Women in the Bible

In the Bible, women are sometimes portrayed as men's equals and other times, as men's subordinates--or property.

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Niditch suggests that the female personification of Wisdom in Proverbs also preserves residual elements of female divinity. Although she serves as a divine emissary (Proverbs 1:29) and not a fully independent deity, Wisdom, God's confidante and delight (Proverbs 8:30), is portrayed as having been created before the world and its inhabitants (Proverbs 8:22ff.) and functions as an essential intermediary to divine favor (Proverbs 8:35‑37).

As Niditch has written, "This goddess‑like figure in Proverbs directs her attention to male adherents, but also offers a source of identification and empowerment for women by suggesting that the female…can be a source of wisdom and life."

Sexuality in the Bible

Although divine manifestations of female and male sexuality were major components of many ancient Near Eastern religious systems, the Bible treats sexuality essentially as a question of social control: "who with whom and in what circumstances."

While a number of biblical narratives demonstrate the strength of sexual attraction and its potentially destructive consequences, only the Song of Songs preserves an idyllic vision of human sexuality beyond normal societal constraints and offers an established vocabulary of female‑male erotic love.

More typically, Proverbs warns young men to shun the snares of enticing and seductive women (Proverbs 5; 7; 31:2‑3). While acknowledging that sexual attraction and love underlie the powerful biblical metaphor of God and Israel as husband and wife, Frymer‑Kensky notes the absence in the Hebrew Bible of a considered discourse on the dynamics and implications of human sexuality.

She suggests that this vacuum was ultimately filled in Hellenistic/Rabbinic times by the Greek‑derived "antiwoman, anticarnal ideas that had such a large impact on the development of Western religion and civilization."

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Judith Baskin

Judith Baskin is the Director of the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies and a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oregon.