Is Jesus is "too holy" for sex?

Thus is the title (

"Too holy" for Sex? The problem of a married Jesus

) of Becky Bratu's just-published piece (NBC News) on public reactions to the idea of "Jesus' wife".  She too sees how communally we are struggling with the problem of a sexual Jesus and how this transgresses our commonly (and cherished) Christian view of the Holy as male and celibate. 

Whether authentic or not (yet to be determined), our discussion of the Jesus' Wife papyrus is fascinating.  It shows us the faultlines, the borders, the limits of our theological views.  It shows how they were constructed hundreds of years ago, and have become "natural" for us.  They are part of our internal selves.  God is male and celibate.  Sexual desire is sin. 

Even after the counter-cultural sexual revolution of the 1960s, these parameters still grip our religious views.

Did Jesus have a wife?

Kilmore Church, Isle of Mull, Scotland, 1906

So many of you have been e-mailing me, wondering about the significance of the new gospel fragment recently published on the internet by Karen King of Harvard University.  Many are expressing amazement that there is a text that mentions Jesus' wife.  It is exciting to see the words "My wife" in bold Coptic scrawl.

But let's keep in mind that we actually already have a text that mentions Jesus' wife.  It is the

Gospel of Philip

.  We already know that there were some early Christians, in particular the Valentinian Gnostics, who taught that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' consort or wife.  They wrote about it in the

Gospel of Philip


The reason that their tradition remembered Mary in this way is because they believed that marriage was the sacred creative activity of God and God's manifestations or Aeons.  They also believed that their own human marriages were reflections - what they called "an image" - of the eternal marriages of the Aeons.  Jesus' human marriage to Mary Magdalene was believed to reflect the sacred marriage of the Aeons Jesus and Sophia.   Furthermore, the Aeons Jesus and Sophia were the spiritual twins or angelic dopplegangers of the human Jesus and Mary.  If you are interested in learning more about this practice and its sexual implications, I have written a chapter about it in

Holy Misogyny

, called "Is Marriage Salvation?" along with a chapter on Mary, called "How do we solve a problem like Maria?"

The new gospel fragment supports this Valentinian picture.  If it turns out to be an authentic gospel fragment from antiquity, it likely came from a page of yet another Valentinian gospel that contained sayings of Jesus.  Valentinian Christians were very prolific and they preserved an entire sayings tradition of counter-memories that supported their creative metaphysical outlook and Gnostic spirituality.

But does this mean that Jesus had a wife?  It depends on who you ask.  If you asked a Valentinian Christian, the answer would have been a definitive "yes".  If you asked an early Catholic Christian, the answer would have been "no".  If you ask a scholar today, depending on the methods they use to reconstruct the historical Jesus, you will get "yeses" and "noes'.

What do I think?  I think that it is next to impossible to reconstruct the historical Jesus from the theological portraits of him in any of the gospels, the New Testament included.  Aside from a few broad strokes, the historical Jesus remains shrouded in theology, including his sex life and marital status.  I continue to emphasize how necessary it is for us to think critically about these old texts and not take their statements as simple statements of historical facts, at least without first reasoning carefully through them.

Was Jesus married?  I like to think so.  But this has more to do with my own view of the blessedness of marriage than it does with any historical argument I might make.

Spaying the Mother God

Biblical Archaeology Review

38:05, Sep/Oct 2012 just published a short piece of mine about the feminine and God.

"Is God gendered as a male in the Bible? What about Jesus’ words in John 4:23–24 where he says that “God is spirit”? In the same passage, however, Jesus calls God “Father.” Does he do so in reference to an actual masculinity of God? Is this a manifestation of male domination and patriarchy? Ben Witherington doesn’t think so. According to him, Jesus calls God “Father” and not “Mother” only because he did not have a human father, while he did have a human mother. Witherington thinks that, at least in the New Testament, God is not perceived to be male, but a genderless divine essence. He says that we are too quick to read into the Bible our own over-sexed and gender-language-sensitive culture. But are we? Or are we trying to apologize for the misogyny in the Bible because of our religious belief in the sacred nature of the Bible?"


