Misogyny in the Bible

Biblical Scholar April DeConick Explains How the Mother God and the Female Holy Spirit Got Spayed

Biblical studies professor April DeConick (above) of Rice University believes that some scholars may be too quick to apologize for misogyny in the Bible because of a religious belief in the sacred nature of the Bible. In fact, the Israelites worshiped a Mother God as well as a Father God, and some early Christians believed in a female Holy Spirit. But because the female body was considered imperfect in the ancient world, April DeConick says, it affected the theologies, worship and sacred texts that came out of that world.

Is God gendered as a male in the Bible? How could Scripture, the Word of God to so many Christians, be the product of patriarchy and its over-sexed values that are grounded in the perpetuation of male domination and the degradation of the female? How could Jesus be portrayed as someone who valued God as a male spiritual being? With these challenging questions, April DeConick begins her Biblical Views column in the September/October 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, exploring the possibility of misogyny in the Bible.

To begin with, humans—whether ancient or modern—think within gender categories. In much of the ancient world, the female body was considered subhuman, imperfect. According to April DeConick, the Bible came into being within a cultural matrix where the female body was, by definition, substandard and dehumanized. Although ancient Israelites worshiped a Mother God and some early Christians believed in a female Holy Spirit, the dehumanization of the female body affected virtually every storyline of the Bible and affected the way in which the ancient people created their theologies and engaged in worship. Once the Church defined the doctrine of the trinity as consubstantial, there couldn’t be a female Holy Spirit as substantial s a male Father and Son.

To read more from April DeConick about the female Holy Spirit and possible instances of misogyny in the Bible, see her Biblical Views column, “How the Mother God Got Spayed,” in the September/October 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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  1. Ron says

    So the politcal correct moves into the bible. You can cancel my subscription as that stuff takes up space for items of other interest and Is a waste of time from my end.

  2. James says

    So in matt. 6 or Luke 11 we should delete Father? I don’t think so. I have read your articles for some time with great interest, not always agreeing, but interested. If you have run out of things to write about, ask for outside sources, but don’t stoop to the sensational to increase subscribers.

  3. Patrick says

    The writer makes a few glaring assumptions in her article, but perhaps the most ludicrous is assuming that the Israelites were “legitimately” worshiping the Queen of heaven and only later was this cast as a bad thing. What is she basing this on? Nothing but her preconceptions.

  4. DUANE says

    This pseudo-scholar is sick! I will leave BAR if she continues to be on staff. I find her in danger of Divine judgement.

  5. Wayne says

    Interesting speculation, but God actually has no gender, except through Jesus. Jesus taught in order that we could understand. Man has always sought to “humanize” God.

  6. Jenny says

    God actually has no gender? Man is created in the image of God, male and female….thus we have a Father and a Mother in heaven.

  7. MICHAEL says

    One of the big questions i would ask this woman is why did God come as a man is that a divine mistake or did father God actually know what he was doing. This is again a feminist view that tries to change the tapestry of reality. womans role in this is far greater than mans because in Gods heavan service is far more important to God which is one of the central themes of scripture.

  8. Nancy says

    I agree with Patrick; the Queen of Heaven should in no way be doctrinally conflated with Yahweh; the Bible (if not the Israelite practice) always knew the difference. And non-canonical Gospels, are, well, non-canonical.

  9. Stan says

    No question ancient Israelites worshiped female daity. There were thousands statues found around Jerusalem. I am enjoying the idiots above who take concept of god seriously. Once they insists that the make belive daity is gender based, it’s not a god but magician with few tricks up its sleeve. We Jews, in antiquity, never consider god a male or real lbut more of the concept to argue about. Even the name Israel is based on story of Jacob fighting with god.

