[Updated: Feb 2004, added a comment on Jephthah.]
In this period, we have THREE sources of primary data: the historical data in the narratives before the institution of the Kingship in I Samuel 8, the legal data from the Law of Moses, and the literary data of the biblical text itself. In this section, we will focus on the LITERARY data. One: The Literary Data from the Pre-monarchy period.
In this section, I want to examine how the literary 'use' of women in the text reveals aspects of the authors' worldview on women. To do so, I will consider:
The use of quotes from women
The portrayal of women participants/heroes
The portrayal of women's theology
Some aspects of "women over-against men" narrative encounters/contrasts.
Unfavorable passages and abusives
The use of quotes from women.
There is a very large amount of quoted material from women preserved in the narratives. They include prayers, naming, singing, dialogue, vows, and arguments. We will only look at some representative ones.
Gen 3.2: The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, `You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"
Observations: Although we will look at this entire passage later, it is worthy to note that the 2nd quote recorded from a human was from Eve (the first being a quotation from Adam ABOUT Eve!).
Gen 4.1-2: Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." Notice, the theology of this is very on target.
Gen 4.25: Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, "God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him."
The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered. 9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." 10 The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." 11 The angel of the LORD also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. 12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers." 13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
Observations: The entire dialogue is preserved--not just the outcome. Hagar's theology is good, and she somehow avoids the normal response of 'I have seen His face, therefore I will die' that is often done by the Israelites--e.g. Ex 20.19; Dt 18.16;Gen 32.30; Ex 33.20--but 33.11--(she, of course, is Egyptian). Notice also that she 'names' the LORD.
Gen 21.6-7: Sarah said, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me." 7 And she added, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."
Observations: What is interesting about these two quotes is that they carry NO significance to the story line! The fulfillment of the promise was documented in vs 1-5. Verse 8 resumes with the weaning step. These two verses SEEM only to document the joyous response of Sarah to God's grace. Notice also that we have NO verbal response of thanks or celebration from Abe(!)--Sarah is the responsive one to her Lord's loyal love. It documents how personal the promises were, and how special the fulfillments.
Gen 25.22: The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."
Observations: This interaction between the Lord and a woman was also preserved as a dialogue (as in the case of Hagar, and as in the case of men--e.g. Abe in Gen 15). Both parties were quoted.
Gen 27--the 'trickery of Rebekah' has extended quotes from Rebekah (we will examine this passage more under the 'theology' section).
Gen 29-30: Rachel and Leah are quoted frequently as they name their children.
Ex 15.20-21: Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. 21 Miriam sang to them: "Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea."
Observations: This is a veritable celebration parade, led by Miriam (cf. I Sam 18.6; 2 Sam 1.20). Miriam sings the opening lines of the Victory Hymn (Ex 15:1), as she leads the women in a musical and dancing parade. The comment that she is a prophetess (often associated with musical composition--I Chr 25.3; Judg 5.1; I Sam 10.5), and the general anonymity of the Victory Hymn naturally suggests that she authored the Hymn (or at least the opening lines of it). This hymn was first sung to (and then probably by,) the women, and then picked up by Moses and the rest of the Israelites (the sequence is not clear in the text).
Judges 5.1-31. This is called the Song of Deborah. Although Barak also sang it with her, it is clear that Deborah was the author (e.g. "until I, Deborah, arose a mother in Israel"--vs. 7). Apart from the Song of Moses (authored by YHWH and given to Moses to write down, in Deut 31), this is the longest song in our period.
On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:
2 "When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves -- praise the LORD!
3 "Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I will sing to the LORD, I will sing; I will make music to the LORD, the God of Israel.
4 "O LORD, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water.
5 The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai, before the LORD, the God of Israel.
6 "In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths.
7 Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.