To subscribe to BAR, follow this


.  I love this magazine and fondly remember buying it on the newstand when I was a teenager. So I am proud to be able to write a column for it occasionally.

A Book Review of Holy Misogyny

This nice write up on my book,

Holy Misogyny

, was just published by

Midwest Book Review


The earliest decades of the Christian movement saw the beginnings of gender role conflicts exemplified by Paul's exhortation against women preaching in church gatherings. The suppression of women's roles in favor of male ecclesiastical privilege continued to strengthen in the succeeding early centuries and still have immense ramifications in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant congregations and churches today. "Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter" is a superbly researched 200-page compendium by April D. DeConick (Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University) presenting the origins of such Christian doctrinal issues as to why God is male, the association of women with sin, the denial of priesthood to females, and more. Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter" is a strongly recommended read for anyone concerned with the origin of gender equality issues within the contemporary Christian community.

News about Holy Misogyny

Wow this semester has really gotten away from me.  So sorry.  A couple of items to bring to your attention.  First, the Kindle version of

Holy Misogyny

is now out


.  I know that several of my readers were hoping for the e-version, so here it is.  I still haven't any response from Barnes & Noble, so if you want it in Nook format, please let Barnes & Noble know.  Honestly, this is about you and what you want.  These companies are listening to you because things are so much in turmoil in the publishing world right now. 

Second, my

Tolle Lege

talk on

Holy Misogyny

has been rescheduled for February 21, 7-8:30 pm in the Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library, Rice campus.  Sorry that we had to reschedule, but I was very ill and unable to make the Nov 1 presentation.

The Houston Chronicle has just posted a story on our Tolle Lege series


.  Hope you like it!

A first review of Holy Misogyny

I want to thank Ms. Jasmine Wilson for her thoughtful

review of

Holy Misogyny

on the Englewood Review of Books website

.   This is a very interesting and brave website I think.  It is written for a Christian-centered audience, but its reviewers comment on books that are not necessarily written from that same perspective.  I especially appreciated what she had to say toward the end of the review, which I quote here:

It seemed she was writing to a wider audience of those interested in gender studies, not just Christians who were interested in redeeming their own muddled history toward women. Because of that, she does not take at face value that the Scriptures have any sort of spiritual identity, and might make some Christians uncomfortable because of that. However, if readers recognize that she is writing toward a wider audience, I do think her account is appropriately dangerous, and can hopefully jar Christians into action to reverse the long tradition of misogynistic interpretation of Scripture and misogynistic action in the church.

Holy Misogyny is out!


Finally, finally...

Holy Misogyny

is published.  I just received a couple of author copies in my mailbox.  So if you pre-ordered my book, it should be arriving at your home or office very soon.  I don't yet see the Kindle button activated, so please, if you want to purchase my book in e-form, click the "we want this in Kindle" button.  I was told that it will be available electronically, but I figure that it never hurts to keep reminding the powers that be that we would like this asap.

I am really pleased with the book.  It is a book that began 25 years ago when I agreed to teach a class on gender and the bible at Albion College.  That was a long time ago.  Back then I didn't have the faintest idea that I would want to write a book on gender, let alone do it.  I did not study gender in graduate school.  This only became an interest of mine when I began teaching.  Each time I taught the class and revised it, I became more and more shocked at what I was finding in the early Christian literature, and was frustrated that this material was not being covered in books authored about early Christianity.  I couldn't understand why because the material was so important.  So eventually I overcame my own anxieties about not having been formally trained in gender studies, and wrote the book myself.

I hope you like it, or at least, I hope it gives you something to think about.