  10. brian says

    Always capitalize God stan

  11. Sarah says

    I’m very disappointed in the scholarship of this article. Where are your citations? Your ignorance of Biblical history and of Greek and Hebrew is stunning. What you’re describing is the pagan worship that was tolerated in Israel until God’s people were finally broken of this sin through captivity, as well as some later Gnostic influences that did teach that woman were inferior, as in the faux-Gospel of Thomas. The Old Testament is resplendent with celebrated images of heroines of the faith: Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Deborah, Esther, Jael, etc. Maybe we should stick to real academics.

  12. Sarah says

    @Stan I understand English is your second language, but perhaps a Spelling and Grammar Check program would be helpful? Also, you wrote, “We Jews, in antiquity.” How old are you anyway?

  13. Brent says

    I’ve never commented on an article at BAR, but I fear what BAR is publishing now. I’m at least glad to see a consensus here that this is sensationalist at best. I agree with Patrick and add further that this is precisely the reason Israel adopted a masculine linguistic – to remain separated from neighboring religions.. Especially those involving goddess worship, fertility rites, shrine prostitutes, etc. It seems a little absurd to have to point this out.

  14. Matteo says

    The Word of God does NOT espress mysoginy at any place.
    God blessed and enjoyed His creation at each and every step, so including man AND woman.
    In His image are both, not just one.
    So, there can be no claim by women, as of themselves, towards any “godly award”, same as there is none from male side. What would be the aim at, anyway? Aren’t we, or aren’t women, satisfied with the dignity that God set for us???

    It’s a fact that Jesus calls God Father (and not mother), but what are exactly the qualifying attributes of a Father in the Jewish culture and in the NT view?
    Stick to that and you’ll see that the quest towards a female (or a male) issue will disappear immediately, as it has no substance.

    To the Sadducees, cahllenging Him on a typical “male” (and female!) issue, Jesus answered there is no gender in Heaven (“like angels”!!), see Matthew 22:25-33.
    So, why even consider the gender issue about God??

    P.S.
    Or, you can turn to the Catholic church, where they worship an icon of Mary, as essential “stakeholder” of Redemption, if you need a “higher place” for women

  15. Dacer says

    BAR has been a trustworthy resource but now I have to keep my guard up on the articles coming in. I’m not a scholar but I know when bad resources and weak arguments are made. Interesting she writes about misogyny (hatred or dislike of women) and calls it the serpent in the Garden when she uses the method to hate and dislike scholars like Ben Witherington. I like how she rocked the boat a little! Good job Ape!

  16. Jay says

    To April:

    “In the beginning was the Word…”. This is the first phrase in the book that many believe to be first book of the NT. Look at
    http://www.thechristianrabbi.org/mosesmemra.htm

    The name, “Memra” is used commonly in the Targums, of which I have the complete collection in modern English available from the Liturgical Press.

    In the French version of the first chapter of the gospel of John, “the Word” is “la parole”.

    The definite article, “la” indicates
    feminine. Also, according to Klein’s Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language”, Memra is feminine.

  17. Hazel says

    You seem to be locked into feminist notions. The LORD God is far above such manmade concepts. If He cares to portray Himself as masculine it is not for us to argue with Him or His son the Lord Jesus Christ.

  18. Christopher says

    Moses spoke to Him face to face and He passed before his face. I take his word on it that ‘He’ and not ‘She’ was the appropriate descriptor.

  19. Priscilla says

    I look forward to reading this article. I have always felt that those who are uncertain of the validity of their claims are the ones who scream “Dont MAKE me look!!” at differing view points. Jesus was male. In the society into which he was born, being born female would have complicated an already difficult path. If the society into which he was born had been matriarchal with the males being the subservient property, its possible he might have been born female, but speculation on that is pretty pointless since that’s not the way it happened. I hope BAR will continue to publish articles exploring all viewpoints since only by knowing what other viewpoints are out there can we show their errors. Where would Grant have been if he had refused to sully his eyes with Lee’s battle plans?

  20. Charles says

    Anyone who doesn’t understand God’s gender can’t really be Christian. If GOD is female why did Jesus tell us to pray to ‘Our Father who is in heaven’?
    And is there really gender recognition with GOD? God is a Spirit and those who worship him must worship in Spirit. . .

