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Ancient Israel
Israel is the culture that contributed the Bible, perhaps
the most influential book of the last three millennia, to
western civilization.
Ancient Israel, circa Christ’s life
By the thirteenth century
B.C.E the Israelites inhabited
the hill country on both sides
of the Jordan river, either as
settlers or nomads.
–Their history was
dominated by warfare,
perhaps because the land was
poor for agriculture making
the economy frail.
–Even periods of strong
centralized rule were marked
by political coups.
Since 1993
• The society was governed on the basis of religious
law that had been handed down to Moses by God.
• Old Testament Israel had a patriarchal family
– a patrilineal descent
– a patrilocal residence,
which was reinforced and institutionalized by its
Only when Hebrew women married and became
the mothers of children did they gain any authority
over other people.
A “Good” Hebrew Wife
was “industrious, wise, prudent, gracious.”
taught her children,
planted and maintained a vineyard,
enhanced her husband's reputation through
her virtue.
• was regarded as a natural and God-ordained
helpmate to her husband.
Laws Governed Women’s Behavior
In some cases, these laws can seem as harsh as the
Sumerian or Assyrian laws
• Sex, for women, belonged to the marriage bed and even a
girl who had been raped had to become, or be treated as,
the wife of her attacker (Exod. 21:7-11, Duet. 21:10-14).
• A bride found not to be a virgin could be stoned to death
by elders of the town.
• An adulterous wife could expect death as a punishment
(although infidelity by the husband with harlots was
tolerated--but not encouraged--and polygamy gained
acceptance--but not with enthusiasm).
• A woman could never divorce her husband, but a husband
could set his wife aside, although he could not divorce her
without substantial cause.
That men dominated religiously meant that they
dominated socially and politically, as there was no
separation of church and state in Ancient Israel.
• Lesko explains in your readings that this was
probably not a conscious effort by men to attain
and retain superiority, that “Male strength,
vigilance, and domination doubtlessly appeared
necessary for the security of Israel's state
throughout a tumultuous and war-torn history, and
women, as a group, consequently became the
state's least effective members.”
• Lesko concludes her discussion on ancient Israel
by pointing out an irony in regard to ancient Israel
and it philosophies and practices:
“The main object of the state was to secure justice
and to respect the worth of the human spirit, yet
the spirit of its women was strictly kept in check.
The prophets did not challenge the inferior status
of women any more than they railed against the
institution of slavery” (73-74).
A Critical Approach to the Bible
• The texts of the Old Testament include
many literary genres and span almost a
thousand years. Not unusually, they reveal
diversity (and complexity) in attitudes about
• Before we look directly at the text, we need
to establish certain aspects (or ground rules)
necessary for the discussion and study of
these texts as works of literature and as
artifacts of history.
Biblical Scholarship
• A common misunderstanding is the thought that
the Bible is a single, complete, and integral
document, unchanged and unchanging, which
transcends the conditions of life on Earth.
• Although the Bible may be the product of divine
inspiration and although it may be regarded in its
entirety as God's revelation, we will acknowledge
in and for this class that God did not put a single
word of it on paper.
As we delve a bit into the study of the Bible, it
is important to keep an open mind.
• Some people have the idea that anything printed is the
truth, especially in the Bible, the most sacred of books,
at least in Western tradition.
– When applied to the Bible, this is called Biblical inerrancy,
the idea that there are NO errors in the Bible. This idea
forces people to make sense of the senseless.
• In this class we'll view the Bible as a literary and
historical document, and we see the Bible as important
because it is a common heritage of all of us in Western
Theory of Biblical Authorship
• Whether or not one believes that the writers of the
Biblical texts were under divine inspiration, one
can still recognize the complexity of biblical
• While certain pieces seem to be the product of the
person whose name they bear, an in-depth
bibliographic study, or Biblical exegesis, (made
more exact by recent increased access to
archeological and epigraphical materials from the
Near East) will show that the forms they take--the
arrangement and selection of the pieces--seem to
have been the work of others.
The Pentateuch
• The best example of this complexity is the first
division of Hebrew scriptures which contains at
least four different sources.
– (five scrolls, Greek) or
– Torah (teaching; or less properly, the Law)
• The Pentateuch covers the first seven hundred
years--roughly 1950-1250 B.C.E.--of Israel's
• It underwent many changes during history,
"finally" becoming shaped into a "salvation
history" around 5th century B.C.E. to give its
people hope, despite their diminished
The Five Books of the Pentateuch
The oldest surviving manuscript of the complete
Bible is the Codex Leningradensis which dates to
1008 C.E. A Facsimile edition of this great codex is
now available (Leningrad Codex 1998, Eerdmans
for $225).