8 When they chose new gods, war came to the city gates, and not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.
9 My heart is with Israel's princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the LORD!
10 "You who ride on white donkeys, sitting on your saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider
11 the voice of the singers at the watering places. They recite the righteous acts of the LORD, the righteous acts of his warriors in Israel.
"Then the people of the LORD went down to the city gates.
12 `Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song!
Arise, O Barak! Take captive your captives, O son of Abinoam.'
13 "Then the men who were left came down to the nobles;
the people of the LORD came to me with the mighty.
14 Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek; Benjamin was with the people who followed you.
From Makir captains came down, from Zebulun those who bear a commander's staff.
15 The princes of Issachar were with Deborah; yes, Issachar was with Barak, rushing after him into the valley. In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart.
16 Why did you stay among the campfires to hear the whistling for the flocks? In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart.
17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan. And Dan, why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves.
18 The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;
so did Naphtali on the heights of the field.
19 "Kings came, they fought; the kings of Canaan fought at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo, but they carried off no silver, no plunder.
20 From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong!
22 Then thundered the horses' hoofs -- galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.
23 `Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the LORD. `Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the LORD, to help the LORD against the mighty.'
24 "Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
25 He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
26 Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman's hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell -- dead.
28 "Through the window peered Sisera's mother; behind the lattice she cried out, `Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?'
29 The wisest of her ladies answer her; indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
30 `Are they not finding and dividing the spoils: a girl or two for each man, colorful garments as plunder for Sisera, colorful garments embroidered, highly embroidered garments for my neck --
all this as plunder?'
31 "So may all your enemies perish, O LORD!
But may they who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength."
There are 4 songs recorded in our period (in descending length order):
Song of YHWH--43 verses--Dt 31.1-43.
Song of Deborah--31 verses--Judges 5.1-31.
Victory Hymn (probably authored by Miriam)--18 verses--Ex 15.1-18.
The Well-Song of Israel (unknown authorship)--2 verses--Num 21.17-18.
This means that the ONLY song with certain authorship was written by a woman and preserved in the text. This means that the LONGEST song written by a human was written by a woman and preserved in the text. If Miriam wrote the Victory Hymn (high probability), then ALL the significant songs in the period were authored by women, and preserved in the text.
I Sam 2: 1-11:
Then Hannah prayed and said:
"My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.
2 "There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.
3 "Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.
4 "The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
but she who has had many sons pines away.
6 "The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.
7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.
8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.
"For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's; upon them he has set the world.
9 He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.
"It is not by strength that one prevails; 10 those who oppose the LORD will be shattered.
He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth.
"He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed."
Observations: This beautiful (and theologically erudite) prayer, oddly enough, also manifests the occurrence-features of the songs--it is the longest quoted prayer in the period, by far.
Although many prayers are mentioned, only the following ones are recorded as quotes:
Hannah's--11 verses--I Sam 2.1-11
Moses--5 verses--Num 11.11-15
Jacob--4 verses--Gen 32.9-12
Moses--4 verses--Dt 9.26-29
Abraham's steward--3 verses--Gen 24.12-14
Moses--2 verses--Num 10.35-36
Moses--single verse prayers in Ex 17.4; Num 12.13; Num 16.22
Manoah--single verse prayer in Jud 13.8
Samson--single verse prayers in Jud 16.28 and 15.18
The nation Israel--single verse prayers in Judg 10.10; 21.3
(This is not counting full dialogues between humans and God--Gen 18.20-33; Ex 33.12-21; Num 14.11-19; Gen 16.7ff)
Notice that the longest prayer recorded is authored by a women in response to God.
The portrayal of women participants/heroes
Here we want to notice the 'placement' and/or contribution to the story-line made by prominent female characters in the narrative.
The appearances of the Angel of YHWH.