  21. Bob says

    Ref Matteo’s comment:
    Really, we know for a fact that Jesus never called God his mother? God is an entity-neither male or female.
    Bob W.

  22. Katrinka says

    Sarah your awesome! Thank you! I’m just a simpleton, but I thought you put it quite succinctly !

  23. Albert says

    I beg to differ. When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer He did not say, Our Father and Mother who art in Heaven.; He said we should pray, “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed by thy Name.”

    Over and over in both the Old Testament and the New Testament God is always talked about in the Masculine. God sent His Son Jesus, to save us from our sins.

    Feminists who don’t like the traditional male and female gender roles do so by denying there own feminine nature. This causes untold misery for women on both a psychological and a social basis.

    What I have just said is not misogyny. Women are just as valuable to God as men are. God loves women just as much as He loves men. However, God created mean and women for complimentary and harmonious gender roles, not the same Gender role.

    You remember the old Margarine commercial where the personification of “mother Nature tasted the margarine and said “butter”, a voice said the brand of the margarine, and Mother nature said “It is not good to fool Mother Nature”. That is what Feminists are doing by saying they have the same gender role as men. Also, If it is not wise to fool Mother Nature, how very dangerous it is to try to fool people about God’s love letter and life instructions to us, The Holy Bible by denying it is the Truth and misrepresenting what it says.

    What I have written, I have written in Brotherly love to my sisters in Christ and Daughters of Adam.

  24. Joris says

    “Male and female (he) created them, in (his) image and likeness” – To emphasize God as Father is to accept the environment Jesus was in, but I believe–and perhaps it is an old mystic’s habit–that God IS, and God is more “you” than either mail or female. I am not particularly conscious of the sex of someone i am addressing as a rule, it is not important. What is important is the “you”-ness. I believe it is time to acknowledge that, and admit the misogyny in the Bible as culturally created and move on. Women should be ordained in the Catholic “priest”hood or priests should be circumcised–to use the logic used by the hierarchy–one of the other!

  25. Bradford says

    As with time passing, we are bound to run into stuff that is used to gain an increase in subscriptions…this idea that God is a female is total crap. No where in the Bible does God appear as a female. That is just some female wanting to get her time in the media. That is lowest of the low…very far from true research and genuine professionalism

  26. Dr. says

    The problem is that unbelievers like Ms DeConick do not understand nor grasp the idea of false worship, false gods, false teachings and others like rebellion, disobedience and out right rejection of God’s word.
    John 14 ans 16 tells us that unbelievers do not have the truth and Ms. DeCOnick proves that true.

  27. brian says

    Thanks Sarah

  28. Jay says

    In the church I attended as a child back in 1958, the Revised Standard Version had been recently published. I don’t recall its publication date and I think it was much earlier than the 1950s. The minister was much older than I was, maybe born close to 1900 and I suppose the RSV was very new to him. He commented that an elderly woman was angry with the RSV and insisted that the “original language” must be used in the bible, i.e. the King James Version. The minister commented to us kids that the language spoken at the time of Jesus was not King James English.

  29. JOE says

    GENISIS CHAP1-LET “US” CREATE
    THEM IN “OUR” IMAGE BOTH MALE & FEMALE.

  30. Velynda says

    Oh I hope this article is not a sign of what will pass for “scholarship” in editions to come. Otherwise I shall promptly cancel my subscription and demand my money back. I realize that BAR is finding funds a little difficult to come by these days but this is not the way to go about it.

  31. Doug says

    April DeConick’s article is the most intellectually dishonest approach to a emotionally charged subject that I have ever read. She engages in point proofing at a level that Biblical Archaeology ought not allow in a scholarly publication.

