Sunday, August 28, 2011

Women's orientation to work: part 1

The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood links to a curriculum designed to teach children and teens the essence of being male and female along these lines,
While God created men to be generally oriented toward work, God created women to be generally oriented towards relationships of helpfulness and companionship.
This is often taught in conjunction with the notion that women stay home and nurture the children and create an environment that is supportive to the husband's career. The major tasks of women would be to bear and raise children, to cook and clean the house, and see that the family is well supplied with clothes and other goods. These clothes and goods are bought with money earned by the husband, who is the "provider." The main teaching role of women in this model is to teach younger women to fulfill these tasks.

The following verses are often used in this connection, Gen. 2:15, 18 and Gen. 3:16-19,
2:15And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

18And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

3:16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

17And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

While it is true that women bear children, there has been no civilization in which men's participation in agriculture was dominant over women's participation in agriculture. Women worked the soil in ancient Israel and they continue to be participate in farming and agriculture today. In many countries women participate in agricultural work at a far higher rate than men.

So I want to look at alternate interpretation for Gen. 3:16. The consequences of the fall for the woman relate to childbearing and her relationship to her husband. The consequence of the fall for the man relates to the soil. The most obvious interpretation is that just as woman was taken out of man, so the fall returns her to man. And in the same way, as man was taken out of the soil, so he is returned to the soil. We need to consider that the story of Adam and Eve has internal plot coherency that is not necessarily related to universal truths about men and women.

Women work the soil and we can't get around that. Women share the physiological makeup of men, and die and decay in the same manner as men. Eve returns to the soil, just as much as Adam does. But the story is not about that. The story contains the plot line that man came from the soil and returned, just as woman came from man and is returned to him.

However, the woman also suffers in childbearing. Children are the main asset of women. Women wanted to produce children in order to establish their value to the family. The chief asset of a man was land. Just as Rachel schemed to bear children, and Rebekkah manipulated Isaac in Jacob's interest, so men schemed over land.

This does not mean that men bear an intrinsic relationship to the land that women do not share. Far from it. But it does mean that, in the creation narrative of Gen. 2 and 3, the male bears a relationship to the land that the woman does not. This reflects the legal and political situation in ancient societies where women were not typically landowners.

We are left now with the fact that women exclusively do bear children, but men do not exclusively own land or work the soil. Perhaps I need to qualify this last sentence. Women have a very specific but time-limited exclusive role in raising a child. Just as women are connected to the land, fathers have a close relationships to their children. A father as well as a mother suffers when a child dies. Fathers are equally invested in their children and children are the asset of both parents as is land.

We can safely say that both men and women are oriented to relationships, and both men and women are oriented to work. This may look different according to the sexes, there is some truth to the varying availablity of women to work, but this is slight when we consider that women globally partipate in physical labour full time in addition to bearing children.

I hope to blog about women's orientation to work and how this plays out in the Bible and in undertanding women's leadership in the epistles of Paul. I feel that it is important to respond to the teaching that men are to provide, protect, work and initiate, and that this is what makes men leaders, and women the receivers and affirmers of male leadership. My focus will be on certain areas of women's work in the biblical narrative.


Bob MacDonald said...

You would know that the LXX re תשוקה in Gn 3:16 is rendered as ἀποστροφή in the LXX and not as an equivalent word for longing such as in Gen 31:30 ἐπιθυμίᾳ. From Sexual desire? Eve Gen 3:16 and תשוקה in JBL Summer 2011 by Joel N. Lohr. The author even suggests that תשוקה might be a misprint for the normal word for return (שוב) as used for Adam in 3:19 - it's just a one letter difference. That word maybe was coined and then played on in Gen 4:7 and Song 7:10 where in the allegory it is God's desire for the bride. I think Lohr's article would support your suggestion.

Suzanne said...

Hi Bob,

Yes, I have read this in the LXX and that's where I got the idea. But I have not read this article that you mention. Is there some way to connect to it. I do have an SBL membership, but I don't make much use of it. Thanks for this.

Bob MacDonald said...

I have not used the online version but you should be able to set up your SBL member access here

I actually get the paper copy so I can get away from the computer sometimes!

Gem said...

Looking forward to more. :)

I think I followed the exchange with Bob, but can you confirm? I gather that the Hebrew could be "return"? in which case Gen 4:7 and SoS 7:10 are not useful cross references for clarifying the meaning?

Suzanne said...


It seems that the Greek translation indicates that it was read as "return" from שוב which is similar to שוק part ofתשוקה

In any case, it seems that the woman was motivated in the direction of her husband, that this has something to do with bearing children, and that the husband then becomes her master.

But I read this as commentary, not as universal truth that we cannot ezcape from.

Eric said...

