First Person: Misogyny in the Bible

From the March/April 2017 Biblical Archaeology Review


Hershel Shanks

Christopher Rollston is one of the world’s leading paleographers of ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. I have been harshly critical of some of his views, principally regarding unprovenanced inscriptions—inscriptions that have surfaced only from the antiquities market, not from a professional archaeological excavation. They may be forgeries, he argues. Although my criticism of Chris’s position is intense,1 we remain good friends and regularly share a meal. Chris is also a master carpenter. Above my office door hangs a beautiful polished wooden plaque expertly carved with my name in paleo-Hebrew script—the kind of Hebrew letters used before the Babylonian destruction of the Solomonic (First) Temple in 586 B.C.E.
Several years ago, when Chris was teaching at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, a Tennessee seminary affiliated with the Restoration Movement, he wrote an article about the Bible’s sometimes “unfair” or unequal treatment of women.2 He recently published a revised and augmented version of this controversial article.3

Here are some examples from his article:

Noah and his wife had three sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth—Genesis 5:32) who were each married. All eight were on the ark. We know the names of all the men, but none of the women (Genesis 8:18), not even Noah’s wife.

Rollston finds the marginalization of women obvious and “clear” in the Ten Commandments: “The wife is classified as her husband’s property, and she’s listed with the slaves and work animals. There is also a striking omission in this commandment: Never does it say, ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s husband.’”

In the free eBook Exploring Genesis: The Bible’s Ancient Traditions in Context, discover the cultural contexts for many of Israel’s earliest traditions. Explore Mesopotamian creation myths, Joseph’s relationship with Egyptian temple practices and three different takes on the location of Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham.

Rollston continues with other examples:

An unmarried woman could be compelled to marry her rapist, as long as the rapist could pay the standard bride price and the woman’s father was comfortable with the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:28–29). Polygyny (a man having multiple wives at the same time) was not condemned, but was an accepted and legal custom (Deuteronomy 21:15–17; Genesis 4:19–24; and 2 Samuel 3:2–5). A woman’s religious vow could be nullified by her father or her husband (Numbers 30:3–15). And the assumption of the text is that the priesthood is all male (Leviticus 21). In short, within the legal literature of the Bible, women were not accorded the same status as men.

Other examples come from the New Testament; here is one of Rollston’s examples:

[1 Timothy 2] begins by stating that “men should pray” (and the word used here for men is andras, a gendered word that refers only to males) and then says “women should dress themselves modestly and decently” (vv. 8–9). So men are to pray, and women are to dress modestly. That’s quite a contrast. But there’s more: “Let a woman learn in silence and full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to be silent” (vv. 11–12). The author’s rationale: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (vv. 13–14). According to this text, women were to be silent in worship gatherings (and men were certainly not told to be silent), and the rationale for this mandate is that woman (Eve) was created second and sinned first. And the final blow is this: A woman “will be saved” (the future tense of the standard word for “be saved,” “be given salvation”) “through childbirth if she remains in faith and love and sanctification with modesty” (1 Timothy 2:15).


Learn about Biblical women with slighted traditions in the Bible History Daily feature Scandalous Women in the Bible, which includes articles on Lilith, Mary Magdalene and Jezebel.

Rollston recently told us in writing what we already knew. This criticism of the Bible led to his “forced ouster” from Emmanuel Christian Seminary.

Not long after his “forced ouster,” I saw Chris and told him that this could be the best thing that ever happened to him. And so it turned out. Eventually he obtained a tenured position at the George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. Soon thereafter the prestigious position of editor of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) opened up, and Chris and his distinguished colleague Eric Cline at GWU were appointed as coeditors to fill the position. Seldom do we write stories with such happy endings.

“First Person: Misogyny in the Bible” by Hershel Shanks originally appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2017.



1. See Hershel Shanks, “Predilections—Is the ‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription a Forgery?” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2015.

2. Christopher Rollston, “The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don’t Like to Talk About,” Huffington Post, August 31, 2012.

