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May 17 2013

Misogyny in the Bible

It truly baffles me that any woman could be a Christian (or for that matter, a Jew or a Muslim since they all accept the passage I’m about to recite as coming directly from God). The Bible is virulently patriarchal and misogynist in a hundred different ways. Like Leviticus 12:

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.

“‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.

“‘These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’”

The notion of a woman being “unclean” after giving birth or when she’s on her period is repulsive enough. But the fact that this “unclean” status lasts twice as long if she gives birth to a girl than if she has a boy is utter lunacy. And remember, you can’t just dismiss this by saying “Oh, that’s just how they were back then.” This command allegedly comes directly from God himself. He could just as easily have given them a far more reasonable and moral command, but he chose not to.

41 comments

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  1. 1
    theschwa

    Ed, you do not adequately understand scripture:
    1. Jesus fulfilled the law of the OT.
    2. ???
    3. The Bible is NOT misogynistic.

  2. 2
    robb

    what if she has twins, say a boy and a girl? or a hermaphrodite!

  3. 3
    gingerbaker

    You seem to be taking this personally, Ed. Did you just have lamb or squab at a restaurant, and all you got was a delicious meal but no ritual cleansing? Next time try a kosher establishment.

  4. 4
    waldteufel

    More evidence that the god of the bible is an unimaginable prick. Happily, he’s also imaginary.

  5. 5
    richardelguru

    Robb asks an interesting question.
    Does she serve consecutively, concurrently? Is it calculated by addition?? Multiplication??? Exponentiation????
    If she has girl triplets do they just say “Oh! the hell with it…”?

  6. 6
    steve oberski

    I’m sure heddle will be along to clear up your misunderstanding Ed …

  7. 7
    reasonbe

    @ 4. There are plenty of pricks to take his place. Even I have one, being the favored sex.

  8. 8
    slc1

    Re steve oberski @ #6

    Prof. Heddle’s response would be that the Hebrew bible is no longer applicable.

  9. 9
    No One

    So who gets to eat the lamb, the priest?

  10. 10
    slc1

    Re waldteufel @ #4

    From Richard Dawkins’, The God Delusion,

    “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

  11. 11
    Margaret

    a sin offering

    So giving birth is a sin?

    OK, so if the bible says that giving birth is a sin and makes one “unclean” and the bible doesn’t say anything against abortion, that means all those Christian forced-birthers are rejecting the bible and hence going against their god’s word.

  12. 12
    cry4turtles

    I knew this gawd was a misogynistic bastard before I knew the word combination “misogynist bastard” existed (around age five).

  13. 13
    lldayo

    @robb

    Just take the average: ((# of penises * 33) + (# of vaginas * 66)) / (# of penises + # of vaginas) = days to purification

    For example: Octomom would have to wait until 6am after 41 days: ((6 * 33) + (2 * 66)) / 8 = 41.25.

  14. 14
    Worldtraveller

    waldteufel, I believe that makes biblegod an imaginable prick.

  15. 15
    kestra

    Some thoughts: The idea of being “ritually unclean” is inherently repugnant to me. However, the idea that after giving birth, a woman should get a mandatory break from religious obligations and sexual relations with her husband is very sensible. However, the idea that a girl-child’s birth is twice as “unclean” as a boy-child’s is plainly base misogyny.

    “The Red Tent” is a fabulous novel about Jacob’s family told from the point of view of Dinah, about the religious practices of women in early Hebrew tribes, and the clash between the sternly patriarchal traditions of Canaanites and the matriarchal outlook of Rebecca’s tribe.

  16. 16
    Taz

    You’re forgetting about the magical cleansing rays that are released from the foreskin during the circumcision.

  17. 17
    Ace of Sevens

    Plus, God is making rules where the poor don’t have to pay their fair share.

  18. 18
    coragyps

    Ace! The very thought!

    You’re insinuating that God is a Democrat!!! We know that’s unpossible! Pat Robertson said so!

  19. 19
    raven

    So who gets to eat the lamb, the priest?

    Silly question.

    First the gods get to eat whatever and how much of the sacrificed animals that they want. They have first dibs.

    Then the leftovers go to the priests and their friends.

    You can imagine how well this works in reality.

  20. 20
    lofgren

    I find this post fascinating, because a common accusation that atheists level against theists is that they hold beliefs because they are comforting rather than because they are true. Now Ed is saying that he “can’t understand” why a woman would believe something that is oppressive to her. I should think that’s obvious. She believes that the Bible is true, and therefore it doesn’t matter whether the passage in question is “misogynistic” or not (in fact, calling a true fact misogynistic seems like a misnomer). If it is true, it is true. It doesn’t matter how it makes you feel.

  21. 21
    thomaspenn

    lofgren, please show me any atheist that has claimed that all believers hold all of their religious beliefs because they are comforting? If you can’t show me that, then I can’t see how there is any contradiction whatsoever. Some religious believers hold some beliefs because they are comforting, other believers hold other beliefs for other reasons.