In our period, there are eight individuals given eleven RECORDED/DESCRIBED "private" appearances/interactions of the Angel of YHWH [as opposed to visions--Gen 31.11--and public appearances--the Shekinah Glory (Ex 14.19) and the Bokim Admonition (Jud 2.1)). Jacob's wrestling with God is also understood this way, although the text does not make that literary point.]:
Hagar (twice: Gen 16,21)
Abe (twice: Gen 18, 22)
Moses (Ex 3.2)
Baalam (Num 22)
Deborah (Judges 5.23)
Gideon (once: Judges 6)
Manoah's wife (twice: Jud 13.3,9)
Manoah (Jud 13.11ff)
Of the eight individuals, three are females (Hagar, Deborah, Manoah's wife)--[37.5%]. Of the eleven appearances, 5 are to these females [45+%]
For a society which allegedly allowed no direct access to God by females [Lerner: "This new order [the Mosaic priesthood] under the all-powerful God proclaimed to Hebrews and to all those who took the Bible as their moral and religious guide that women cannot speak to God" (WS:TCP:179)], these percentages are surprisingly higher than zero! [;>)]
The roles women played in the historical flow.
This amounts to critical junctures in the flow of history that MIGHT HAVE been radically different without the independent action on the part of women. (These contributions are in ADDITION TO the essential, but more traditional, roles of giving birth, mothering, and family continuance.)
Rebekah's decision to marry Isaac, and leave her country.
Rebekah's inquiry of the Lord, and the revelation that the blessing had to be on Jacob.
Rebekah's trickery of Isaac, so that the birthright went to YHWH's choice.
Leah and Rachel's decision to support Jacob in his fleeing Laban (Gen 31)
Tamar deceives Judah into fulfilling his Levirite obligation (Gen 38) and gives birth to Perez, an ancestor of Boaz->David->Jesus (Ruth 4.12, 18-20; Matt 1.5)!
The Hebrew midwives virtually kept Israel alive (Ex 1-2).
His mom saved Moses' life (Ex 1-2)
Zipporah saved Moses' life (Ex 4.24ff)
God Himself considered Miriam a major leader in the Exodus/Wanderings (Micah 6.4: 4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. )
The daughters of Zelophehad established a female-inheritance law in Israel, by speaking up. (Num 27 et. al.)
The Judge Deborah and the woman Jael were instrumental in virtually saving the nation of Israel. The descriptions of Israel's situation in her song was one of breakdown of most community structures (village life, travel, transportation routes, weaponry). Had Sisera escaped, and built up his army, the continued attacks on Israel would have been disastrous at that point of vulnerability. (In the text, the Deborah Cycle gets approximately the same 'coverage' as the other judges, with the exception of Samson.)
God uses the unnamed Patriot Woman of Thebez (Judges 9.50-57) to save a major city in Israel from Abimelech, the "anti-judge", and to fulfill a prophetic curse.
Hannah's relationship with the LORD, and vow, gave the powerful figure Samuel to the nation.
Even a cursory consideration of what the consequences for biblical history would have been without the action of these women, leaves one impressed. Although these events do not have the huge massive "body counts" of migrations and battles, their "rudder-like" character was of critical importance to the achievement of God's aims.
The portrayal of women's theology/spiritual life.
If we look at the words and actions of the female characters in our period, we can see the theology they held. From the names of children, to the depiction in songs, to the arguments in prayers--women manifested a true knowledge of the Living and Loving Lord. He had revealed Himself to His daughters.
Let's look at this by noting aspects of theology reflected in the prayers of Hannah (a Hebrew commoner), the Song of Deborah (an Israelite mother, judge, prophet), Miriam (a Hebrew prophetess and leader), one comment from Manoah's wife (a Hebrew commoner), Rebekah's actions (Aramean), Zipporah (a foreign wife of Moses), Eve, Hagar (an Egyptian), Sarah (a Sumerian), Rachel and Leah (Arameans)--quite a cross-section.