3. Christopher A. Rollston, “Women, the Bible, and the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” in Frances Flannery and Rodney Alan Werline, eds., The Bible in Political Debate (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on March 7, 2017.


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36 Responses

  1. Joseph Chua says:

    To George.

    Ummmm I think that’s a quote from 1984? I myself am trying to find ways to explain the misogyny in the bible, but have been having trouble. But it is also important to not misquote just for the sake of an argument. If it was done ironically then well done to you, it just wasn’t clear to me.

  2. George Orwell says:

    Reading the comments shows you how misogyny is possible in an advanced society. Moreover, it shows how people would rather be told what to think instead of thinking for themselves.

    “War is peace, Ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery.” Some verse in the New Testament I think.

  3. As is true with all the internet, the comments are more interesting than the post!

    Personally I find regardless of the in-context misogyny/ prejudice/ oppression of women in the Bible — it is the women who are the powerhouses that keep that red cord unbroken.
    It wasn’t necessarily achieved through wholesomeness, but there was a whole lot of courage and ballsiness involved.

  4. Katherine Whittenberg says:

    I feel that since the beginning of time and the garden of eden, sin destroyed the relationship between man and woman. Before man and woman were one. After the fall she became a stranger. She became an enemy to overcome. God didn’t plan it that way, It takes submission by both to the will of God daily. There’s no hope without Christ Jesus.

  5. jun says:

    Women are talkative in nature that is why they are forbidden to talk inside the temple. And women should not have authority over her husband. Maybe because some women want to overpower their husbands. Its not about inequality. its about womens behavior. Jesus has made all things new for us. His resurrection at the cross bring salvation to every one. He breath new life so that we can live free. All of us. Inequality among women were practiced in the old testament. and they are under the law of Moses. We are in the new covenant now. As long as we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ we will be saved.

  6. Furienna says:

    And I also have to agree with the posters, who feel that this article is too negative. There are plenty of good portraits of women in the Bible. Some of these are flawed individuals for sure, but they still show us women coped with their role in male-dominated societies. And if there is some misogyny in the Bible, that’s because it was written more than two thousand years ago (Old Testament) or nearly two thousand years ago (New Testament). Things were a lot different back then.

  7. Furienna says:

    As for a woman being “compelled to marry her rapist”, many people in the 21rst century look at it from the wrong direction. Because in the ancient world, this would have been seen as a punishment for the man rather than for the woman. A rape victim would have been defiled forever back then, and she would have had a hard time finding another man to marry. So thus, the law forced the rapist to take his responsibility and marry her. Sure, you can see faults in this system from a modern point of view. But that is because we have a better understanding of what a rape victim might go through. Back in the old days, people would care more about the woman’s reputation and the honor of her family. Both of which could only be saved through a marriage… Furthermore, I believe that the man in this situation was forbidden from ever divorcing his wife, so he wasn’t let off the hook att all!

  8. David C says:

    EQUALITY. Can anyone dispute that the role of women has been enhanced since Christianity became the major religion in the western world. Did women become more equal in those areas of the world without Christianity? Are they NOW equal in those areas without Christianity? WAKE UP!!!

  9. David C says:

    Peggy, this article was not about equality. It was titled misogyny. Not the same at all.

  10. David C says:

    Concerning Christopher Rollston and “This criticism of the Bible led to his “forced ouster” from Emmanuel Christian Seminary”; based on the comments here, perhaps those criticisms were legitimate. I also find it interesting that he gets several new positions after being let go from a Bible believing school for writing what seems to be a very PC article. I noticed NO positive depictions of women in his article which would have been a FAIR thing to include. I also wonder if the positive descriptions included might have outweighed the negative. Sounds like a good article for someone to write – RIGHT?