"An intriguing, important, and appropriately dangerous book. DeConick brings her study of the difficult canonical and apocryphal texts into conversation with contemporary concerns in a satisfying and accessible way. Her style is both technical and easy-going. This is a book for the general public as well as the academic classroom. I learned a great deal from it and am left with many questions to chew on happily and to discuss. The reader is aided in the search for 'Lady God,' and in the struggle to create societies that abhor and reject violence to the female body." — Jane Schaberg, Professor of Biblical Studies and Gender/Women’s Studies, University of Detroit Mercy, USA

Kindle Edition of Holy Misogyny

For those of you who are asking, yes,

Holy Misogyny

, will be available in Kindle Edition.  I had this conversation with my editor on a couple of occasions, and this week he confirmed that the copy was sent out to be processed in electronic format as well as traditional hardcover. 

Another endorsement:

"April DeConick, a world class scholar, has written a must-read book for those interested in gender issues in relationship to God.  By integrating her vast knowledge of extracanonical and canonical texts, she expansively analyzes the effect of misogyny on conceptions of the female body and the profound difference such marginalization has made, even today, for women's ecclesiastical leadership and ordination."  Ann Graham Brock, Associate Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, Iliff School of Theology, USA

Starting up the new academic year with a new book

Welcome to the new religious studies PhD students at Rice!  We started classes and advising last week, so I am getting back into the swing of things here on campus. 

This semester I am teaching Coptic to a class of seven, including two undergraduates.  I am looking forward to returning to teaching the language that opens Pandora's Box.  I am returning to using Lambdin since I have found that there are two important elements to teaching this language: 1. lots of exercises; 2. breaking down the system into small details and delivering it in pieces.  Lambdin does this very well.  Lambdin doesn't present Coptic as a whole system very well though.  For that Layton's

20 Lessons

and Brankaer's

Learning Grammar

are much better.  So I will supplement next semester by using Layton and Brankaer to show the students the bigger picture, once they have been through the details.

I am also pleased that our Mellon seminar,

Mapping Death

, was so successful last year, that we are continuing it this year as a Writing Workshop.  We will be meeting regularly to assess and critique our individual work projects.  I need to get my paper on the Ophians ready for publication, write a piece on the Naassenes, and get going on my next book called

The Ancient New Age: Gnostic Spirituality and the Beginnings of Christianity.

The biggest news for me is that my book

Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter

is slated to come off the presses at the end of September.  I am thrilled that this project is on its way to a physical reality with a book jacket and all that!

Advanced copies were sent to readers and here is some of the feedback the book received:

The near-programmatic downgrading and degrading of women is one of the most shameful aspect of traditional Christianity.  In this powerful book, DeConick rejects conventional theological and hermeneutical attempts to soften the absence of the divine and human female by challenging head-on the vilification of women and the othering of their bodies in early Christianity.  This bold discussion makes for uncomfortable but essential reading - and rightly so.

Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible, University of Exeter, UK.

more advanced reviews of the book in my next post...

It's just like ancient times

A vivid example of "holy misogyny" at work in the modern world. It's just like ancient times when women were erased from memory. Hilary Clinton literally erased from photo in a religious newspaper (story and photo

reported here

). Why?

Brooklyn-based Di-Tzeitung, which never runs pictures of women because they might be "sexually suggestive," also removed the only other woman in the room, Counterterrorism Director Audrey Tomason.

The paper's response to our outrage? A contradiction to common sense (of course this relegates women to a lower status - it eliminates them!), but I guess if it is said enough by religious authorities we buy it as true:

In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.

Holy Misogyny cover

I just received the cover art for my new book,

Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter

. I am very excited about the book and its name change. I am lucky to have a great editor who goes to bat for me. Name changes can be hard to do at this late stage, but this new name came to me in a moment of epiphany and it really encapsulates what the book is about. The book is supposed to be published in September.

