Over the years I have written many posts about the women of the Old Testament. The significant role women played in Israelite society is found in texts that tell their stories. Some of these women are well known, such as the matriarchs of Israel. Others, such as Rizpah, are not well known, but their stories reveal much about their strong character. The majority of the women who lived in ancient Israel are unknown because their names have never been recorded, and for this reason, their stories have never been told.
Some women are known because of their relationship with important men in Israel, such as Zipporah, the wife of Moses. Others are known by the functions they performed in Israelite society, such as Huldah the prophetess.
The stories of these women come from different places in Israel, from different periods in the history of the nation, and from different social and cultural situations. And yet, notwithstanding the different origins of these stories, the biblical text presents the different and important roles women played in Israelite society
I have written several posts dealing with women’s issues and concerns in the Old Testament. These issues and concerns are expressed in the legal codes of the Pentateuch and in other texts of the Old Testament.
Some of the laws of the Old Testament show that women are subordinate to men in the household. For instance, a wife was considered to be a man’s property. A father exerted the right to control his daughter’s sexuality. A single woman was expected to be a virgin at the time of marriage. A man could accuse his bride of not being a virgin.
Not withstanding the perception that women were slaves of a patriarchal system, the Bible shows that in many situations women could assume roles that were traditionally assigned to men. As Frymer-Kensky (1992: 120) wrote,
These stories . . . show that beyond the realities of Israel’s social structure, the Bible presents a remarkably unified vision of humankind, for the stories show women as having the same inherent characteristics [as] men. The circumstances of their lives are different from those of some men (those with power), but there are no innate differences that preclude women from taking men’s roles . . . should the occasion arise and circumstances warrant it. There is nothing distinctively “female” about the way that women are portrayed in the Bible.
In my studies on the plight of women in Israelite society, I show that the status of women as persons of worth and dignity in Israel at times is betrayed by the social realities present in Israelite society. However, throughout the studies listed below, I make an attempt at showing how the reforms of Josiah and the book of Deuteronomy made an attempt at improving the status of women in Israelite society during the seventh century B.C.E.
The best effort to improve the religious and social problems confronting women in Israelite society in the late monarchic period is found in the book of Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy was an attempt at developing a special sense of social responsibility in the life of every Israelite for the poor, slaves, women, and for those in society who were underprivileged and did not enjoy the whole benefit of the law.
In addition, the studies below address some of the issues women faced in Israelite society. Some posts deal with issues women faced in the past and are facing in the present. In all, my goal is to address some of the problems women faced in the past so that women today may understand and identify with the struggles women have faced. The struggles women faced in the past are, in a sense, the same struggles women are facing today in many parts of the world.
Enjoy these studies.
Frymer-Kensky, Tikva, In the Wake of the Goddess. New York: The Free Press, 1992.
Women’s Issues and Concerns in the Old Testament
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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If you are looking for other series of studies on the Old Testament, visit the Archive section and you will find many studies that deal with a variety of topics.