with the fact that the Old Testament places women in a “second-class” status or even lower? Again, that is seen in the context of the consequences of human sin: in Genesis 3, God pronounces a sentence on Eve for her role in the original sin: pain and sorrow in childbirth, and being “lorded over” by her husband. In time, as human wickedness increased, that primeval breach in the relationship of man and woman led to the servile abasement of woman such as we see in the stories of Lot and the Levite and his concubine. With the coming of Christ, however, there has been a restoration of the relationship of the two sexes, such that, while the wife is still to be subject to her husband, the husband’s headship is reinterpreted after the pattern of Christ, who came to serve and not to be served, and who gave His life for His Bride. That Christian husbands and Christian teachers have more often than not failed to understand fully and to maintain the renewed relations of man and woman does not alter the signal change that was introduced into the world by Christ. Christianity plainly condemns the kind of thinking exhibited by Lot and the Levite, in which women are sacrificed by men to save their own skins, and in which it is seen as acceptable, or at least a lesser evil, to have a mob rape women rather than have them rape male houseguests. That was the way Bronze Age man in the Middle East thought, but it’s not the will of God as revealed in Christ.

    But if Lot’s actions, in the light of Christ’s Gospel, are revealed as sinful, as unworthy, how could he be called “righteous” in the New Testament? I think there are a couple ways to look at Lot’s righteousness.

    First, righteousness isn’t “moral perfection” or impeccability. Lot lived in a morally degenerate, idolatrous culture, and while he had the advantage over the Sodomites of not being an idolater, of knowing his uncle Abraham’s God, that doesn’t mean he didn’t share a lot of his neighbors’ other ideas and attitudes about life which could lead him to approve of things we know are not to be approved. Lot also is presented as having an alcoholic weakness which led him to do things that even many Gentiles would have seen as abhorrent. Even a righteous man has moral Achilles heels.

    Second, the Christian concept of “righteousness” (iustitia in Latin, “justice”) is inseparably tied to FAITH. In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, when the angelic messengers arrive in Sodom, it is Lot who welcomes them as gives them hospitality and protection from his depraved neighbors — that is an act of mercy, of justice. Again, when the angels announce God’s judgment on Sodom and tell him to flee, he obeys — he does not refuse their warning, but expresses faith in what they have to say. In these things, Lot showed himself to be a righteous man, despite his other moral failings. One thing Christians are not permitted to do is to look at the Bible’s description of “just Lot” and reason, “Well, if a righteous man was willing to throw his own daughters to a pack of perverts, then it must be okay in God’s sight for me to do the same.”

    • The Itch says:

      The distinction between prescriptive and descriptive is fine, but my concerns linger. What about things like the conquest of the Promised Land. God commanded thousands to be put to the sword, without regard to age. Surely a miracle-working God could have delivered the Promised Land without so much bloodshed?

      There are other troubling misogynistic passages as well. The treatment of women’s menstrual cycle as unclean is simply ignorant, as is the fact a woman is considered unclean longer if her child is a girl. Yet God commanded these things, right?

      Why?

      • Jared Olar says:

        “What about things like the conquest of the Promised Land. God commanded thousands to be put to the sword, without regard to age. Surely a miracle-working God could have delivered the Promised Land without so much bloodshed?”

        This objection is partially accounted for by some of the considerations I mentioned above: that God had chosen to sanctify an ancient Bronze Age people with Bronze Age mores and customs and ways of looking at life and the world, so He “condescended” and accommodated their shortcomings and failings. Another approach to the problem that Christians have taken is to seek and find allegorical and spiritual meaning and lessons in the narratives of the Old Testament as prefigurements of what God intended to accomplish through His Son and through His Church. A further consideration is to examine things from the vantage point of God’s perfect holiness and the demands of justice: sin as an offense against infinite justice calls for divine retribution. In Genesis 6, God expressed that retribution by sending a flood. Later in the Pentateuch, He “channels” Israel’s natural penchant for violence so that they become, as it were, instruments of His justice against the Canaanites.

        There are other troubling misogynistic passages as well. The treatment of women’s menstrual cycle as unclean is simply ignorant, as is the fact a woman is considered unclean longer if her child is a girl. Yet God commanded these things, right?

        Well, these aspects of Mosaic ceremony and ritual are understood in the New Testament as prefiguring the realities that Jesus brought into being in the Church. Women’s menstrual cycle was considering unclean because it involved blood, which was ritually unclean because blood means death, the enemy of life and the consequence of sin. Now, as for the commandment that the birth of a baby girl rendered a mother unclean for 80 days while it was only 40 days for a baby boy, I have never been quite sure about the symbolic meaning there. I think it is likely to have something to do with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where Eve is the one who disobeys first and then brings the fruit to Adam, leading to God pronouncing that the woman would thence be “lorded over” by her husband. That’s only speculation on my part. Many of the Church Fathers thought it had to do with “ensoulment” — supposedly the soul of a baby boy wasn’t infused until 40 days after conception, while a baby girl’s soul wasn’t infused until 80 days after. But I’ve never found that very convincing, and it “feels” to me like the Fathers were just guessing (and anyway the whole speculation about delayed ensoulment has fallen into disfavor due to better scientific knowledge of embryonic development proving the human embryo is never “unformed” as the Fathers thought, and thus would have to have a soul from the moment of fertilisation). Before the birth of Christ, the author of the Book of Jubilees “explained” the commandment by claiming that Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden 40 days after he was created, whereas Eve didn’t enter Eden until 80 days after Adam was created. In other words, the author of Jubilees didn’t know the answer either.