  11. David C says:

    Ridiculous. The woman at the well was the first PERSON in the Bible to share Jesus’ gospel with others as well as the first non-Jew to hear the gospel. Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in adultery was certainly gentle and forgiving. The evidence of the Gospels and the Book of Acts is that Jesus and the apostles often stayed at the homes of women like Mary and Martha on their way to and from Galilee. In the genealogy of Jesus, two women are mentioned alongside the men (one being a prostitute). Lydia was the first person in the western world to receive and welcome the gospel as shared by Paul. Paul greets many women in his letters for their good work. If the word misogyny means a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women – then the BIBLE definitely does NOT fit that description. Indeed, I imagine 99.9% of God’s wrath described in the Bible is toward MEN !

  12. Alisa Davidson says:

    Martha, Read Galations 3:28 in context. Paul was talking about salvation. All can be saved-males or females, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people.
    Galations was probably the first book Paul wrote. In his later writings he explained the roles of men and women.
    The book Love and Respect helped me to understand that women and men both need love and respect. Love is more important to women and respect is more important to men. That is the way God made us so the world could function properly. When there is just one leader in a home, life functions more smoothly.

  13. Joy says:

    Peggy, your logic is clear and sound. Many questions about the Bible and what it says become answerable when we realize and understand the culture of the Ancient world.

  14. roberts405 says:

    17. Robert says:
    There’s no doubt that the Judaeo-Christian scriptures portray man and woman as different, and put woman in a secondary or submissive position to the man. We understand this attitude as significant to the culture of the mideastern Mediterranean world of that time. Over two thousand years our understanding of human nature, of man and woman has changed drastically, and NOW it is important that all men and women respect each other and view each other as reflections of God, images of God.
    Christ says, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”

  15. Peggy Fuchs says:

    Ok for starters the OT and NT show some sexist attitudes. When the Pharisees went to stone the woman for committing adultery, where was the male involved? Why was he not getting stoned? Women were clearly seen as property of men, we only have to see this with the Kings in the Bible and all their wives and concubines. But this is also seen to many readers as safety for women, as life for a woman on her own was extremely hard back then, the norm was for women to be married and submissive. She was safer amongst a group of many wives than out on her own. But people can refute this and say that then all males are predators and should females see all men as predators. I’m sure most men would not like to see themselves as predators. The Catholic Church the Priests that have raped boys, many readers say that this would not have happened if women were allowed to be Priests. There are many strong women in the Bible, the fact they are mentioned shows God found them worthy. Jesus’ treatment to women seemed revolutionary at the time. Would men say Jesus was wrong? Lets hope not. The Bible is full of sin of all humans, sin in men and women, strength in men and women. The most confident men in the world are the ones that treat women with decency and respect and not lower their value. The most confident women in the world are the ones that can be friends with men and not let herself be sexually degraded. Is the Bible sexist, I’d have to say yes it is in some ways, but it was life in another time to our world today and while feminism may have improved things in situations of domestic violence and abuse, the fact is it still happens all around the world. Abortion on demand as seen as a right of feminism has put the life of a baby a human life as a mere foetus and many women have struggled emotionally after an abortion. This is not equality. The world is full of evil, and as Godly men and women we should be showing the love of Jesus Christ to the world and one another. What chance does the world have if Christian marriages do not last as long as secular marriages, or gay couples last longer than heterosexual couples. Maybe as Christians we have lost our status and meaning to what constitutes a healthy respect between both men and women

  16. Anne Rodgers says:

    I started college in 1966. Many people were saying that the Bible had ancient ideas about women that contributed to putting them down. I wish someone had pointed out Bible verses that I have since found. God created them male and female in his image. Proverbs says “When a man finds a wife he finds a good thing and favor with God” Joel and Acts 2? speak of God pouring his spirit out on men and women. John 7 is revolutionary, and the husband does not have the right over his own body, but rather the wife does! Where the gospel has been accepted, women are treated well.

  17. ngluct says:

    A strong rebuttal can surely be made also from the bible.

  18. Dan Bruce says:

    Eva, perhaps that why the New Testament says its best if women (including women scholars) remain silent in the church.

