Tuesday, March 29, 2011
7:42 PM |
The God Wife
In light of this article
in Discovery News
about the "rediscovery" of God's forgotten wife Asherah, whose once prominent standing in divinity is found in amulets, figurines, inscriptions and ancient texts, including the Bible -- and is the focus of the now controversial research of University of Exeter's Francesca Stavrakopoulou -- I am unearthing this old essay by William R. Harwood, which dumbfounded me when I first read it in college many years ago, and which I posted in this blog back in 2004.Gods, Goddesses, and Bibles: The Canonization of MisogynyBy William R. Harwood
In October 1984, America’s National Council of Chinches issued a new translation of passages of the Judeo-Christian Bible that the Council felt were marred by “male bias.” Words that were masculine gender in the original language were converted to common gender in English (for example: king
; God’s son
became God’s child
), passages that ignored women were altered to rectify the omission (The God of Abraham
became The God of Abraham and Sarah
), and references to the head of the Christian pantheon as God the Father
were amended to God the Father and Mother
. While all but the culturally Schlaflyed  applauded the attempt to drag religion into the twentieth century, even at the price of altering “revealed truth,” what nobody seems to have realized is that a translation of the Judeo-Christian Bible that does not offend women is analogous to a translation of Mein Kampf
 that does not offend Jews.
In a male-dominated world, popes, caliphs, ayatollahs, prophets, messiahs, priests, and rabbis tend to be male; but that was not always so. From humankind’s creation of the first goddess thirty thousand years ago until the retaliatory invention of male gods more than twenty thousand years later, women held the same ruling-caste status presently enjoyed by men. There was a good reason for this: just as Cro-Magnon humans were able to recognize that the cow was their superior because she sustained them with her milk (thus the cow-goddess Hera and the status of cows in Hinduism), so did they recognize that woman was man’s superior because she produced the children who ensured the species’s continued survival.
Almost from their conception, gods were perceived as the givers of life. Since only females could give life, it inevitably followed that the gods must he female. And in a world ruled by female divinities, those humans created in the Mother’s image naturally far outranked the male humans whose prime functions were fighting wars and providing their female overlords with sexual recreation.
As it was in the skies, so it was on earth. Goddesses ruled the metaphysical world; women ruled the physical. Priestesses reigned for life, often accepting homage (the original meaning of worship
) as goddesses-on-earth. In an orderly world hatched from the egg of the goddess and run by her mirror image, men accepted that they had no rights and did as they were ordered (just as in the modern world there are women so conditioned to the belief that they are hereditary slaves that they give speeches urging state legislatures to refuse to ratify a constitutional amendment granting full human status to women). It is doubtful, however, that men were ever exploited by women prior to the Male Revolution of 3500 BCE  in the manner in which women since that date have been oppressed and dehumanized by men. There was never, for example, a female-absolutist equivalent of the sixth-century CE synod of Macon, at which Christian bishops earnestly debated whether women were human beings, possessed of “souls,” or simply soulless breeding stock whom the chief male god had given man to use as he saw fit.
Men were never private property, owned by one woman and arbitrarily forbidden from providing sexual recreation to any woman but herself. At least, they were not in the days of goddess-rule. Men accept such a designation today (or pretend to) as the price they must pay for imposing similar private ownership on their breeding women; but this, too, is a consequence of the Male Revolution. When the idea began to evolve that monogamy was either right or wrong, the ruling males declared, in effect, “We won’t annul your sexual slavery — but we’ll agree to share your captivity by submitting to the same exclusivity.”
Then came the Big Discovery.
The Big Discovery did not occur everywhere at the same time. Among the Aborigines of Melville Island to the north of Australia, it was not made until the nineteenth century CE. In some places, it may well have taken place much earlier than 3500 BCE, which is the best available estimate of the approximate date at which it became widespread. To persons who have grown up in a society in which such knowledge is taken for granted, it is difficult to convey the tremendous significance for future history of the first discovery by men that the weapon with which they pleasured their mistresses also made babies
. The Big Discovery meant that women were no longer the sole purveyors of life—and therefore neither were goddesses! From being the reproducers of life, women found themselves reduced to the level of incubators, of no more relevance to the birth process than the dirt in which an ear of corn grew into an adult plant.
