Sexual Inequality In OT Essay

In today’s society women are looked upon ignorantly by the male gender. This
attitude derived from the na?ve men of the Old Testament. They did not see
women as being an important part of history and therefore hardly spoke of them.

When women were mentioned it was usually in a condescending fashion. Even with
genealogies in the Old Testament women were not listed as if to show that they
were not important and of no concern. Women in the Old Testament our viewed as
being inferior to men, sexual predators, and an item of property. In the first
creation story (Genesis 1:27) God is described as creating man, both male and
female at the same time. This might be interpreted as implying equality between
the two genders. But in the second creation story, (Genesis 2:7) God formed only
a man. Realizing that he needed a helper (Genesis 2:18), God marched all of the
animals past Adam (Genesis 2:19-20) looking for a suitable animal. Finding none
suitable, God created Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. The term “helper”
has historically been interpreted as implying an inferior role for Eve. (“The
Hebrew translated word helper is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament:
twenty of these cases refer to help from a superior.”)(Coogan 813)Adam
later asserts his authority over Eve by naming her. In Genesis 19 the men of
Sodom gathered around Lot’s house, and asked that he bring his two guests out so
that the men can “know” them. This in frequently interpreted as a
desire to gang rape the visitors, although other interpretations are possible.

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Lot offers his two virgin daughters to be raped instead. Yet, even after this
despicable act, Lot is still regarded as an honorable man, worth saving from the
destruction of the city. Allowing one’s daughters to be sexually assaulted by
multiple rapists appears to be treated as a minor transgression, because of the
low status of the young women. A man could simultaneously keep numerous
concubines. These were sexual partners of an even lower status than a wife was.

As implied in Genesis 21:10, she could be dismissed when no longer needed.

Another example of this inferiority to men it is the book of Exodus. In Exodus
20:17 it lists the last of the Ten Commandments. It forbids coveting your
neighbor’s house, wife, slaves, animals or anything else that the neighbor owns.

The wife is clearly regarded as equivalent to a piece of property and in no way
would a piece of property be superior to a man. Also in Exodus 21:22-25 it
describes a situation in which two men are fighting and hit a pregnant woman. If
the woman has a miscarriage because of the blow, the men must pay a fine for
their act – not to the woman, but to her husband, presumably because he has been
deprived of a child. Leviticus 12:1-5 explains that a woman who has given birth
to a boy is ritually unclean for 33 days. If the baby is a girl, the mother is
unclean for 66 days. It would appear that the act of having a baby is a highly
polluting act. To give birth to a girl is twice as polluting as is giving birth
to a boy. In Leviticus 18:20 and 20:10, adultery was defined as a man having
sexual intercourse with his neighbor’s wife. Deuteronomy 22:23 extends this
prohibition to a man sleeping with a woman who is engaged to be married. If a
man has an affair with an unmarried woman, the act is not considered adultery.

Although God wanted men to only have one wife, married men on many occasions
visited prostitutes and received no punishment for this sin. This was a double
standard among the sexes for a woman got severely punished if she committed such
a sin. A man who committed adultery did not commit a wrongful act against his
wife, but rather against his male neighbor implying that a woman did not matter.

Another example of where the Bible insists that men are more important than
women is in Leviticus 27:6. A child aged 1 month to five years of age was worth
5 shekels if a boy and 3 shekels if a girl and in Numbers 3:15 it shows that a
census counted only male infants over the age of one month, boys and men.