  19. Tim B says:

    Michael F and his cosmic myths indicates he knows even less about the Bible and history than Mervyn. Yes in the OT there is much that can be interpreted as mysogynist as some statements by Paul in the New Testament but the general tone and overall teaching of Christ and the Bible is women affirming. That women, some named, responded and followed Jesus is recorded and it was this message ‘Come! Follow me!’ that is still important today. There is so much garbage and claptrap being sprouted around that the gospel is no longer being heard. To talk of the Bible as myth when there is so much evidence that where corroborating non-Bible evidence exists it is demonstrated to be very accurate.

  20. Gene R says:

    Proverbs 31:10-31(NWT) א [ʼAʹleph]
    10 A capable wife who can find? Her value is far more than that of corals.
    ב [Behth]
    11 In her the heart of her owner* has put trust, and there is no gain lacking.
    ג [Giʹmel]
    12 She has rewarded him with good, and not bad, all the days of her life.
    ד [Daʹleth]
    13 She has sought wool and linen, and she works at whatever is the delight of her hands.
    ה [Heʼ]
    14 She has proved to be like the ships of a merchant. From far away she brings in her food.*
    ו [Waw]
    15 She also gets up while it is still night, and gives food* to her household and the prescribed portion to her young women.
    ז [Zaʹyin]
    16 She has considered a field and proceeded to obtain it; from the fruitage of her hands she has planted a vineyard.
    ח [Chehth]
    17 She has girded her hips with strength, and she invigorates her arms.
    ט [Tehth]
    18 She has sensed that her trading is good; her lamp does not go out at night.
    י [Yohdh]
    19 Her hands she has thrust out to the distaff, and her own hands take hold of the spindle.
    כ [Kaph]
    20 Her palm she has stretched out to the afflicted one, and her hands she has thrust out to the poor one.
    ל [Laʹmedh]
    21 She does not fear for her household because of the snow, for all her household are clothed with double garments.*
    מ [Mem]
    22 Coverlets she has made for herself. Her clothing is of linen and wool dyed reddish purple.
    נ [Nun]
    23 Her owner is someone known in the gates, when he sits down with the older men* of the land.
    ס [Saʹmekh]
    24 She has made even undergarments and proceeded to sell [them], and belts she has given to the tradesmen.
    ע [ʽAʹyin]
    25 Strength and splendor are her clothing, and she laughs at a future day.
    פ [Peʼ]
    26 Her mouth she has opened in wisdom, and the law of loving-kindness* is upon her tongue.
    צ [Tsa·dhehʹ]
    27 She is watching over the goings-on of her household, and the bread of laziness* she does not eat.
    ק [Qohph]
    28 Her sons have risen up and proceeded to pronounce her happy; her owner [rises up], and he praises her.
    ר [Rehsh]
    29 There are many daughters that have shown capableness, but you—you have ascended above them all.
    ש [Shin]
    30 Charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain; [but] the woman that fears Jehovah is the one that procures praise for herself.
    ת [Taw]
    31 GIVE her of the fruitage of her hands, and let her works praise her even in the gates.*

  21. Eva says:

    Female scholars have been doing this work for a long time, but usually when women point out something is sexist they get shut down and considered whiny, not rewarded with tenured positions and praise.

  22. Alfred Noble says:

    Misogyny means the hatred of women and that is far far from the Biblical view. The tender way that Christ’s mother is portrayed in Luke’s Gospel is far from hate The same goes for Miriam and other OT women. They are praised and honour. And the status that Jesus gave to women is exemplary.

  23. Dan Bruce says:

    Martha, thank you for over-ruling God as the author of the Bible and revealing that the Word of God as we have it is in error. Where do we go to worship you?