Men were physically stronger than women. That fact had long been known and rationalized to fit a female-dominant theology, and only men’s acceptance of their insignificance in the divine order kept them from taking over the world much sooner. Following the Big Discovery, nothing could stop them and nothing did stop them. However, the takeover did not occur right away. Compared to the Male Revolution, the Industrial Revolution was accomplished overnight. Before the mind could conceive of any change in the social structure of human society, it had first to postulate a similar change in the sky. Thus, before there could be any king reigning on earth, there had to be created a King of Heaven, a God the Father, who was the Mother’s superior and by whose impregnation she produced her children.
Men did gain political power. But power that was not hereditary was meaningless. Just as mothers had always been able to identify their daughters, now fathers wanted to be able to identify their sons. It was for that reason that men imposed upon women a logical extension of the private-property concept, the chattel-slavery that came to be known as marriage. And with marriage came the first sexual taboo: you are not to commit adultery.
Adultery was a crime against property. A woman, owned by one man, who allowed herself to be impregnated by another, thereby robbed her husband’s true heir of the inheritance that could conceivably be usurped by her lover’s “bastard” (another new concept). Had the discovery that sexual recreation causes pregnancy been coupled with the realization that births can be positively traced to those couplings that occurred roughly nine months earlier, the adultery taboo would never have been so severe. As it was, the taboo was based upon the assumption that a woman’s child could have been fathered by any previous lover, regardless of whether the coupling had occurred five months or twenty years before its birth.
Since adultery was a crime against the adulteress’s husband, an attempt to rob him of his right to pass on his property and power to his lawfully conceived sons, it followed that an act of recreation involving an unmarried woman did not constitute adultery. The generalization of adultery to include recreation between married men and unmarried women did not occur until after Siddhartha Gautama’s  creation of the belief that abstinence from recreation, deemed a sin by the Talmud (Nazir 19a), could somehow be virtuous in itself.
Adultery was for many centuries the only sexual taboo. Without any concept of wrong-doing, women freely grew up copulating with brothers and cousins and neighbors. At the age of eleven or twelve, those that had not been sold to husbands would take adult lovers, usually their closest relative, and recreate diligently until such time as they could demonstrate their fertility by becoming pregnant. Women who, although nubile, had never produced a live infant, and who therefore were bad breeding risks, were stigmatized by the pejorative label, virgin
Once a woman had given birth, an event that often did not occur until the age of fifteen or sixteen, her chances of being purchased as a wife increased significantly. Men wanted good breeders, and a woman who had demonstrated not only fertility but also the ability to survive the childbirth could expect a wide range of suitors, all of whom would share her favors until such time as her father accepted the highest bid. The first child of the marriage, regardless of how many years might have elapsed before its birth, being of doubtful parentage, would be sacrificed to Molokh or Baal or Yahweh or Allah or whichever other god had the local baby-burning concession. Following the birth and sacrifice, the wife would observe an adultery taboo. All future children could then be attributed with absolute certainty to her legal owner.
It was the abolition of infant sacrifice that led to the imposition of cradle-to-marriage joy-deprivation on half of the human race. All societies eventually recognized that, with women dying in childbirth faster than men could kill each other m war, live births were too rare to be wasted and infant sacrifice must be abolished. That meant that some new method had to be found whereby a man could be certain that the first child born to his new bride was of his own begetting. The solution was to deny unmarried girls the opportunity to bring to the marriage bed a womb that might already be carrying seed that could one day produce a cuckoo’s chick.  Women were informed that henceforth they were to practice total premarital joy-rejection, and that any woman who failed to spill hymenal blood on the marriage blanket could expect to he promptly executed (Deut. 22:13-21). Thus from sheer ignorance concerning the duration of pregnancy and the durability of sperm, men stole from women the basic right to decide for themselves whether an offer of sexual activity should be accepted or rejected—a right that only the recent perfection of dependable contraceptive techniques has enabled them to reclaim.