Here is the publisher's description of the book:

@font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }

In Holy Misogyny, bible scholar April DeConick wants real answers to the questions that are rarely whispered from the pulpits of the contemporary Christian churches.Why is God male?Why are women associated with sin?Why can’t women be priests? Drawing on her extensive knowledge of the early Christian literature, she seeks to understand the conflicts over sex and gender in the early church – what they were and what was at stake.She explains how these ancient conflicts have shaped contemporary Christianity and its promotion of male exclusivity and superiority in terms of God, church leadership, and the bed.

DeConick’s detective work uncovers old aspects of Christianity before later doctrines and dogmas were imposed upon the churches, and the earlier teachings about the female were distorted.Holy Misogyny shows how the female was systematically erased from the Christian tradition, and why. She concludes that the distortion and erasure of the female is the result of ancient misogyny made divine writ, a holy misogyny that remains with us today.

Early Christian Women

I am working on the research for my final main chapter of my book,

Holy Misogyny: Why the Gender Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter

. I ran across a very intriguing passage written by Tertullian that appears to reflect the social realities of Christian women in the late second century. I'm not sure what to completely make of it yet. At first glance, it appears that Christian women were not abiding by the traditional Roman societal roles. And this is confirmed by the accusations against them by the Romans, of lewdness and promiscuity. But then later on in the same text, Tertullian says that the Christian married couple do these things together. In other words, the marriage seems to allow the woman to operate in public because she is escorted by her husband. Is Tertullian using Christian marriage to curtail these accusations?

In Tertullian's treatise to his wife, he exhorts her to remain a widow if he dies first. Part of the treatise deals with the problem of remarriage to a pagan. Tertullian insists that it is impossible for her to serve two lords who have different values and standards of conduct: God and a pagan husband. Here is what he says about the pagan husband:

“Who (aka, what pagan) would allow his wife to run around the streets to the houses of strangers and even to the poorest hovels in order to visit the faithful? Who would willingly let his wife be taken from his side for nightly meetings, if it be necessary? Who, then, would tolerate without some anxiety her spending the entire night at the paschal solemnities? Who would have no suspicions about letting her attend the Lord's supper, when it has such a bad reputation? Who would endure her creeping into prison to kiss the chains of the martyrs? Or even to greet any of the brothers with a kiss? Or to wash the feet of the saints. To desire this? Even to think about it? If a Christian traveling on a journey should arrive, what hospitality will he find in the house of a stranger? If anyone needs assistance, the granary and pantry are closed” (4)...What a bond is this: two believers who share one hope, one desire, one discipline, the same service! The two are brother and sister, fellow servants...side by side, in the church of God and at the banquet of God, side by side in difficulties, in times of persecution, and in times of consolation...They freely visit the sick and sustain the needy. They give alms without anxiety, attend the sacrifice without scruple, perform their daily duties unobstructed..." (8).

Is marriage salvation?

That is the title of chapter 6 of the manuscript I am preparing for publication:

Holy Misogyny

. I begin the chapter with this observation:

But renunciation of marriage and procreation was not the only lifestyle embraced by Gnostic groups. The double-feature theology raised serious questions for some Gnostics. How could the spirit be saved if its incarnation was stopped? How could the spirit be returned to the transcomic realm if it was never birthed in a child? If procreation and birth ceased, the spirit would never be exposed to the secret rituals and the holy gnosis that was necessary for its release from the lesser god's dominion.
The Gnostics who asked these sorts of questions found themselves in a precarious position, posed on a razor's edge. How could they justify procreation and birthing children so that the spirit could be incarnated and receive instruction when the sex act itself was an act of corruption and trickery instituted by an arrogant god they desired to defy?

So this morning I have been outlining the chapter and going back through the primary sources and having a blast doing so. I am still not sure about Epiphanius' account of "The Gnostics" in book 26 of Panarion - how much of this is genuine and how much of it is politically motivated and how much of it is just mixed up by Epiphanius. I imagine there is a little of all three operating in that chapter. I find myself hesitant to accept Epiphanius' accounts since he mixed up the Cainites with the Gospel of Judas in such a bad way. He has become less trustworthy in my eyes. Whenever I compare his accounts to Irenaeus, which was one of his sources, I find that he gets some things accurately, but others not so much. He tends to misread Irenaeus in places, and dump together sources that really are unrelated.