    How does the truth of this story affect whether it’s misogynistic? A lot of true things are misogynistic. A god that would command this is a misogynistic god whether he is real or imaginary.

  22. 22
    Erp

    I suggest not looking up churching; it is the Christian equivalent though not practices as much (and no difference because of the sex of the child)

    sin offerings usually could be eaten by priests
    the burnt offering was burnt completely

  23. 23
    steve oberski

    @lofgren

    Another common reason for holding a belief is childhood indoctrination, you know, fill a child’s mind full of fantastical bullshit before the child has developed the necessary intellectual toolkit, assuming they ever do once the religious get their meat hooks into them, to reject irrational and non evidence claims.

  24. 24
    lofgren

    please show me any atheist that has claimed that all believers hold all of their religious beliefs because they are comforting?

    Damn, you must be a professional goalpost mover.

    Please show me where I suggested that, or why it would be at all relevant to my point? The reason we are critical of believing something merely because it is comforting is because that is an insufficient reason to believe what is untrue. Ed is making a reverse argument of the one commonly made by theists, that atheism is depressing because after you die you don’t exist anymore. If the bible is true, then its misogyny is neither here nor there. We can only start discussing its misogyny if we believe that it is untrue, and therefore a human-made document.

    How does the truth of this story affect whether it’s misogynistic? A lot of true things are misogynistic

    If the bible is true, then it makes as much sense to say that it is misogynistic that a woman remains unclean for 66 days after birthing a daughter as it does to say that it is misogynistic that women have higher rates of breast cancer than men. That’s not misogyny, that’s just a fact of life. Misogyny describes attitudes, beliefs, or values held by humans. Biological facts cannot be misogynistic. They just are.

    If the bible is true (or, to be more precise, if this section of the bible is literally true), then it is simply a fact of life that women remain unclean for 66 days after giving birth to a daughter. You can’t call it misogynistic because it is indifferent to your values.

    If the bible is untrue, then this is passage reflects human values that are a product of and influential on their cultural context. In that case, they are profoundly misogynistic.

    But in order to be misogynistic, we must first determine that these are not actually the words of God. (They aren’t.)

  25. 25
    karmacat

    Anthropologists have studied different cultural reactions to menstruation. Because it involves blood, most cultures have a negative reaction. the few cultures that celebrate a girl’s first menses tend to be much more female friendly. Personally, I think women should get a gift once a month for just having to deal with the damn thing. (especially as I sitting here dealing with those damn menstrual cramps)

  26. 26
    iknklast

    Lofgren – I more often hear the argument about beliefts being comforting when we are being told to leave religious beliefs alone. The fact that they are comforting is taken as a given, and we are not supposed to point out their inherently illogical nature because we will remove a source of comfort. I hear this most often from moderate theists and accomodationist atheists (though I do hear a surprising and disheartening number of atheists say this).

    My mother found her beliefs comforting, even though she believed passages like this to be literally true. She was comforted because she could use it as a bludgeon to thrash anyone who believed otherwise. Her beliefs made her feel superior. She could put up with a lot of inferior woman crap because she had the knowledge of her superior Christian status. She was better than other women, because she was on a fast track to heaven. And because god loved her more.

  27. 27
    lofgren

    Another common reason for holding a belief

    Allow me to make this clear for the idiots in the audience with little or no reading comprehension:

    Yes, there are many reasons to believe something.

    So what? The point is that believing something untrue because it is comforting is irrational, yet here is Ed making the argument that it is incomprehensible for a person to believe something that is not comforting, regardless of its truth value.

    I’d love to live forever as a spirit after death. That would be way better than simply ceasing to exist. Yet I continue to believe that I will cease to exist because that is what all of the evidence suggests. Does Ed also find that belief incomprehensible? Of course not.

    If, for whatever reason, a woman has come to believe that this passage in the bible is true (through indoctrination or for any other reason), then whether or not it is misogynistic is simply irrelevant to her.

  28. 28
    steve oberski

    @slc1

    Prof. Heddle sez, and I quote him:

    I believe the bible is the inerrant word of god.

  29. 29
    steve oberski

    @lofgren

    You say that some women believe this in spite of it not being comforting, but how do you know this ?

    I say that they find it more comfortable to believe this than to risk sanctions in the patriarchal system that they inhabit.

    How do I know this ?

    The same way you do, I just made it up.

  30. 30
    Ichthyic

    sin offerings usually could be eaten by priests
    the burnt offering was burnt completely

    I do note that “God” left out the part for him in favor of the part the priests could eat if the woman was poor.

    such a charitable god, always taking care of his priests.

  31. 31
    Ichthyic

    I say that they find it more comfortable to believe this than to risk sanctions in the patriarchal system that they inhabit.

    or at least forced to accept, if not believe.

  32. 32
    lofgren

    You say that some women believe this in spite of it not being comforting, but how do you know this ?

    Because I know about a half dozen Christian women and I talk to them. Alternatively, there are hundreds if not thousands of forums on the internet for Christian women that deal with these kinds of questions, which you are free to peruse at your leisure.