The final step in the degradation of women was not taken until perhaps two thousand years after their reduction to slave status as men’s “wives” following the Big Discovery. Not content with denying women their ancient role in creation and salvation by making the post-Discovery creator and savior both male, the phallusocracy now came up with the myth that male gods had created a perfect world which women had subsequently rendered imperfect by their culpable inadequacy. In Greek god-mythology, the first woman was Pandora, whom Zeus gave to Prometheus to be his wife as a punishment for giving man fire. Pandora was endowed with a scaled box (the sexual symbolism of which should need no explanation) and warned never to open it. She disobeyed Zeus’s admonition, and out of her box leaped disease, famine, and all of the other evils with which man has since been punished for woman’s crime.
In the Semitic version of the same myth, the humanized goddess Eve first yielded to a serpent goddess’s invitation to worship her by eating the vulva-shaped fruit that was her sacramental body and blood, in defiance of the ruling male god’s instruction to worship him alone. She then corrupted the man she had been created to serve. That only a chronic misogynist could have imposed such a fable is obvious enough. That only a misogynist culture could believe it should be no less obvious.
A religion in which all first- and second-ranking gods are male is misogynous by definition. Christianity, for example, admits females only as third-ranking immortals (“saints”), and many at its third-ranking gods, prior to their pumpkinification,  were themselves vicious misogynists. Jerome, translator of the Vulgate, described women as “a tool of Satan and a pathway to Hell,” while Ambrose and Augustine contributed to the world the pious belief that someone as clean as Jesus could not have come out of something as dirty as a female recreational orifice but instead magically appeared outside of third-level goddess Mary’s body without the necessity of utilizing her birth canal. While not even popes claim to he speaking inerrant truth at all times, and otherwise good humans can still he bigots, it is nonetheless significant that the views expressed by those men have never been repudiated by the Church that canonized them.
It is, however, not in the writings of “saints” but in canonized Scriptures that one must look for proof that a religion officially
categorizes women as subhuman. Judaism’s position is clearly spelled out in the prayer in the Talmud that reads, “Yahweh, I thank you who have not made me a woman, an idiot, or an infidel.” Christianity’s inspired apologist for misogyny was Paul of Tarsus:
Women, submit yourselves to your men as to his Lordship. For the man is his woman’s head. Just as the community is subject to the Messiah, so are women to their men in all things. (Eph. 5:22— 24)
Women in the community are to remain silent. They are required to be obedient, as even the Torah commands. (I Cor. 14:34)
The man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man. (I Cor. 11:9)
Paul’s misogyny has begun to he rejected in the secular world, but in Christian churches women’s demands for full membership in the human race continue to be ignored.
The misogyny of Islam’s fanatic present-day leaders is widely known. Less known perhaps is that misogyny is unambiguously endorsed by Muhammad’s Koran:
Has your Lord blessed you with sons and himself adopted daughters from among the angels? A monstrous blasphemy is that which you utter. (17:40)
Men have a status above women. (2:228)
Call in two male witnesses from among you, but if two men cannot he found, then one man and two women. (2:282)
Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other.... Good women are obedient.... As for those from whom you fear disobedience... beat them. (4:34)
Not only did Muhammad’s male chauvinist god deem men superior to women, he declared it a blasphemy to suggest otherwise.
And how did the National Council of Churches respond to Paul’s sexism in their common-gender Bible translation? Very easily: they simply left it out.NOTES
1. An allusion to Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-women’s-rights activist who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s.
2. “My Battle” (1924-1926), the book by Adolf Hitler in which he explained Nazi programs and doctrines including Nazi anti-Semitism.
3. Before the common era; same as BC, before Christ. CE signifies “of the common era”; same as AD, anno domini, in the year of the dominion (of Christ).
4. Founder of Buddhism (563—483 BC); also known as Buddha.
5. The cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other species of birds, which rear the cuckoo’s young.
6. Harwood seems to be referring here to the fairy tale Cinderella in which a pumpkin is transformed into a golden coach.
From The Humanist, May-June 1985
Labels: gender, issues, religion
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