Eve has a balanced view of sovereignty and responsibility in Gen 4.1-2 ("with the help of the Lord, I have brought forth a man")
Hagar knows that God can 'see' her, that He can appear visibly to His creatures, and that the Angel of the Lord IS GOD. (Gen 16.7f)
Sarah knows that God likes laughter, pleasant surprises, and rejoicing (Gen 21.6-7)
Rebekah knows to 'inquire' of God about issues--and is not afraid to/constrained from it (Gen 25)
In the 'trickery of Rebekah', she is aware that 'curses' are somehow 'movable' or 'transferable'--cf. the sacrificial system--Prov 26.2; Gal 3.13; Mt 27.25. She also risks being cursed, to do whatever it took to make sure God's choice for the birthright got that birthright.
Rachel and Leah understand that: (1)The Lord sees and is responsive to misery; (2) the Lord "hears" and tries to make up for people being 'unloved'; (3) the Lord is to be praised; (4) God is interested in vindicating people.
Miriam knows that: (1) the Lord likes to be sung to!; (2) The Lord is highly exalted; (3) the Lord is strength and rejoicing; (4) the Lord IS deliverance; (5) God is a warrior--active in Israel's history; (6) God is ultimately responsible for some 'natural' acts that occur with providential timings; (7) God is majestic; (8) God keeps his anger 'leashed' most of the time; (9) God controls natural forces; (10) God is unique in the universe; (11) He is majestic, holy, glorious, awesome, and ACTIVE; (12) He has unfailing love for His redeemed people; (13) He redeems people; (14) God guides His people; (15) He can cause the nations to pause/halt/fail in their opposition to Israel, long enough to see His purposes through to the end; (16) He has desired to dwell with His people in community, closeness, and fellowship; (17) the Lord is eternally sovereign.
Deborah knows that: (1) It is important for the people of God to be WILLING!; (2) the LORD is awesome, and greater than ANY 'earth-nature' Gods; (3) Israel's rejection of the true God for 'new' ones, brings the curses of the Law--esp. war--into their lives; (4) God's righteous acts are done through righteous warriors; (5) Israelites who refused to help their fellow Hebrews were under judgment; (6) those that assist the people of God in achieving God's directive will are 'blessed' by God; (7) loving God is important, and a key element in being strong for God's purposes.
Zipporah knew how important covenant fidelity was to YHWH (Ex 4.24f), and that God was no 'respecter of persons'.
Manoah's wife knew (unlike her husband) that God is not a fool! (cf. Judg 13.21: Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD. 22 "We are doomed to die!" he said to his wife. "We have seen God!" 23 But his wife answered, "If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this." )
Hannah had a very deep spiritual life, and had special insights into God's relationship with people: (1) He is a source of rejoicing; (2) His deliverance is DELIGHTFUL; (3) He is unique in holiness; (4) He is unique in existence;(5) He is unique in His ability to support His people; (6) God knows the arrogance of men's words; (7) God weighs attitudes carefully; (8) God reverses the fortunes of the poor and the mighty; (9) God kills and He makes alive; (10) poverty and wealth can be dispensed by the Lord at will; (11) He likes to raise the poor to honor; (12) God has placed the world upon its foundations; (13) He can guard His people; (14) personal strength is not the answer to all problems; (15) God is in heaven; (16) He will judge ALL the earth; (17) He will empower His servants as needed.
This list of theological statements is very rich--both in its Theology Proper and in its view of Providence. Advanced themes are present even this early in Israel's history: individual redemption, community redemption, prayer, future & universal judgment, 'reversal of fortune', God's compassion, His uniqueness.
These selected statements and actions by the women of the day reveal a robust and on-target theological understanding, by a very wide cross-section of women.
(This is not to say, of course, that ALL images of their theology is flawless. The idol of Micah's mom and Rachel and the stolen 'household gods' may be illustrative of borderline belief systems.)
Some aspects of "women over-against men" narrative encounters/contrasts.
Here we want to look at how women are placed in the narrative vis-ý-vis male participants. Do they come off looking like shrews, mice, rats, sages, nobles, or what?