    To deliberately take Jeremiah 44:15-19 out of context and purport to say “The ancient Israelites used to worship the Queen of Heaven even in the Temple in Jerusalem because she kept famine away” is intellectually dishonest. Clearly Jeremiah records that Israel and Judah were being judged by Yahweh for doing exactly what DeConick claims was working, namely idol worship. Jeremiah 44:2-6 (NLT) “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: You saw the calamity I brought on Jerusalem and all the towns of Judah. They now lie deserted and in ruins. They provoked my anger with all their wickedness. They burned incense and worshiped other gods—gods that neither they nor you nor any of your ancestors had ever even known. “Again and again I sent my servants, the prophets, to plead with them, ‘Don’t do these horrible things that I hate so much.’ But my people would not listen or turn back from their wicked ways. They kept on burning incense to these gods. And so my fury boiled over and fell like fire on the towns of Judah and into the streets of Jerusalem, and they are still a desolate ruin today.” Shame on BA for giving this DeConick’s tripe a forum to be heard.

    Further she ignores the examples of women in scripture that occupied places of leadership and importance in society such as Miriam, Deborah, Esther, and others. Even Eve is given fair treatment in scripture and not denigrated as DeConick purposes. In New Testament one reads of the daughters of Philip being prophetess’, Lydia, and even Peter recounting Joel’s prophecy that the Spirit would be poured out upon ‘sons and daughters’.

    DeConick apparently has steeped a little too long in the feminist tea of misogyny and brings a distinct personal bias to what should be viewed based on the evidence presented. No where in Scripture do I find any hint of a bias against women. Everywhere I read I find a record of Yahweh equally dealing with both men and women according to His love and mercy. Shame of Ms. DeConick for twisting the cultural record to suggest otherwise.

  32. Joseph says

    God made MAN in his own image and made woman from a man’s rib.

  33. MARY says

    oh my goodness! i thought we had made some progress in the Church. It sounds as though many readers have returned to, or never left middle-ages mythology. Literalism is dangerous.

  34. Loy says

    God is called “Father” because that is his name and not a title. Father means “originator” in Hebrew. Jesus came from the bossom of the originator. It is only us humans that associate Father to males and giving birth seems to us exclusive to females. We had to invent the word “mother” for the female originator. I agree there is no gender in heaven because all humans are siblings. It is just the translation to English, in which, unfortunately, there is no neutral word so it is either brother or sister for a sibling. In other languages like Filipino, there is a neutral word “kapatid”.

  35. Loy says

    God is called “Father” because that is his name and not a title. Father means “originator” in Hebrew. Jesus came from the bossom of the originator. It is only us humans that associate Father to males and giving birth seems to us exclusive to females. I agree there is no gender in heaven because all humans are siblings. It is just the translation to English, in which, unfortunately, there is no neutral word so it is either brother or sister for a sibling. In other languages like Filipino, there is a neutral word “kapatid”.

  36. Loy says

    God is called “Father” because that is his name. It is not a title. Father means “originator” in Hebrew. Jesus came from the bossom of the originator. It is only us humans that associate Father to males and giving birth seems to us exclusive to females. I agree there is no gender in heaven because all humans are siblings. It is just the translation to English, in which, unfortunately, there is no neutral word so it is either brother or sister for a sibling. In other languages like Filipino, there is a neutral word “kapatid”.

  37. Damaris says

    Reading all of these comments, all that come labeled with the ‘but this isn’t misogyny!” is hilarious. Of course it is. You’re just comfortable with it.

  38. INGRID says

    well i guess we all need to go back to the beginning when god took a rib out of adam to make a wo-man! only the pagan world knows of goddesses! and quite frankly, woman’s liberation and feminism have very little root in scripture! and stop making god a sexual gender specific object over wanting to be a female pastor!! same thing with blacks claiming jesus was black! no he was from the house of israel, decendent from the house of david! when you bend the truth you go astray!

Continuing the Discussion

  1. JAT Publications | Father of Lights and Mother of Breath — Again linked to this post on September 5, 2012

    [...] and sometimes I don’t read them.  But this one caught my eye, and I clicked on the link (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/bible-interpretation/misogyny-in-the-bible/).  There I found a wonderful article by Biblical Studies professor April DeConick.  The full [...]


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