Broads, dames, of all the labels women have been stuck with over the years, my favorite is still help meet. I have no idea what it means, but it has an interesting ring to it. It also has the distinction of being the first label given to a woman by god as translated by the King James bible. Even as a child, I never thought it was a particularly flattering title. It never made a woman sound like the equal to a man. It has the ring of a pejorative. As I read through the bible, that impression was confirmed, I think. As you will see, it is more than a little confusing.
The confusion begins with the creation story. There was a time when I was a Genesis literalist: one creation, six days, the whole nine yards. Today, I am convinced that the whole creation story is nothing more than a myth. In fact, I do not find it to be a very good myth. One of my biggest problems with it is one that I have never heard anyone mention as a problem. It is the account of how the woman came to be.
Consider the care and precision put into creating the universe. There is something called the anthropic principle. It suggests that the various facets of the universe are perfectly fine tuned to produce life on this planet. There are hundreds of thousands of variables, think of them as dials, representing the settings of the universe. If even one of them is changed just a little, life as we know it would not be possible. Even the atheists recognize the likelihood of design. They just will not admit that it is a god who designed it.
Still, the evidence of design is all around us. It is not just design we see, but brilliance at a level that we cannot fathom. The god of creation seems to have thought of everything. According to the literal reading of the creation story, he was even able to make light before making the heavenly bodies that produce it. Every step of his creation was given the once over by him and declared to be good.
There was just one little exception. After creating man, god saw that it was not good for him to be alone. How is it that he only just came to that conclusion after creating man? He created animals without the drama of forgetting to create their mates. It is as if he thought that man would be just fine by himself. It was only Adam was hard at work before god realized his blunder. Adam is naming all the animals and, as the bible portrays it, found no mate for himself. God sees this and puts Adam into a deep sleep. He then takes a part of Adam’s rib and makes a human female companion for him. That’s better, now Adam won’t have to take up with the goats.
Reading the story at face value, god made a silly mistake and had to correct it after the fact. From the very beginning, the woman was nothing more than an afterthought. She was the correction of an error. She was the completion of man: the real creation. She was produced so that man could function, nothing more. She was not created as an equal. She was not created to be independent. She was not given a task in the garden as Adam was. Her job was to be a helper to him as he required and make babies.
When the serpent came to ruin paradise, he did not go to the man, he went to the woman. He must have suspected his chances of success would be better with her. Without much prompting, it seems, he was able to convince her to break gods law. In part, it was due to the fact that the forbidden fruit was pleasant to look at. It was pretty. Eve was portrayed as the stereotypical silly woman. As hard as we try to put the story in a favorable light, there is nothing redeeming about Eve’s story. The apostle Paul sums it up this way:
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (1Tim 2:11-15 NIV)
Notice Paul’s argument. Adam was formed first. Paul suggests that the order of creation matters a great deal. This argument suggests that Adam was the priority, the real creation, not the woman. For Paul, this explained why women should be quiet, submissive, and pregnant. His argument does not end there. He goes on to point out that it was the woman who was deceived, not the man.
There is just no getting around it. If we are to cling to the modern notion of gender egalitarianism, we simply have to rip 1 Timothy and Genesis from our bibles. I suggest we will have to rip a lot more from our bibles before we are done. In any event, there can be no semblance of equality as long as the title of “help meet” remains.
Objects of Desire
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matt 5:27-30 NIV)
We have already spoken of adultery, but this is a very different spin. Before, adultery was defined as marital infidelity. Now, adultery is defined in such a way that no man can possibly avoid it. According to Jesus, the act of adultery is no longer limited to, well, the act of adultery. It now encompasses everyone, not just married men. It also does not have to be physically consummated. Just the thought is enough. Many debates have been waged over what thoughts are required to trigger adultery of the heart. I have no idea how to answer this question, nor does anyone else. I do think it no accident that the plucking out of the eye is paired with the cutting off of the right hand. Dear reader, you will have to make the connection for yourself.