Females were not considered worthy of being included. Women were also thought of
as inferior when it came to things such as rituals. InNumbers 5:11-31 women were
forced to perform a magic ritual if their husbands suspected them of having had
an affair. A priest prepared a potion composed of holy water mixed with
sweepings from the floor of the tabernacle. He proclaimed a curse over the
potion and required the woman to drink it. If she were guilty, she would suffer
greatly: her abdomen would swell and her thighs would waste away. There was no
similar magical test for husbands suspecting of having an affair with another
woman. The two genders were treated differently simply because one presumed that
the man was superior. When it came to such things like goods and inheritance the
same concept of women being inferior took place again. In Numbers 27:8-11, Moses
described the rules of inheritance that God has stated. If a man died, his son
inherited the estate; his daughter received nothing. If there was no son, then
his daughter inherited. If there were no children, then the estate was given to
the man’s brothers; his sister(s) received nothing.The more important people,
meaning the men, received everything and the women only got something when there
were no men. Also in Numbers chapter 30 it described that a vow taken by a man
was binding. But her father could nullify a vow taken by a woman, if she was
still living in her family of origin, or by her husband, if she was married. In
the book of Deuteronomy it described how a soldier could marry a woman captive
without regard for her wishes (21:10-13). It also required that a woman be a
virgin when she was married. If she had had sexual relations while single in her
father’s house, then she would be stoned to death. There were no similar
virginity requirements for men (22:13-21). It also required that a virgin woman
who had been raped must marry her attacker, no matter what her feelings were
towards the rapist (22:28-29). Along with marriage went divorce. In Deuteronomy
it described the procedure for obtaining a divorce. This could only be initiated
by the husband, not by the wife because the male held all the power in the
relationship. Another example of degrading women was during the Second Temple
period, when women were not allowed to testify in court trials. “They could
not go out in public, or talk to strangers. When outside of their homes, they
were to be doubly veiled. They had become second-class Jews, excluded from the
worship and teaching of God, with status scarcely above that of slaves”
(Callaway 201). Another way in which women were portrayed in the Old Testament
was as sexual predators. In Genesis 19:30-36 Lot’s two daughters made their
father drunk with wine on two successive nights. Each daughter committed incest
with her father, and became pregnant. Their two sons, Moab and Ben-Ammi became
the patriarchs of the Moabite and Ammonite people, who were two of Israel’s most
serious foes. This instance portrayed women as sexual aggressors and made them
look very distasteful and worthy of no respect. Another example of how women
were looked upon as sexual predators was in Judges 16 where Delilah seduced
Samson in order to find out the secret of his great strength. This ultimately
led to Samson’s death. This passage allowed the women to be thought of as
deceitful and knifing and made it look as though all women would be willing to
use themselves to obtain what they wanted. It basically was telling the reader
to be very cautious of females for they were worthy of deceit. In 1 Kings 11 it
once again described women as sexual predators. It talked about how Solomon’s
many foreign wives and concubines convinced him to worship other gods and build
Pagan temples. This led to his downfall. This chapter puts all the blame onto
the woman saying that they are bad influences. Along with being inferior to men
and sexual predators a girl, in the Old Testament, was considered the property
of her father. At marriage, her ownership was transferred to her new husband.

The women were just pieces of property that the man owned. In Exodus 21:4 a
slaveowner was permitted to give a woman to his male slave as a wife. There was
no indication that women were consulted during this type of transaction. In
Exodus 21:7 a father could sell his daughter as a slave. Also, in Exodus 21:7, a
male slave was given his freedom after 6 years; but a female slave remained a
slave forever. Going along with the concept of a woman being a piece of
property, Exodus 22:1-17 deals with restitution in case of stealing or damage to
a person’s property. The final verses deal with the case of a man who seduces a
virgin. This was seen as a property offense against the woman’s father. The
seducer was required to pay money to her father, even if he did not marry the
woman. The money would be in compensation for the damage to the father’s
property – his daughter. Although most of the Old Testament demoralizes women
there are some exceptions. For instance, in Exodus 1:17-21, Hebrew midwives were
able to outsmart the Pharaoh and save the lives of the Jewish baby boys. In
Exodus 2, the birth mother of Moses was able to circumvent the Pharaoh’s order
to kill all of the baby boys, and to save her child. There are other books as
well that depicted women rationally. Joshua 2:1-16 describes how Rahab, a
prostitute, hid two Israelite spies and saved their lives by misdirecting the
soldiers. Although she was a prostitute she still contributed greatly to
Joshua’s army thus showing women in a respectable way. There were other
instances where the women were shown as intelligent and able to contribute
something to society. Some of which include Judges 4 and 5, where Deborah is
described as both a Judge of Israel and as the leader of the army and in 1
Samuel 19:11-13, where David’s first wife, Michal, tricked soldiers and
engineered David’s escape. The Hebrew Scriptures describe many other
Prophetesses, including Miriam, Noadiah, and Isaiah’s wife. Throughout the
Scriptures, Wisdom was visualized as a type of female Goddess who was present at
the creation of the world, and who has intervened in human affairs. This showed
that women were capable of having knowledge and wisdom giving her the respect
she deserved. Aside from these very few exceptions, the position and importance
of women in the Jewish culture was defined in the Old Testament, and in the
interpretation of those scriptures, which then became traditions. Women were
almost completely confined to their father or husband’s home. If they did get to
leave the house than they were required to be doubly veiled. Since women were
considered to be inferior to men they were therefore under the authority of men.

When a women was married she was said to passed from being under her father’s
authority to her husband’s. Many of the laws were heavily biased towards the
men. Some of these laws were the laws of inheritance, betrothal, and divorce.

For example, a girl could not refuse a marriage arrangement that was made by her
father. Women were also not allowed to testify in court trials. “They were
excluded from much of the ritual religious life of the Jewish men, especially
from the studying of the Torah. As a result of not studying the Torah, many
women were not allowed to teach their own children” (Daniels). There were a
few checks and balances that gave women a few rights (such as the right of
maintenance that they received instead of inheritance) (Daniels) but overall
women led restricted and secluded lives, which resulted in women having roles of
little or no authority. This practice of women being the inferior gender is
still around today. Women have not had an equal opportunity from the start. They
have always been portrayed in a bad connotation whether that was inferiority to
men, sexual predators, or being thought of as no more important than an item of

Callaway, M.C. Women in the Old Testament. San Fransisco: Harper, 1999.

Coogan, M.D. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York: Oxford, 1993. Hoffman,
R.J. What the Bible Really Says. San Fransisco: Harper, 1999. Holy Bible.

Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 1973.


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