The Role of Women
A Commentary on the Book of Genesis By Susan Niditch In The Women's Bible Commentary, Susan Niditch presents a commentary on the biblical passages of the book of Genesis which involve women. In this commentary she presents "Worldview and Concerns", especially those pertaining to women's issues. In the process of examining the text, she discovers several themes and concepts revolving around women. In her commentary on the book of Genesis, Niditch states that, "In reading the Hebrew Scriptures as a narrative whole, including both Gen. 1:27 and Leviticus, one may receive the message that the genders were meant to be equal at the beginning". Later in the commentary, she states that Jewish and Christian traditions have, "Viewed woman¹s creation in Genesis 2 as secondary and deriative-evidence of a lower status". Niditch then says that Genesis 3 is interpreted by these culures to further indite woman as the one who, "let loose sin and death". Niditch seems to concentrate on the section of Genesis 2 and 3 as a pivitol place for women in the Bible. She believes that this text is very much misunderstood. Niditch points out that in Genesis 3 Adam is passive. In fact he is quite silent. Eve is the protagonist in the story and it is because of her that humans gain the ability to know the difference between good and evil. Niditch even says that Eve is a "conscious actor choosing knowledge". This forces the reader of the commentary to question and challenge the tradiotional Jewish and Christian interpretatons of this Bible and ask the question, "What would life be like if Eve had not taken the fruit?". After eating the fruit, it is at this time that Adam and Eve become human as we know it. They aquire their "Marks of social life and culture: knowledge of good versus evil, clothing that defines and conceals, and gender roles. The woman is to be the bearer of children, the Mother of all life". In fact, Niditch shows that in sections of Genesis such as 16:4, Matriarchs have closed wombs and are humiliated and taunted by co-wives. Here, she shows how women in the Bible are very often reduced to being wombs. Niditch illustrates this idea very well in Genesis 16:4. After Hagar conceives Abraham¹s child, she finds Sarah, "to be of less worth". Furthermore, the concept of woman is further developed by Niditch in that since motherhood is the center of the woman¹s life, there develops a competition between women concerning children. For instance, in Genesis 30:14-16 Leah "hires" Jacob's services for the night by buying them with her son¹s mandrakes. This leads to the next concept about women in the Bible. Because the area of child bearing and rearing is dominated by women, when it comes to matters concerning these issues, the wife has control and very often the man is, "bumbling, passive, and ineffectual". For istance, in Genesis 16:4 when Sarah has a problem with Hagar and wants to banish her from the camp, Abraham simply tells Sarah to do with her what she wants to do. On the other hand, when men are active in these situations, such as Abraham in Genesis 21:10 expressing his disapproval of the banishing of Hagar from the camp the second time, they are often silenced. In this case Abraham is silenced by God who instructs him to follow what Sarah says. It is within this setting of domestic power, without any social or political power, that the Matriarch's of the Bible often tranform into tricksters in order to ensure God's will. One of the most classic examples of this in Genesis is in chapter 27. Rebekah tricks Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau, his first-born. This story parallels Genesis 2 and 3 in that if either Rebekah or Eve had not done what they did, then the kingdom of Israel would have been quite different, if one existed at all. Niditch also discussed the woman outside the realm of domestic life. She says that women were, "in effect items of exchange, extremely valuable commodities". This is evident from the common practices of wife-stealing and rape which were associated with war in ancient Israel. This concept is very well illustrated in the story of the violation of Dinah in Genesis 34, where she is, "Central to the action," but she, "Has no voice". It is this comment which Niditch makes that I find most interesting. Though it is very short, it says a lot. This statement epitomizes the position of women in the Bible generally. The women of ancient Israel, as well as the women of today, carried tremendous responsibility and with that responsibility, they also carried a great burden of being subjugated by man just as if they were slaves or privete property. This is a grave injustice, because the women were just as importand as the men of that time. The men may have controlled the kingdom of Israel, but as Susan Nititch writes, "By giving birth, the women further the march of the human culture". From these stories of the Bible there is much to be learned. Although we, as a culture, have come a long way in the treatment of women in the modern world, there is still much work to be done to aquire total equality among all sexes. This issue goes much deeper than sexism though. It also goes for racism and all other types of prejudice. We, as a sociey, need to realize that all people are created equal, not just all men. Works Cited Niditch, Susan. "Genesis". The Women¹s Bible Commentary. Ed. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992. 10-24.