  24. Johanna says:

    There was so much redaction of the letters of Paul a few centuries after his death– anyone skilled as an editor will instantly recognize the 180 degree turn in the letter to Timothy from Paul’s earlier statement (Gal 3:28) that “in Christ there is not slave nor free, Gentile nor Jew, male nor female.” I see pawprints of the later misogynistic Desert Fathers (Egyptian) and the Augustinian outlook in this letter. I sincerely doubt that Paul himself ever wrote any such thing, and Ibelieve that what we read in Timothy is a later imposition by some fanatical scribe coming from an entirely different culture that was fundamentally pagan. As for not naming women, that was the literary custom of the time, just as in the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain, to name a specific woman aloud in a public house could be grounds for an invitation to a duel by her outraged brother or father. It is simply wrong to impose later standards, especially those that have seeped like sewage into our universities today, on any specific time or culture; these have to be examined in light of themselves, as evidence of how things actually were, scientifically, not with the postmodern political femininist mumbo-jumbo and claptrap that now surrounds us everywhere. Unfortunately, in the third and fourth centuries, a lot of the same sort of political cant entered into the Church via its misogynistic clergy of those centuries, and has never been eradicated particularly in Roman Catholicism. These things are contrary to what Christ is reported to have said, and what St. Paul wrote.

  25. Mervyn Kersh says:

    Michael F. lives in a world of make believe. The Hebrew Bible is a history as well as a moral guide, There are women leaders, strong women and bad women. There are also strong men leaders, and many bad men recorded. Eve may have sought knowledge between good and evil but she was stronger-willed than Adam otherwise she would not have persuaded him to eat the pomegranate. There is no women versus men . Each have different roles just as Cain was a hunter while Abel was a farmer. They are all individuals.

  26. Mervyn Kersh says:

    Different does not mean inferior.

  27. Marjorie says:

    Genesis 1: 26-28
    I, read and interpret these as God creating “man” (both Adam and Eve being referred to as “man kind”). God gave instructions for both Adam and Eve to rule and subdue and to be fruitful and multiply. 🙂

  28. Mervyn Kersh says:

    You could also say that women are already perfect and so have no need to pray for guidance, while men need help. Just accept things as they are!

  29. Mervyn Kersh says:

    In case somebody had not noticed, women are different from men. That is why they have different roles in life. Is a chair less “equal” than a table?

  30. Lisa Gorman says:

    Dan you are right, except that we’ve already become that kind of “secular society”.

  31. Dan Bruce says:

    Saying the Bible is misogynistic is the same thing as saying that Jesus-God is misogynistic, that is, if you believe that the Bible is the Word of God. That attitude becomes a very slippery slope that leads to unbelief. A proper understanding shows that the Bible is correct about the relationship of men and women in a Godly society such as the church. When its teachings about men and women are called into question and disregarded, the kind of secular society we are becoming is the result.

  32. Lisa Gorman says:

    Misogynistic is an over used word in these modern times. Yes, there is misogyny in the world, always has been and as long as we live in a sinful world, always will be. Misogyny means “hate for women”. God’s word doesn’t show hate for women, even if the treatment of women does not seem equal to men, but that does not equate to hate.

  33. Michael F. Ledo says:

    The OT stories were cosmic myths and reflected the views of the constellations. They were written at a time when the goddess was being dissed. A correct reading of the original OT would also exclude the name of Eve who cosmically was Ishtar/Ashera. Adam had 2 wives, one in Eden, one afterwards. Only the man was expelled if you read the text. It was believed the perverse worship of the goddess caused two meteors to destroy two Babylonian cities, according to ancient texts. Ishum who pleaded with Irra not to destroy anymore cities became Abraham in the OT as did many Akkadian kings and gods. Noah’s wife didn’t have a name because there are no stars in Argo or Orion that represent women. Sarah is represented in Hercules, Rebecca in Cancer, Jacob’s wives in Auriga, Moses’ wife in the Pleiades (one of seven sisters, not hard to figure out), Bathsheba in Sagittarius and oddly she was also Ishtar. Tamar- Northern Crown etc.

    Now I don’t disagree that the majority of the bible is misogynistic, in an anachronistic way to look at the text, but I disagree with some of the reasoning.

  34. Jimmy says:

    LOL! THe Bible isn’t “misogynstic” — it’s very obvious that men simply have the authority, and that’s because both men AND WOMEN live in a more moral society if this is what occurs.

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