    I say that they find it more comfortable to believe this than to risk sanctions in the patriarchal system that they inhabit.

    I believe this too. In fact, the two claims are not in conflict with each other in any way, even in the same individual.

    How do I know this ?

    The same way you do, I just made it up.

    That’s because this latter statement is speculation about the subconscious motives that lead a woman to hold misogynistic beliefs, while my previous statement was about the conscious rationalizations that women use in order to avoid cognitive dissonance. Both statements may be true about a single individual. Your statement is the cause, my statement is the effect. In addition, there may be many other potential causes or motives that would lead a woman to embrace a form of Christianity that regards this passage as literally true and binding. The effect – my statement – will still hold true.

  33. 33
    lofgren

    I more often hear the argument about beliefts being comforting when we are being told to leave religious beliefs alone.

    I see this too, but I also see the tendency to believing comforting things over true things portrayed as a weakness or as the result of stupidity.

  34. 34
    Olav

    Erp #22:

    I suggest not looking up churching; it is the Christian equivalent though not practices as much (and no difference because of the sex of the child)

    I had to look it up anyway, of course, and it reminds me of something the mother of my partner once told us about her Catholic childhood in the Netherlands in the 1950s.

    She would tell how women, relatives and acquaintances of her, were made to crawl on their knees from the entrance of the church to the altar of Mary, where they had to ask forgiveness from their terrible sin of not having conceived “immaculately”. The threat they used to make these young women go through the humiliation was that of being cast out of the community as a “fallen woman”, and their child possibly taken away from them.

    Cured her of Catholicism (and religion in general) later in life. She still gets angry if she tells such stories.

    Don’t forget that such mysogynistic practices are often promoted by other women in a religious group, the grandmothers and aunts. Perhaps not because they find it comforting, but rather for reasons of family honour and (conversely) shame. And a good dose of “if I had to go through this, then so will you, bitch” may also be at play.

  35. 35
    Gretchen

    lofgren said:

    Ed is making a reverse argument of the one commonly made by theists, that atheism is depressing because after you die you don’t exist anymore. If the bible is true, then its misogyny is neither here nor there

    1. The misogyny in the Bible might prove it untrue, for a person who believes it impossible to be both perfect (as a god should be) and misogynistic at the same time.

    2. Even if Misogyno-God does exist and the Bible is true, one could argue that anyone who disagrees with misogyny ought not worship that god, and hence not be a Christian.

  36. 36
    gertzedek

    As a Jew, here’s how I see it:

    Ceremonial impurity (or “tameh”, in the Hebrew) is kind of weird and arbitrary, as are a lot of things to do with the Temple. For instance, a member of the priestly class (a “kohein”) can’t go to a funeral (unless it’s a *very* close relative) because he’s forbidden from contracting tameh from the dead body. In fact, kohanim can’t even go into a cemetary for that reason. For a normal person, however, standing watch over a dead body and burying the dead isn’t just acceptable, it’s required. Even the ritual to make someone ritually pure (the ritual of the red heifer) causes the person administering it to become impure. Basically, ritual impurity is weird and mostly just has to do with whether you could bring sacrifices to the Temple. Because it’s been 2000 years without a Temple now, everyone’s ritually impure (and will be, per Jewish beliefs, until the Messiah comes).

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to argue that the Iron Age legal code found in the Torah is any bastion of feminism, but a lot of it sounds a lot worse out of context than it was/is.

  37. 37
    lofgren

    Gretchen, your comment is formatted as if it is some kind of response to me, but I’m not sure how it’s related in any way. You’ll have to connect the dots for me.

  38. 38
    Ysanne

    Yes, the part with having to cleanse oneself ritually from having given birth by offerings, and girls making the mother unclean for longer than boys is simply misogyny.
    The idea of considering a person who is dripping blood and bodily fluids unclean in a time with poor hygiene in a region with clean water not too readily available is understandable though. The misogyny creeps in again when the solution is not mitigation of potential public health issues, but simply excluding the “unclean” woman

  39. 39
    Joey Maloney

    Without holding any brief for any of the major religions, and certainly not for their adherents as a group, I still have to observe that the word “accept” is doing some very heavy lifting in your lead graf.

  40. 40
    democommie

    “she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering”,

    but burnt only to medium rare and served with some nice new bulrush bulbs, and a pilaf dotted with currants and a little drizzle of olive oil.

    Religions of various stripes are giant cons for the most part. That there are good religious clergy and others (two of my auntie nuns) and less than good (my other aunty nun and a raft of cassocked charlatans) is pretty obvious. Most people I know who are “practicing” don’t practice altogether that much. Then of course the fundies practice WAY TOO MUCH–at least for a group who, if anything, get it wronger as time goes on.

  41. 41
    birgerjohansson

    democommie.

    We should encourage the fundies to practice stuff like snake handling, running around with scissors and playing with electric outlets (I leave it to you to come up with religious reasons for the last two practices).
    After a few generations selection pressure will improve the cognitive skills of the flock.

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