As we look at the more extended interactions in both the events and in dialogues, some interesting patterns emerge.
In the Fall, Eve is 'deceived by the cunning of the Serpent'--but the man sins DELIBERATELY.
In the pre-fall escalations of sin, it is the men in power ("sons of god") who victimize the women ("daughters of men").
As we have seen above, Sarah's interaction with Abraham has been called 'uppity' and 'sage-like.' She is specifically given the same promise set as he, and Abe was ordered by God to do 'whatever' she told him!
In Isaac's interaction with Rebekah, Rebekah consistently comes off as the more spiritual. From the 'inquiring of the Lord' to the 'trickery of Rebekah', she is portrayed as a fervent, committed, and sagely agent. She is also seen as triumphing over Isaac in that event--and accomplishing the will of YHWH.
Rachel is truly seen as special to Jacob, as is evident from his 14 years of labor for her hand in marriage!
Leah and Rachel are seen as counselors and important players in Jacob's decision to flee from Laban (Gen 31).
We have seen earlier that the Matriarchs play the role of sage in these narratives. ("Having no direct authority of their own, they--on their own initiative--have the power to effect results through their knowledge and their willingness to act upon their knowledge, either through petition and argument or, failing that, through independent actions. In the Pentateuch, such a role is usually filled by women, notably by Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel." [SAIANE:276])
Zipporah is seen as saving the life of a disobedient Moses!
Miriam is seen as a co-leader of Israel (Mic 6.4), although she participates with Aaron in resisting God's honoring of Moses (Num 12).
Deborah obviously is the superior in her encounter with 'prince' Barak, chiding him for his weakness. She also rebukes publicly and in perpetual-song the failure of several groups within Israel from being brave enough to help in the fight!
Jael is seen as the loyal and righteous one, over against her husband Heber.
The daughters of Zelophehad are obviously seen as peer-agents in the legal system.
In the interchange between Manoah and his wife, his wife obviously is portrayed as the brighter and more logical of the two.
In the book of Ruth, the actions of Ruth are cast in a very superior light-- the women of the community recognize that "For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons..." (Ruth 4.15).
The deep spirituality and commitment of Hannah is drawn in sharp contrast to the weakness of Eli the High Priest, and the turpitude of his evil sons!
When I first looked at this data, it literally forced me to wonder if the final redactor of this material (say post-exilic?) might not have been a woman! The characterizations that we will see in the extra-biblical post-exilic literature will sometimes manifest this kind of "women better than men" attitudes. While I think my reaction is probably over-done, it remains nonetheless impressive to me that women are portrayed by these authors as VERY theologically adept, VERY resourceful, VERY successful in effecting outcomes, generally assertive in their communications/interactions with males, and generally VERY responsive and WONDERFULLY delighted in God and His dealings with them.
I honestly wonder if God didn't 'influence' (smile) the writers of these books to brag a little on His delightful daughters...:>)
Unfavorable passages and abusives
There are, of course, passages which depict the "other side" of women (being human and all!), and passages in which women are abused/mistreated/victimized. What I want to do here is to consider these passages (briefly) in relation to the issue of their literary import.
I want to see if these passages are used to build any NORMATIVE or REGULATIVE view of women in the period under discussion, or if they count against this generally high valuation of women by the text. Are their sins held up as unique? Are instances of mistreatment held up as 'okay'?
Eve's sin and curse (Gen 3), is of course balanced out by Adam's sin and curse--no differential here. Just as we have seen, male and female incur equal judgments. [The issue of "rulership" we will get to at the end of the OT summary.]
