We must recognize that the basic lines of the spiritual Judeo-Christian tradition are predominantly expressed in patriarchal language. The God of the First Testament (AT) is seen as the God of the Fathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and not as the God of Sarah, Rebekah and Miriam. In the Second Testament (NT), God is Father of only one Son, that was incarnated in the virgin Mary, in whom the Holy Spirit established a definitive dwelling, something to which theology never gave special attention, because it implies the assumption of Mary by the Holy Spirit and for that reason, she is placed besides the Divine. This is why Mary is professed as the Mother of God.
The Church that descended from the inheritance of Jesus is exclusively directed by men, who hold all the means of symbolic production. For centuries the woman has been considered a non-juridical person, and even now she is systematically excluded from all religious decision making power. A woman can be the mother of a priest, of a bishop and even of a Pope, but she will never hold priestly duties. The man, in the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, was made divine, while the woman is maintained, according to common theology, as a simple creature, even though in the case of Maria, she is the Mother of God.
In spite of all this masculine and patriarchal emphasis, there is a truly revolutionary text in the book of Genesis, that affirms the equality of the sexes and of their divine origin. It is found in the priestly text (Priestercodex, written around the VI-V century, B.C.). In that text the author forcefully affirms: “God created humanity (Adam, in Hebrew, means the sons and daughters of the Earth, derived from adamah: fertile Earth) in His image and likeness; man and woman He created them” (Gn 1,27).
As can be seen, the fundamental equality of the sexes is affirmed here. Both find their origin in God Himself. God can only be known through the woman and through the man. Any reduction of this equilibrium distorts our access to God and alters the fundamental nature of our knowledge of the human being, man and woman.
In the Second Testament (NT) we find in Saint Paul the formulation of the equal dignity of the sexes: “there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gl 3,28). In another place he clearly says: “in Christ neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, for as the woman derives from the man, so does the man also derive from the woman; and all things come from God” (1Cor 11,12).
In addition, the woman actively appears in the founding texts. It could have not been otherwise: because the feminine is structural, it always emerges in one form or another. Thus, in the history of Israel, there have been politically active women, such as Miriam, Esther, Judith, Deborah, and anti-heroines, such as Delilah and Jezebel. Ana, Sarah and Ruth will always be remembered and honored by the people. In The Song of Songs, the romance surrounding the love between the man and the woman, is unmatched in its highly erotic language.
Beginning with the third century B.C., Judaic theology developed a reflection about the graciousness of creation and the election of the people in the feminine figure of the divine Sophia (Wisdom; cf. all the book of Wisdom and the first ten chapters of the book Proverbs). Well known feminist theologian E.S. Fiorenza said it well: “divine Sophia is the God of Israel with the figure of a goddess”. E.S. Fiorenza, The Christian origins beginning with the woman, (Los orígenes cristianos a partir de la mujer, San Paulo 1992, p. 167).
But what penetrated humanity’s collective imagination in a devastating manner was the anti-feminist story of the creation, with Eve (Gn 2, 21-25) and the original fall from grace (Gn 3,1-19). The text is actually late (around 1000 or 900 B.C.). According to this story, woman was created from the rib of Adam who, seeing her, exclaimed: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman (ishá) because she was taken out of man (ish); Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gn 2,23-25). The original meaning sought to show the unity man/woman (ish-ishá) and to set the basis for monogamy. However, this understanding, that in itself should avoid discrimination against women, ended up reinforcing it. Adam’s precedence and the formation from his rib was interpreted as the masculine superiority.
The story of the fall is even more forcefully anti-feminist: “And when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good to eat, she took the fruit thereof, and did eat it, and also gave it unto her husband with her; and he did eat it. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they realized that they were naked” (Gn 3,6-7). Etymologically, this story places evil on the shoulders of humanity and not on God, but it articulates the idea in a way that reveals the anti-feminism of the culture of that time. Deep down, it sees woman as the weaker sex, that’s why she fell, and seduced the man. This is the reason for her historical submission, now theologically (ideologically) justified: “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gn 3,16). In the patriarchal culture, Eve becomes the great seducer, the source of evil. In the next article we will see how this machista narrative twisted a previous feminist one, in order to enforce male supremacy.
Jesus inaugurated another type of relationship with the woman, which we will also see soon.
Leonardo Boff Eco-Theologian-Philosopher, Earthcharter CommissionFree translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.