Women - Coming Back to the Original Blueprint - Part 2
Historical views of women – before Jesus
This article is part 2 in a series. If you haven’t read the other articles you can start with Part 1 here
After the fall the work of Satan continued, twisting the intent of God’s words in mankind’s hearts until they came to believe that God had cursed them and in that curse had made women subservient to men. (Genesis 3: 8-19). Yet that is not true. God cursed the serpent and He also said the ground would be cursed because of Adam and Eve’s actions, but nowhere does God curse Adam and Eve. However, He does lay out what their punishment will be and what the consequences of their actions will be.
The belief that woman was cursed by God and made subservient to man became the prevailing belief and caused the way that women were seen and treated to deteriorate over the centuries until Jesus came and rectified things. This is as true of the Hebrews as it is of other nations.
I want to concentrate in this article on two main societies and how their view of women affected the known world leading up to the time of Christ and beyond – Greece and Rome. By the time the Greeks and Romans appeared women were believed to be weak, evil in intent, deceivers, and generally treated as second class citizens with no rights – basically on the level of a slave in most societies. She could be bought or sold (the bride price was indicative of this), she often had no say in who she was married to, could be divorced for no reason, spoken down to and beaten – just as any slave could.
The Greek and Roman empires were the origin of western civilisation as we know it. The Greek empire reached the peak of its glory around 500 BC and it influenced all of the ‘then known world’ for many centuries. We still feel its influence today in many of our western beliefs.
Let’s start with looking at the Greek view of women. Greek poets and philosophers had a major influence on their society. Their writings shaped how the world would see women for centuries to come, even down to our present day, and became the text books that centuries of men learnt from.
Some of those Greek poets and philosophers who had incredible influence were Homer, Hesiod and Semonides.
Homer was the most influential author of the day and his works were to become part of the foundational belief system of centuries of men. In Homer’s work “the Illiad” – one of the all-time Greek classics that would become a text book in their schools – the principal God Zeus abuses his wife Hera, saying to her things like “Now sit there, quiet, and obey me; lest I set my all-powerful hands on you, and all the gods of Olympus lack the strength save you.” Many times in this work Zeus abuses his wife, showing that ill-treatment and disdain of women was acceptable practice (how the Gods viewed women determined how men viewed women).
Here’s some other things these three men said about women. Remember, their writings were the foundation for all learning in their society.
Homer In the Iliad -“Be thou never gentle to thy wife” and also he is noted as saying, “Do not tell your wife everything – for there is no faith in women.”
Hesiod - “Women are a deadly race of guile and evil, a shameless mind and a deceitful nature.” “The Gods declared man’s punishment for sin was women!
The women will cause sorrow and mischief to men. They are God’s punishment and curse.”
Semonides - “Women are a different species altogether – the Gods made the mind of women a thing apart.” Semonides also taught that women came from various tribes – from the long haired sow, the evil fox, from a dog, from the dust of the earth, from the sea, from the stumbling obstinate donkey, from the weasel, the monkey and the bee.
All these men believed and taught that the god Zeus designed women as the greatest of all evils.
This was the foundation of western civilisation and their learning about women. The playwrights and philosophers that followed them such as Aristophones, Menander, Plato and Aristotle propagated and furthered these thoughts. In hundreds of years of secular literature there are very few favourable comments on women!
The Roman view of women was no better. Their writers and philosophers openly despised women. Romulus, one of Rome’s founders, in ‘The Laws of the King’ compelled families to rear every first born male and female child in order to continue society but any children born after them had no legal protection from death at birth, as Roman men had the right to say whether their other children lived or died. It was generally accepted amongst society, especially the nobles, that male children would live and whether girl children did or not, was optional, the Father making that decision.
Roman society had part of its origins in the plundering of the people group, the Sabines. They plundered their society, killed all the men, kidnapped and raped the women and out of that came the birth of the Roman society and culture. This was re-enacted and celebrated in every marriage ceremony – the women wore veils as a symbol of mourning, the man she was being married to would strip the veil off, pick up the woman and forcibly carry her over the threshold as a symbol and re-enactment of the original Sabine conquest and a celebration of their victory.
This is the foundation of society as we know it, and these basic foundational beliefs were never really recognised and challenged until Christ and Paul came along. Even then, man has for centuries mostly chosen to keep the traditional view of woman as a lesser, subservient creature, even in the Church, which says it follows the teachings and example of Christ.
The Greek and Roman views were also very much a part of the society that Christ was born in. Israel was very influenced by Greek beliefs and its Roman rulers. The world, Israel included, devalued, excluded, despised, and rejected women as equals, but God clearly says women and men have shared origin, shared destiny, shared tragedy and shared hope!
Both were created by God and both shared the same DNA. Woman was created from man, she was not made out of another piece of earth, which could have had a different composition to Adam’s earth. God made them from the same stuff, they are two parts of one whole. This answers Homer and Semonides who said that women were made from different stuff and were a different species.
In Genesis 1:28 - 30 God commissioned them both with the same commission and blessing – “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.”
Note that when God says ”I give you…” the Hebrew word for “you” used here is the plural form, not singular – so God gave them both a shared destiny, not separate ones.
In Genesis 3:1-6 we see the serpent’s conversation with the woman and man in the garden. While the serpent addresses his question to the woman v6 tells us that both man and woman were present at the time. In fact the initial instruction to not eat from the tree in the centre of the garden came before the woman was created. The man leaves the woman to refute the serpent’s suggestion with what knowledge she had, which was most likely second hand knowledge, because she was not yet created when that command was given.
In Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21,22, Paul puts the blame on Adam – God called for Adam because it was him that God held accountable. Tradition has held women responsible for mankind’s fall, but God actually held Adam responsible.
Both man and woman also had shared hope. In Genesis 3:15 we see God give them hope – that one of their descendants would crush the serpent’s head. Jesus triumphed over the serpent, Satan, through His death and resurrection, forever removing Satan’s authority in the earth (which Adam and Eve gave to him), and giving it back to the children of God - His sons and daughters.
In the next article we’ll look at how Jesus viewed women and the place He gave them in His Kingdom.
Click here to read Part 3