The 'sons of god' in Gen 6.1-2: As I understand this passage, this is exploitation of women (and the people who care for them) by males in political authority. This behavior is NOT condoned, because God judged the world with a Flood because of this violence! (Gen 6.5-7)
Lot's treatment of his daughters (Gen 19): Lot's apparently heartless offer to the men of Sodom of his daughters for abuse(!) was OVERRIDDEN by the Angels. His solution was NOT acceptable to God at all, and the Angels protected them by supernatural action! For the purposes of our study here, this is enough to demonstrate the non-normative/unacceptable character of this act before God.
[However, I want to probe the passage slightly farther, for it has always bothered/puzzled me. Lot is mentioned in the NT as a righteous man, tormented psychologically by the behavior of the people in the city of his dwelling--2 Peter 2.7. This situation obviously produced quite a fragmented spirituality in Lot, since the characteristics that he manifests in the Genesis narratives are FAR from complimentary--he picks his land choice selfishly and foolishly, lives in constant compromise with the inhabitants of Sodom, hesitates in leaving the city, changes his mind about living in Zoar and flees in fear to a cave, gets drunk repeatedly, etc. It may be the case (as most commentators believe) that Lot's offer of his virgin daughters to the men of Sodom was a similar huge character flaw or failure of nerve. Some, however, attempt to explain (not excuse) the severity of this by arguing about how important protection of one's guest was in the culture of the day. Hospitality was of course the norm, but I can personally find no references to such strong imperatives (as would prompt such an action of offering one's virgin daughters) in the Law Codes of the times. (This is not altogether surprising, since Law Codes were produced in larger population centers, which generally had inns. The codes have many passages dealing with innkeepers, for example. See LCMAM for details.) There seems to be something else going on in the text. Notice: (1) Lot emphasizes that his daughters are virgins; (2) his daughters are pledged to be married; (3) the future sons-in-law seem to be in the crowd(!); (4) he uses a moral word for 'wickedness' and an ambiguous word for 'good'; (5) he is well known to the city (he sits in the Gate); (6) they accuse him of trying to 'judge' them. One possible understanding of Lot's action here could be this: Lot was reminding the men of how bad their planned action was, by offering them a theoretical alternative--which WAS contained in virtually all Law Codes of the day--the violation of a virgin pledged to be married was a VERY EXPENSIVE CRIME, monetarily. (In Israel, it would be punishable by death or forced marriage.) By confronting them with this alternative, perhaps he was trying to divert their attention onto the 'evil' of the other alternative (by comparing it with the evil of abusing the daughters). Also, it is distinctly possible that the appeal to the crowd about the daughters was designed to provoke some response from the future sons-in-law, which from all indications in the text, WERE IN THAT CROWD! Perhaps he had a hope to divide the crowd and so escape the situation. In any event, it is sufficient for our purposes to note that his action was precluded by the Angels, in an act of judgment on the crowd.]
The in-fighting of wives (Sarah/Hagar, Rachel/Leah, Hannah/Peninnah): This doesn't seem to be such a big deal either, since you have MUCH WORSE in-fighting among the sons of Israel--they even sell one of the brothers into slavery!!!
Rachel stealing the household gods of Laban: This is a strange event, but not one out-of-context in the ANE. Household gods were sometimes used as proof of inheritance or lineage. In the case of the verdict by Rachel and Leah in Gen 31:14-16, perhaps this was Rachel's attempt to maintain some backward continuity, in case she became disenfranchised from Jacob (through the actions of Leah?). In any rate, the incident is no worse than the idols kept by Achan, which caused the death of Hebrew soldiers and the loss of the 2nd battle in Canaan (Josh 7).
The rape of Dinah (Gen 34): This abusive situation proves how strongly the Israelites (as opposed to Lot) felt about violation of a daughter. Dinah is raped by a local dignitary, who proceeds to attempt to create a relationship with Israel. Dinah's brothers learn of the rape and respond VERY violently. When confronted about the intensity of the response by their father Jacob, they reply: "Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?" (34.30). Regardless of the commercial advantages of trade with Shechem, violation of Dinah was heinous in the culture/family of Israel.