In terms of chapter 26, his story is associated with something that happened to him in his youth which he explains as the seduction of Gnostic women who wanted to have sex with him to collect his seed and save the spirit in it from the demiurge. I can't imagine that he was the innocent bystander he claims, not with all the information he appears to know from their books and lessons. He was deeply involved in this group for a time. The fact that he turns in eighty people from the Gnostic community to the church authorities to be punished tells me that his story is slanted and exaggerated to his own benefit. He brought down eighty Gnostics with what appears to me to be sexual slander. I hope as I write this section of the chapter that I will be able to reflect on this and "solve" it for myself.

The other piece I want to solve is the testimony about Carpocrates. I'm not sure what was going on in this community because the testimony from the church fathers about their behaviors do not mesh with their testimonies about Jesus and his behavior. I am wondering if there was a shift in this community's behaviors when Epiphanes became prominent, something which shifted the behavior for a new reason to be more libertine than what I think Carpocrates may have taught.

So there are a lot of questions I am trying to resolve for myself as I write this chapter, many mysteries to 'unsecret'.

After a day's reflection, my chapter subtitles look this this right now:

  • Sacred Sex
  • The Law has passed away
  • Spirit Collectors
  • You will be pardoned
  • The Lover Mary

Mary in Encratic traditions

So I'm almost done with chapter 5 "Is Marriage a Sin?" Today I am putting the finishing touches on the last section which deals with portraits of Mary Magdalene in encratic literature. Not surprisingly the prominent image of Mary in the encratic literature is the "male" Mary who is the Apostle to the Apostles.

Photo: St. Albans Psalter; Mary Magdalene as Apostle to the Apostles


So today I am thinking and writing about encratism, a severe form of asceticism that did not even allow for marriage since it was conceived to be a state of sin. It is a strange phenomenon in the early church, and it looks to me like it was there from as early as we can track the church because the Corinthian correspondence lends me to believe that Paul was addressing these issues already. I hope to explore Tatian today.

Back to women

I just finished writing chapter four of

Holy Misogyny

. So I will probably be returning to posting on some gender-related issues. In the meantime, I have been contemplating this jewel from Celsus quoted by Origen. I have been thinking about women's witness and how their prominence in the pre-gospel story cycles are already being dampened in the foundational written narratives in the New Testament gospels, particularly the Lukan version - although the Matthean and Johannine versions are remodeling an older traditional story too. There are many possibilities for "why" these authors were dampening the women's witness, particularly Mary Magdalene's, but Celsus' remarks are telling on more than one account: on the view of women witness as inauthentic among Roman men (Roman Law did not allow women to be witnesses); on the view of women in the Roman world as emotive irrational creatures attracted to religious frenzy and superstitions; on the view that the resurrection is nothing more than a dream misinterpreted or a way to persuade people to give the Christians money. Did the evangelists consider the traditional story about the women's witness and commission by Jesus (see Matthew 28:9-10) a liability that needed to be dealt with?

According to Celsus:

We must examine this question – whether anyone who actually died ever rose again with the same body?...Who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamed in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion (an experience which has happened to thousands of people), or, which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars.

Gender Inequality: Is the problem the bible?

The bible is the problem in our society, in as much as patriarchalism and male domination has been and continues to be interpreted as sacred decree, and mobilized in our lives as such. It is mobilized in ways that are both conscious and unconscious. It is insidious and it is structural and it is accepted as the way things are.

