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Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "The Woman's Bible": Genesis

In 1895, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, then 80 years old, published the first part of a project she and the other women working on it called The Woman's Bible. One of its main purposes was to argue against the idea that women should be subservient to men, and to trample upon the notion that it was God's will they be so.

This book is startling, shocking, and astonishing. It reads like an essay by 1960s radical feminists (except when Stanton uses words like "tergiversation"). It seems that when they can, they use the Julia Smith translation, which I'd never heard of, for reasons explained in that Wikipedia article. Side note, but I'd like to point out that that translation apparently retails for appx $20,000 because there are basically no copies of it.

The Woman's Bible was published in two parts, in 1895 and 1898, and looks at the women in the Bible, as well as verses that have been used for centuries to justify their subjugation. As Clara Bewick Colby points out, in an observation that rings disturbingly true even today,

The trouble is too often instead of searching the Bible to see what is right, we form our belief, and then search for Bible texts to sustain us, and are satisfied with isolated texts without regard to context, and ask no questions as to the circumstances that may have existed then but do not now.


This has, of course, been expanded in our era of easy access to information to include most ideologies, and has greatly increased the Echo Chamber issue

So the writers of The Woman's Bible start with Genesis. Which is a pretty good place to start. I don't now how familiar non-practicing people are with it, but Genesis actually contains two Creation myths, one right after the other. The first has God creating the heavens and the earth -- trees, rocks, squirrels, water buffalo -- and then it says:

God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. 
So God created mankind in his own image,in the image of God he created them;male and female he created them.

The second is the story of Adam and Eve, which has Adam being created, then Eve being made out of Adam's rib, etc etc. The Woman's Bible is having none of the second story. 80-year-old Stanton, who I'm pretty sure was one of those amazing people every generation is blessed with, and who was maintaining her "up with this I shall not put" attitude well into the time most others are content to sit and watch reruns of Wheel of Fortune (I include future 80-year-old me in that category), said:

The first account dignifies woman as an important factor in the creation, equal in power and glory with man. The second makes her a mere afterthought. The world in good running order without her. The only reason for her advent being the solitude of man.

She also makes the point that, if we're looking for echoes of the Old Testament in the New, Paul says in his letter to the Galatians that "[t]here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Which is much more in keeping with the idea that men and women were created in the image of God than that man was created and then woman was made to keep him from being a sad-sack.

Adam before Eve

What's especially bananas about all this is that this past century was so overwhelmed with "the Bible is the literal Word of God" doxa that when you have a group of late 19th century women saying "Well, obviously the second Creation story was just tacked on," and the woman who co-organized the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 saying 
I do not believe that any man ever saw or talked with God, I do not believe that God inspired the Mosaic code, or told the historians what they say he did about woman, for all the religions on the face of the earth degrade her, and so long as woman accepts the position that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible.

I mean, it's astounding! What is even happening! We (or rather, I) do not know the 19th century! Stanton also addresses the oddness of how God is written about in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) compared to what our current idea of Him is, with:

With our ideal of the great first cause, a God of justice, wisdom and truth, the Jewish Lord, guiding and directing that people in all their devious ways, and sanctioning their petty immoralities seems strangely out of place; a very contradictory character, unworthy our love and admiration. The ancient Jewish ideal of Jehovah was not an exalted one.
This is immensely surprising especially if you grew up in a more conservative environment when, sure, God's actions in the Old Testament do not always make sense, but you told yourself, "I just can't understand it." Here, Stanton outright says that what the Israelites said was God was not God. 

The killing of the Amalekites? She doesn't address it since it does not deal with specific OT women, but I am 100% sure she would say that was not God. Which is such a liberating feeling to be able to say, because no, it is not. The God we have glimpses of in the Old Testament, who does say "love your neighbor as yourself," would not say "Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants." Would man say that? Yes. And has. Many times.

But even regarding the above, who's to say who's right? 

In making a God after their own image, who approved of whatever they did, the Jews did not differ much from ourselves; the men of our day talk too as if they reflected the opinions of Jehovah on the vital questions of the hour. In our late civil war both armies carried the Bible in their knapsacks, and both alike prayed to the same God for victory, as if he could be in favor of slavery and against it at the same time. 
Like the women, too, who are working and praying for woman suffrage, both in the state legislature and in their closets, and others against it, to the same God and legislative assembly. One must accept the conclusion that their acquaintance with the Lord was quite as limited as our own in this century, and that they were governed by their own desires and judgment, whether for good or evil, just as we are; their plans by day and their dreams by night having no deeper significance than our own.

I am bowled over by this book. It is an amazing text.

That's for you, book


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