Potiphar's wife: This story seems to be included simply to explain how Joseph ended up in jail, thereby meeting Pharaoh's baker/cupbearer. She doesn't seem to be paralleled anywhere else in the period, so I don't make much of it. I don't expect EVERY woman to be perfect, just as I don't expect EVERY man to be even close to perfect!
Miriam's rebellion (Num 12): Strictly speaking, it is Miriam AND Aaron's rebellion. Aaron is condemned verbally by the LORD also, but because of the duties of High Priest, he cannot be given the skin-disease 'object lesson' like Miriam is. Besides, NONE of the "BIG THREE" escaped censure by God--Aaron was rebuked at least three times (the Golden Calf--Exodus 32; this one with Miriam; and one with Moses--Num 20), and Moses was nearly killed by the Lord in Ex 4.24 and was excluded from the Promised Land for his actions in the Num 20 incident. I fancy Moses would have GLADLY traded the mild 'week of skin disease' of Miriam, for his 'prevented from entering the promised land'! So, Miriam comes out at least on a peer level with the other leadership of Israel.
Jephthah's daughter (Judg 11):
And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering." .......... 34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break." 36 "My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request," she said. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry." 38 "You may go," he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite custom 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
Most commentators believe that Jephthah literally killed and burned his daughter on an altar somewhere, and that this human sacrifice was condoned by God (since it was a vow thing). It seems to me that this is probably NOT the case--there are just too many incongruities in the text/context for that. Consider:
Literal "burnt offerings" HAD TO BE male (Lev 22.18-19). Jephthah's daughter obviously wasn't.
What did Jeff THINK would come out of a house? Not animals! He must have known that only a human would have come out.
Human sacrifice was STRICTLY forbidden (Dt 12.31) and we have NO record of it being practiced (even in horrible Judges-period Israel) by mainstream Israel during this period.
The lament for the daughter is about 'not marrying' NOT about 'not living'--it makes me wonder if some kind of religious celibacy is not in view. (Maybe the women at the Entrance to the Tent were celibate--Ex 38.8--living as widows in Israel later did on Temple payrolls.)
Verse 39 calls his action a 'vow'. Lev 27.28 (coupled with 27.21) allowed people to be given over the Lord, who became servants of the Priests. As devoted to the Lord's service, some of them probably did NOT marry (cf. the Nazarite vow, in its restriction on becoming 'unclean' for family members (Num 6.7) omits the words 'husband' or 'wife'...perhaps it was sometimes involving celibacy. The only Nazarites we know, though, were married--Samuel and Samson)
As the only child, and if given to the priest in this fashion, Jephthah's entire estate would go to someone else.
We have the VERY parallel case of Hannah and Samuel. She takes a vow, and offers her son to the Lord for all his life. (I Sam 1-2), and such vows did NOT allow the person to be redeemed with money (Lev 27.28-29).
Burnt offerings were ALWAYS associated with condemnation/evil--not thanksgiving and vows. Even the one non-literal use of it in Dt 13.16 (in which a town is offered as a burnt offering) involves abject judgment/condemnation--NOT at all in view in the Jephthah passage.
He would have had to offer her at some cultic site, which would have had a priest. I cannot imagine a priest (even those as lax as elsewhere in the book of Judges) that would have agreed to perform a human sacrifice!
What I have to conclude from this passage is that Jephthah is using 'burnt offering' in a general 'offering' sense, and that he is meaning an 'irredeemable vow' as a thank-offering, along the line of Hannah/Samuel. This is the only way to make sense of all the particulars. (Interestingly, Jephthat is surprisingly literate—his knowledge of biblical history, evidenced in the letter to his adversary, shows that he knows the mosaic history—he WOULD have known how bad a literal human sacrifice would have been.)
A recent book by Pamela Reis [OT:RTL] adds some interesting insights to this event:
Jeff's vow would have been taken in the town he lived in, and would have been publicly known to all—including his daughter
The daughter has all the appearances of a 'spoiled' child, flaunter her power over her dad;
The daughter has all the appearances of a “paganite” in the passage!
