There's an anthropological reading of the historical times around when the OT first comes into being that I think is pretty neat--whether true or not, who knows. Anyways, in the move from nomadism to settled societies that takes place in and around the Agricultural Revolution (10th or so millennium BCE) there's also a marked shift from goddess-centered religions to god-centered ones. The calling of Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans by the voice of Yahweh (after which Abram becomes Abraham and his wife Sarai becomes Sarah) takes place as the first of the settled communities come into being, and Yahweh's is definitely the voice of a male, patriarchal deity. Some of the early conflicts between Yahweh and other "gods" of the Mediterranean basin are, anthropologically speaking, conflicts between patriarchal and matriarchal divinities, like Ishtar/Astarte. The same goes for the earliest Egyptian deities, by the way, like Hathor and Isis--and in Egypt the male/female conflict is reflected in the shift from single, ruling mother-goddesses to the pairing of those goddesses with male counterparts. Isis ultimately gets associated with her brother Osiris and becomes more or less subordinated to the task of putting together Osiris, who is dismembered by his brother, Set. Isis finds all the body parts, except for the phallus, but constructs a golden phallus, which brings Osiris back to life long enough to impregnate her with Horus, so that the birth of Horus is understood as the rebirth of Osiris, who as Horus hunts and kills Set.

Don't know why I got off on the Isis-Osiris-Set-Horus thing, but I think it's fascinating that the originally independent Egyptian goddess becomes a bit like the Virgin Mary in her function as mother of the "redeemer." Or like the significant women of Genesis, Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel in particular, whose function is to give birth. It all derives from that wonderful scene where Yahweh promises the 90-plus-year-old Sarah that she will bear a child, to which Sarah "laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" (Genesis 18.13). And Yahweh says, "Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18.14). The child is Isaac, of course, who marries Rebecca and begets Jacob, who marries Rachel, becomes Israel, and begets the 12 children who are the patronyms of the 12 tribes.

The Book of Ruth emphasizes the same point, women as the fertile ground on which the patriarch begets. (The whole of Ruth is a sort of extended metonymy, in which Ruth finds a place in Israel via the "alien corn," the actual "seed," that she gleans.) In some ways the whole point of Rachel is her being able to produce children (the figurative "seed") in that odd way that the OT requires from family members of dead husbands (especially the brothers of the dead husband, if there is a brother). So Boaz (an "alien" to Ruth parallel to the "alien corn") accepts Ruth as his wife to raise up children for the dead Mahlon--and here come the begats: "Boaz begat Obed, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David" (Ruth 4.22)--and of course Jesus comes from the house of Jesse.

I know that it's easy to skip the begats, but they are not irrelevant to the whole business of how women in Old and New Testament function as the source of "seed" from which spring redeemers. So, for instance, the begats that I've just quoted from Ruth 4 begin with the initiator of the family that ultimately leads to Jesse and David, and that is Pharez, who it turns out is the son of Judah, one of the sons of Israel. (I love typological readings, and from that angle, Sarah = Rachel = Ruth = Mary, all of them producers of the "seed" of redemption.) All of those women are important in the Old and New Testaments, but to my mind they are significant as the ground from which springs the tree of Jesse, and in that way pretty much parallel to Isis in relation to Osiris-Horus.

Anyway, like in Mesopotamia, Egyptian mother goddesses become subordinated to male counterparts. From that point of view, Yahweh is the ultimate patriarchal god, who defeats all of the goddesses and assumes the role as the one and only God. (There's a parallel for that in Egypt as well, with the one-god (Aten/Ra) asserted by Akhen-Aten (originally Amenhotep IV).

From my point of view, if you read the story of the OT as a more or less imperfect historical record of the neolithic transition to settled civilization, then it shouldn't be surprising that there are some women who retain a significant role--at least for a while. But for the most part those women disappear into their "seed."


Edited by yoyo52 (05/11/13 09:34 PM)
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