• Traditionally, it is thought to be the traditional
teaching that God gave to Moses on Mount
Sinai, written by Moses for the following
generations, BUT nowhere in the text itself is
there that claim.
• Biblical and critical scholars have long
questioned the veracity of this "Mosaic"
assertion for some time.
Hobbes, Spinoza, Richard Simon, Jean Astruc,
and others have picked up on "discrepancies" or
"clues," which indicate that Moses did not write it
• Biblical scholars (mostly priests) have grappled
with these issues for centuries.
• There was religious opposition to these studies (as
they questioned tradition) throughout the centuries
until the 20th century when in 1943 Pope Pius XII
appealed for investigation into the truth as a way
to strengthen Christian (and Catholic)
understanding of religion.
Biblical Scholars’ Conclusions
• Because several of the sources are the product of an
oral, collaborative tradition, as the so-called J and E
texts allegedly are, the complexity is increased.
• This is made more complex because apparently
redactors, people who made up finished versions of
the texts out of "original" pieces (perhaps different
alternate versions, partial versions, or a nearly
complete version), were involved.
– Redactors may select, arrange, add links, insert explanations,
or create their own narrative or framework in displaying the
– To make things even more complex, one redactor's finished
version can become another redactor's base or partial text.
The Documentary Theory
• The Documentary theory holds that a long
process of creating, revising, deleting,
editing, creating, etc. by a great number of
people at various historical times produced
the Bible.
• This is thought to help explain the
contradictions--to increase understanding
and validate the text--for believers and
• A biblical scholar and former nun, Karen
Armstrong, admits that "We cannot treat the
Bible as a holy encyclopedia where we can
look up information about the divine,
because we are likely to find contradictory
data in the very next chapter."
• Her theory is that by “presenting readers
with more than one story, the editors were
demonstrating that no one human account
can ever comprise the whole of divine
The Various Sources of "Old"
Testament Biblical Writings
• Explanation: there are (at least) four sources of the
material in the torah:
Anthropomorphic presentation of the deity
Dramatic narratives
Uses Yahweh as the name of God
10th Century B.C.E.
Uses Elohim as the name of God
9th-8th Centuries B.C.E.
Found only in the book of Deuteronomy
622 B.C.E.
Overriding interest in ritual legislation
538-400 B.C.E.
Many different times over the history of the Bible
The Creation Stories
and their Contradictions
When one reads the first chapters in
Genesis, one finds two contradictory tales
about creation, tales which explain what
God created and in what order.
The order of creation of men and women
has been used historically to justify
women’s lower status in society.
• The first (Genesis 1-2:4) employs verbal
repetition and is precisely and regularly
organized (poetic).
• The second story is no less skillful, but it is
more down-to-earth. It uses vivid imagery to
appeal to the mind's eye.
Order of Creation, According to Genesis 1-2:4
Man and Woman
Raphael’s God Separates Light from Darkness, 1517
Order of Creation, According to Genesis 2:5+
Detail of the Creation of Adam from Michelangelo's The
Sistine Chapel ceiling, 1509-1512
Consider How these Differences Would
Change One’s Interpretation of the Stories
• In Genesis 1:27-28 in modern translations
male pronouns are used, but in the ancient
Hebrew language no pronouns are
associated with the verbs. “He” created
refers to god, but “He” reflects the
translators’ views of the world and religion.
• The meaning of the passage: simultaneous
creation of men and women.
• In Genesis 2:7 the “man” in the text
comes from the Hebrew adamah
meaning from the earth; no
masculine or feminine status is
contained in the word. When
translating these texts into Greek
and Latin, however; the translators
made masculine choices.
• The fact remains however that the
original writers apparently did not
intend a gender association there.
Man = earth creature, no gender
association is involved.
Lucas Cranach, the Elder’s
Adam and Eve, 1533
• In Genesis 2:23, our version tells us that woman
is second; however, the word still means “earth
creations.” The woman in Hebrew is ishshah,
while man is ish. This is the first time gender is
associated with the creations. Inherently there is
no unequal status as yet.
– In fact, Phyllis Trible, a noted feminist biblical
scholar, tells us, first, that this was a pun; the writers
were having fun with the words.
– Trible also points out that meaning was created in
cyclical constructions in ancient Hebrew. The most
important points were often given first and last.
• Metaphor of God as Father
– Old Testament 37 books, 10 times
– New Testament Mark (70 C.E., 1 time)
John (100-110 C.E., 73 times)
• With this knowledge of the language, many
of the traditional interpretations about Eve’s
(and thus women’s) status as a subordinate
to Adam have to be re-examined, as do the
assumptions about the nature of God, Himor Her-self.