My position here is not new by any stretch of the imagination. It has been recognized since the 1800s when the Suffrage Movement was in full swing. In fact, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (pictured on the left) set out to revise the traditionally male interpretations, by employing the few women during her time who were educated to read the primary languages and had learned the history to write commentaries on all the passages from Genesis through Revelation that concerned women. She says that some of the invited women refused to participate in the project because they feared "they might compromise their evangelical faith by affiliating with those of more liberal views, who do not regard the Bible as the 'Word of God' but, like any other book, to be judged by its own merits" (p. 9). The preface to her book,

The Woman's Bible

, was written in 1895. She opens her book by identifying the problem with the traditional way in which the Genesis story has been interpreted by men who use it to demonstrate that woman is a sinner and inferior being (p. 7):

From the inauguration of the movement for woman's emancipation, the Bible has been used to hold her in the "divinely ordained sphere," prescribed in the Old and New Testaments. The canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man. Creeds, codes, Scriptures and statutes are all based on this idea...The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced...Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up.

Towards the end of her introduction, she writes very openly about her own view as a woman living in 1895 (pp. 12-13):

The only points in which I differ from all ecclesiastical teaching is that I do not believe that any man ever saw or talked to 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. Whatever the Bible may be made to do in Hebrew or Greek, in plain English it does not exalt and dignify woman...There are some general principles in the holy books of all religions that teach love, charity, liberty, justice and equality for all the human family, there are many grand and beautiful passages, the golden rule has been echoed and re-echoed around the world. There are lofty examples of good and true men and women, all worthy of our acceptance and imitation whose lustre cannot be dimmed by the false sentiments and vicious character bound up in the same volume. The Bible cannot be accepted or rejected as a whole, its teachings are varied and its lessons differ widely from each other...[in their discrimination of women] the canon law, the Scriptures, the creeds and codes and church discipline of the leading religions bear the impress of fallible man, and not of our ideal great first cause, "the Spirit of all Good," that set the universe of matter and mind in motion, and by immutable law holds the land, the sea, the planets, revolving round the great centre of light and heat, each its own elliptic, with millions of stars in harmony all singing together, the glory of creation forever and ever.

I find these words to be astonishing. In fact, I find the words written by both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Gage (I'll make a separate post about her soon) to be so brave and daring that I want to weep. How did these women find the courage to stand up and say these things publicly, especially at a time when the Suffrage Movement was trying to link up with the Temperance Movement? The Women's Christian Temperance Union was a powerful group of evangelical women who were religiously conservative, and wanted to get the right to vote in order to legislate their understanding of biblical morality in the form of prohibition. They argued that it was the God-given duty of women to oversee the morality of their families and they wanted the right to vote to bring that to the public and state.

In fact Stanton's position was disliked by Susan B. Anthony (pictured on the left) who wanted more than anything else to merge the two movements because Anthony recognized that divided the parties would never get enough political power to achieve the right to vote. She thought that if we changed the politics and got women the right to vote, that we would then be able to change the religion to reflect our political equality. So Anthony wrote to Olympia Brown:

I suppose your feeling of my change is the same as that of Mrs. Gage and Mrs. Stanton - that is because I am not as intolerant of the so-called Christian women as they are - that therefore I have gone, or am about to go over to the popular church. I do not approve of their system of fighting the religious dogmas of the people I am trying to convert to my doctrine of equal rights to women. But if they can afford to distrust my religious integrity, I can afford to let them.

Stanton and Gage disagreed with Anthony. They thought that the right to vote was essential, but that it alone would not change our equality as long as the Bible and the way it was mobilized to subordinate women continued. Even though Stanton still stayed in the coalition and even was elected its President (Gage left and founded the Women's Liberal Union), she never gave up this view. In her introduction (pp. 10-11), she writes that some of her female colleagues (she must be referring to Anthony) say that:

it is not politic to rouse religious opposition. This much-lauded policy is but another word for cowardice. How can women's position be changed from that of a subordinate to an equal, without opposition, without the broadest discussion of all the questions involved in her present degradation? For so far-reaching and momentous a reform as her complete independence, an entire revolution in all existing institutions is inevitable.