        Sorry if I’m not being very helpful. Perhaps you might find John Paul II helpful on the question of misogyny, though:

        http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_15081988_mulieris-dignitatem_en.html

  2. Before we can move forward to any meaningful discussion here , it MUST first be determined IF you even believe in the Bible. You have stated in the past that you do NOT know what position you take (theologically),hence,if you DO NOT believe in the Bible,then anyand all discussion is a moot point,and frankly,it looks like you’re just playing games.

    So,let me ask you straight out – (and it requires just a simple “yes”,”no”,or “I don’t know” answer). DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE BIBLE AND DO YOU SINCERELY WISH TO FIND AN ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTIONS ?

    I shall await your HONEST answer .

  3. The Itch says:

    Jared, I appreciate the time you’re taking to answer these questions.

    I know I’m harping on this issue, but the OT God’s commands that amount essentially to calls for genocide just trouble me immensely. You say, “He ‘condescended’ and accommodated their shortcomings and failings.” Why not raise them up to his level? Why not be a beacon of morality in that time? Why not have people scratching their heads at the crazy people who believe in one God and believe that God commands them to love infinitely? I know that’s what Jesus represents, but why wait?

    I guess part of it is confusion over the Old Covenant/New Covenant. Why not just make a covenant that’s good enough the first time?

    I know many of these questions might not be easily answered, and in a sense, I’m more thinking aloud than anything else. I don’t want to take up too much time from anyone.

    I’ve just started reading “Mulieris Digniatem.” Will share some thoughts on it when I finish.

  4. Jared Olar says:

    The question about the succession of “covenants” is a very good one. It’s intricately linked to the mystery of human freedom and human history. It’s also related to the question of why, if God is merciful and could forgive sin even before Christ, did He send His Son to suffer and die for our sins? Christianity explains that conundrum by maintaining that pre-Christian forgiveness was anticipatory of and only efficacious in view of Christ’s atoning death foretold during the progressive unfolding of the Messianic promises of redemption and mercy and the new birth of the Israelite people. Ultimately we can’t really know why God elected to do things this way instead of another way, or if things could have been different. The Scriptures do affirm, however, that Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world — that is, before time began, God willed to give Man freedom and to allow us to abuse that freedom, and before time began, God willed to redeem Man from the consequences of our abused freedom by sending His Son into the world, to share in our experiences and take our pain and suffering and death on Himself, and mysteriously to wash out our sins through the shedding of His own Precious Blood. The Scriptures say this happened “in the fullness of time,” at exactly the right time, after ages of human history had gone by, after a people had been chosen from among the Gentiles to be separate and holy, to receive His promises and prophecies so they could become the Messianic race. Why was it this way and not another way? Looking closely at the events, I can’t say in every case why it was this way and not another way — but taking a step back and looking at things over all, I would say that God chose to work in and through human history and human experience, and to respect our free will and each age’s capacity to receive and live the Truth. A Stone Age culture would be less equipped to receive Christ’s revelation than a Bronze Age culture, and an Iron Age culture would be even better disposed to receive and contemplate the truth about God and Man. God gave Israel the kind of covenant that Israel needed at that time: it taught them God’s perfect holiness and our obligation to be holy; it separated them from the Gentiles so Abraham’s line, the Messianic line, would be preserved until “the fullness of time”; and it taught them of mankind’s great capacity for doing evil, bringing home to them, to us, that we are sinners in need of redemption. It was never meant to be “good enough” to effect salvation, but was given as a “pedagogue,” to prepare Israel for the reason God chose them in the first place. Soon after the Exodus, God told Israel at Sinai that He had chosen them out of all nations because the entire world is His — that is, Israel was to be a firstfruits of the harvest, so to speak. Israel’s election was intended to make possible the redemption of all nations, to point forward to the day when God would reclaim what was rightfully His — the human race, the children He had lost.

    Well, those are the ruminations on the subject that occur to me now, at midnight, after a week of sleep deprivation. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner about these things, but life gets really busy sometimes. . . .

  5. Jared Olar says:

    Oh, another thought — about why God “condescends.” I touched on it above, in mentioning God’s respect for human free will. He has perfect knowledge of what we are really ready for, and if He is perfectly good, He won’t give us something that we really aren’t prepared to receive. God woos us, pleads with us, patiently waits for us: He never forces Himself on us. He speaks to us in “language” that we will be able to understand (one reason why the Old Testament sometimes sounds a lot different than the New Testament, and why the picture of God in Genesis is simpler and ‘harsher’ than it is later in the Old Testament), because to do otherwise would confuse us at the least, or even overwhelm or annihilate us.

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