Giving the daughter over to God (as I suggested above) might have forced her to remain unmarried (since she could have done no housewifely work as dedicated to the Lord). This would have forced her (in her understanding) to remain in her father's house (instead of at the tabernacle, as I postulated above).
Jephthah's vow is accordingly 'not rash'--he probably expected a male servant to come out deliberately—as an advancement to the cultic life.
The net effect of her understanding is the same: there was no human sacrifice, nor any devaluation of women in the passage.
The Levite and his concubine (Jud 19f). This is one of the most abnormal passages in scripture. It is so filled with aberrations of ethics and law, and is specifically INTENDED to show how EVIL Israel had become during the period of the Judges! But even in this weird story, one can still see glimmers of a 'better' ethic from the Law. Consider first some of the 'weirdness' of this passage:
An unnamed Levite marries a concubine OUTSIDE his tribe (19.1).
This priest is polygamous!
She is unfaithful (but is not killed).
The Levite over-parties with the father.
There was no hospitality in the square in Gibeah.
The scenario of Sodom repeats--some 'wicked men' surround the house and demand to be allowed to sexually abuse one of the two male guests.
The "old man" (the house-owner) offers them his virgin daughter (age unspecified, but presumably older) and the man's concubine for their "entertainment".
The wicked men refuse, but the Old Man pushes the concubine out (not his daughter!)
They rape and kill her.
The Levite callously, without ANY sign of affection or grief, hauls her home, cuts her up into pieces (becoming unclean in the process), and mails her to all Israel.
When all Israel gathers in outrage (they apparently took issue with the rape, but not the offering by the OLD MAN?!), the Levite tells a 'white-washed' version of the story. This version omits the pushing of the concubine out the door, and the attempted 'exchange' of the victims for females.
The Levite rightly condemns the wicked men of Gibeah, but accepts NO blame for himself or the Old Man.
The tribes of Israel are outraged at this rape (showing that the female--even a concubine-- was still valued highly by the majority).
The tribe of Benjamin will NOT turn over the wicked men--they obviously don't have the same sense of ethics as does the majority.
Now, there are a few important points from this of relevance to my thesis here:
The violation of the concubine was NOT approved by Israel, EVEN UNDER the assumption of the potential murder of the priest (20.4-11). Indeed, it was called 'vileness'.
The obvious linkage of this story to that of Sodom is to HIGHLIGHT the exceptional character of this incident--it is NOT NORMAL for Israel.
This horrible event was remembered for centuries as being a "low water mark" for Israel. (cf. Hosea 9.9: They have sunk deep into corruption, as in the days of Gibeah.)
The questionable ethical character of the Old Man, and of the Levite, certainly doesn't suggest the thought that they are representative of all Israel in this matter.
I have to conclude that the outrage of Israel actually supports a 'higher view' of female value, than the 'lower view' seemingly exemplified by the Old Man.
The time from the creation of the world to the establishment of the monarchy in Israel was a time of rapid change and of the swirling of many cultural contexts together. The gravitational force of the Abrahamic/Sarahic Covenant, the creation of a nation via the Exodus, and the roller-coaster experience of Israel in the Land form the major foci around which events are held in place.
In this dance of history, women appear as full participants--often singing, often praying, often arguing, often 'saving the day'. Their hearts seem so responsive to God, and the recorders of that history recognize the experiencing of the Wondrous God of Israel in their words. The writers of these books see that often it is the female who exemplifies what covenant loyalty is all about, what 'loving God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength' is all about, what the exaltation of the humble is all about.
The women that grace and animate many of these pages are clever and effective, and make their contributions at critical junctures in the history of God's unfolding purposes in history. They are victimized sometimes, and taken for granted often, but they know their God and 'delight in His deliverance'........................