So here we find ourselves just over a hundred years later, ninety years after women got the right to vote. What has changed? Certainly we have made progress. Women are being educated, have careers outside the home, have changed some laws to make them more equitable. But look around. Look at the stats on the web. Women make less money for equal work outside the home. Women do not equally receive higher degrees, nor do they advance in their professions at the same rate as men. We have far fewer women judges than men, far fewer women legislators than men, and still no woman in the White House. The equal rights amendment failed. Our churches are run mainly by men, and even in those liberal protestant traditions, women are not seated in senior pastoral positions as frequently as men.

When I look around, what I see is that Stanton and Gage were right. For women to ever achieve equality in our society, our understanding of the bible and its interpretation must change.

Gender is on my mind

Perhaps it is just coincidence that as I finish off chapter 3 of

Sex and the Serpent

, I have begun to see the biblioblog world differently. I am becoming more and more aware of how insidious sexism is, how it is institutionalized, how it is around us in ways we don't recognize, how what we do or don't do fosters it without our knowing it. A simple thing like a blog roll and who is on it can make a huge difference. If that blog shows up on 200 other blogs every time the author posts, consider how that multiples her voice. Consider the thousands of readers of our blogs who might look at that blog roll and see her post and think, hey, that looks interesting, think I will go over there and check it out.

I am keenly aware that our time is not a feminist time, but a negative reaction to it, or some would say against it. I have even noticed a turning back for women, as if we are so exhausted with the fight, that we are hunkering down in the trenches and retreating just to try to keep some of the ground that we have gained over the last thirty years. And men continue to dominate the churches, men continue make more money for equal work (in fact we are now losing ground in this stat the last time I looked it up), men continue to dominate the courts and the senates and the congresses, men continue to dominate institutions of higher education, men continue to dominate the corporate world. What is happening in the majority of homes, I can only guess, but I do know this, domestic violence is continues to plague our country and it is statistically the men who are violent to the women and children they live with.

My suspicion is that much of the male domination continues because deep in our communal psyche the bible reigns, where women are dominated by men from chapter 2 of Genesis, and depending on your interpretation of Genesis 1:27, perhaps even from chapter 1 itself. In fact, Paul read Genesis 1:27 in a radically patriarchal way, understanding it to mean that only men are created in the image of God, leaving women to be the "glory of men" (1 Cor 11:7). The male domination we experience today is not just social, something that can be changed through reasonable measures we take in society-building, because the domination is divinely ordained. It is fixed, something that God set it in place and women deserve because they are the temptresses and sinners who wrought (and still wreck) disaster on men and the world. No matter if we agree or disagree with this, it is out there among us, in the communal consciousness. Matilda Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were right. The biggest obstacle to the equality of women in our society is the bible, the Genesis story in particular.

I have been lamenting this for a long time, but now I am becoming angry about it. I have taught on the subject of women and the bible for fifteen years, and yet it is now as I write about the subject that the hundreds of years of suppression, the hundreds of years of divine sanction for male authority and domination, the hundreds of years of women's often willing silence is rolling over me. At times is is hard for me to write because my feelings of pain are so strong.

So today I want to leave you with some words I wrote yesterday for chapter 3 of my book, about the women in Corinth who faced Paul and his patriarchalism, women who read Genesis 1:27 very differently from Paul - to mean that they too were created in God's image and should no longer wear the authority of their husband's on their heads:

"From Paul's argument we can gather that the women in Corinth had removed their veils (at least while worshiping) in order to align their social lives with their spiritual experience. They had mobilized their church by making their spiritual experience a social reality. Since they had been baptized in Christ and received his spirit, they believed that they had been recreated in the androgynous image of God. As such, the strict gender hierarchy of their immediate world had been abolished for them. Freed from these constraints, they tore off their veils, toppling the male hierarchy and dismissing the now-illegitimate authority of their husbands. This is an astonishingly brave action for them to have undertaken, since it would have marked them to other Jews and Romans as licentious women, even adulteresses, a point which Paul takes great strides to press home."