It seems to me that the CBMW idea falls apart fairly early on. A large part of Genesis 2 is meant to establish that Eve is like Adam - God has Adam go through all the animals to verify that they won't work, plans to make a being like Adam, removes part of Adam to make this being, and Adam then identifies this being as one of his own kind ("bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh"). If you take this seriously then it seems hard to assert that the creation of woman establishes a separate role. If Adam is oriented towards work then Eve must also be unless there is something special in the text saying otherwise. It would also be nice if this special section weren't a curse on humanity.

Additionally, the very phrase "oriented towards work" seems to hinge upon anachronism. It seems to assume that "work" means a very specific sort of Western thing (namely, one's work is a job) and that our modern division between work and home chores existed in the ancient world. "Oriented towards farming" would at least stick to some sort of reading of the text. Expanding it without cause to encompass all of "professional" life and nothing else is clearly without merit.

Gary said...

"The most obvious interpretation is that just as woman was taken out of man, so the fall returns her to man. And in the same way, as man was taken out of the soil, so he is returned to the soil"...I would think that the most "obvious" interpretation is an allegory of humans moving from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian society. The "sin" of the fall, picking fruit you didn't cultivate yourself, against your benefactor's orders. Outrageous.

Eric said...

"The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." I don't see how that maps to picking fruit you didn't cultivate. It seems that the man's work was to cultivate Eden.

I'm aware of multiple attempts to read a herder-versus-agriculturalist conflict into Genesis (especially in Genesis 4) but if these stories originally came out of such an idea it seems to have been well-obfuscated by later plotlines, probably because the current form of the story is not addressing this conflict.

Gary said...

I think the bigger problem in the literal story is how God can punish mankind for seeking knowledge, when God gave humans a brain to seek knowledge in the first place. Of course, blaming it on woman is also a reach. Guess I don't believe in the "fall". OK allegory, but not to be taken literally, or try to read too much into it as a lesson, especially man and woman's place in the universe.

Bob MacDonald said...

Now we're getting somewhere -"I don't believe in the fall"

Richard Beck at Experimental Theology has been running a series on death and sin (rather than sin and death). He is always in danger of letting language lapse to a traditional pre- and post-lapsarian 'explanation' but he has a few pointers in the series that are suggestive. One question he asks is 'was death always part of God's plan?' (Loaded words, I know)

If the answer is 'yes', then the death produced by non-cooperation is an immediate death revealed by shame. But death still is a means to the end of life in a positive sense. Faith is born in Adam. So when Cain is equally tempted, a means to overcome the temptation is somehow available to him also. We see the expression of such faith in Abraham, when he submits to the mini-death of circumcision, and also the offering of Isaac. The floods of Exodus or Jordan likewise are seen as images of death and redemption. This is not to put a Christian turn on it, but to reframe the Gospel in the NT in what is already Gospel in the hearing and doing of instruction in TNK. What seems a possible line of inquiry for dealing with NT formulas, removing them from their fig-leaved rote performance, and clothing them will the real cost of skin garments is to find the TNK threads that Paul picks up with his teaching of first and second Adam's - both male and female.


Shawna R. B. Atteberry said...

Suzanne you rock my world. Wonderful, wonderful post. I'm looking forward to your series, especially in the Pauline epistles. I'm translating Colossians right now & will be teaching it at church in September. A big part of my book proposal is about women working and it being normal in the Bible. I'm interested to see how we agree and differ on the subject.

Eric said...

I don't think characterizing Genesis 2-3 as God punishing humanity for seeking knowledge really tracks well with the story. The tree isn't just the tree of knowledge, it's the tree of knowledge of good and evil. What's more, the reaction the man and woman have to receiving this knowledge is to feel shame and, it seems, vulnerability. That makes perfect sense if this is a fall from innocence - once you know how to do evil deeds then you feel vulnerable because you know others could do them to you. Seeking knowledge is great, seeking knowledge of evil in a world with none in it is not.

I also think that if you were to seriously draw ideas about men and women from Genesis 2-3 you'd end up egalitarian as the main message in Eve's creation in 2 is that Eve is a human like Adam, literally a part of him. (Spoken to a culture where women were generally considered less human, or at least less adult, than men.) The "federal headship of Adam" seems to rely extensively on using English translations that have been usefully biased with subtexts not present in the Hebrew. As far as I can tell it's nearly the opposite of the actual story.

Frankly, I think the average Christian in America, at least, is reading Genesis with an entirely different set of questions (often "knowing" the answers) than the author has set out to address. It's worth asking what Genesis 1 and 2-3 are saying if we let them suggest the questions (not that we can do this perfectly, but it's worth the attempt).

Kristen said...

Bob, what is "TNK"?

Don said...

I think TNK is short for Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, what Christians know often as the Old Testament (but books are in a different order).

Bob MacDonald said...

Yes TNK is an acronym built from the first letters of Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim, The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. This collection is in a different order from the Old Testament but the same books, apart from the various apocrypha. (I think) we see an early reference to this arrangement in the NT in Luke 22:44