The whole idea behind lust is reducing a woman in your mind to a mere object of desire. Here, Jesus sets a standard that is simply impossible for any healthy male to meet. The first thing that a man notices about a woman, in most cases, is her attractiveness. We do it with the drawing of breath. It is so automatic, we do not even realize we are doing it. No one before Jesus believed this to be a reasonable standard, not even god.
“And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her. And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid. And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also. And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid. And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.” (Gen 29:16-31 KJVS)
This is a fascinating story for many reasons on a variety of levels. It is the story of sex, lies, and video tape, without the video tape. There are no heros in this story and no victims. There is just the bad guy, and the other bad guy. For the purposes of this section, the most interesting thing about the story is that it centers around lust. I have often heard this story described as a beautiful love story. This is not a love story; it is a lust story.
Jacob finds the younger woman beautiful, and the other, not so much. He ends up with the less attractive sister and has to work another seven years for the pretty one. For the sake of clarity, the bible does not mention anything about the character, intelligence, or work ethic of these two sisters. Reading the story, one gathers that Jacob was in love with Rachel for one reason only. Rachel was an object of his desire and Leah was not.
This is where the story heats up. When Jacob wakes up the morning after to find that he had been tricked, he did not accept the situation quietly. He went and demanded his right to marry the object of his desire. This is where one would expect god to step in and tell Jacob in no uncertain terms that the marriage was legit and that Jacob was stuck with his not so attractive bride. The god of the bible did no such thing. Rather than tell the father of the twelve tribes to avoid adultery, he allows Jacob to marry the other sister. The first marriage was not annulled. Both marriages were completely valid.
God even participated in deciding which of the women would conceive and at what time. He did not make Jacob send one of them away, nor does he do like with Abraham, blessing the offspring of just one of the wives. God was entirely complicit in the acquiring and impregnation of both women by the one man. Again, my point here is not the polygamy. Clearly, god did not have a problem with that. My point is that this whole story is brought to you by the letter L. In this case, L is for lust.
The theme is repeated throughout the Old Testament. I will assume you have a passing familiarity with the story of Esther. In short, it goes like this. There was a king who became upset with his queen, so he banished her from his presence and searched for another. Esther was an orphan who was very pretty and a virgin. She was chosen to be a part of the king’s harem. Before going in, she went the the purification rite which involved a lot of bathing and perfume and making herself attractive. The king indeed found her to be the most attractive and made her queen. Then some other stuff happened and the story ends, without god being mentioned even once. One wonders how this story ever made it into the bible.
My point in sharing this story is that there would have been no Queen Esther if there had not been an attractive Esther. Much pains were taken to make her an object of desire for this man who had many sex partners from which to choose. Again, a woman in the bible is reduced to a mere object for the pleasure of a man. So far, it is not looking good for equal rights. Perhaps things take a turn for the better in the New Testament. Don’t hold your breath.
“I say to those who are not married, especially to widows: It is good for you to stay single like me. However, if you cannot control your desires, you should get married. It is better for you to marry than to burn ‹with sexual desire›.” (1Cor 7:8-9 GWORD)
To my knowledge, this is the only place in scripture that gives a reason for marriage. First, look at all the reasons it is not. Marriage is not for bearing children, though that is a desirable side effect. Marriage is not to have someone you can talk to in times of trouble. It is not to have someone with whom you can grow old. It is not even to have a mate with whom you can equally share the burdens of life. No! As depicted in this verse, it is for the purpose of fulfilling sexual desire. By very definition, the woman you are to marry is to be an object of desire. Lust before marriage is an essential element.
Without lust, you would end up like Jacob who was unhappily married to Leah. Without lust, gods kings would have been bachelors. Without lust, we would never be moved to do the things necessary to get a wife in the first place. That is the way it has always been. Women have always been objects of desire. Seldom in scripture were they portrayed as anything else.
Rape, Plunder, and Pillage
So far, we have seen that god has approved of women being considered second class citizens and objects of desire. Can it possibly get any worse? As a matter of fact, it can.
“So the men of Benjamin did this, and got wives for themselves for every one of their number, taking them away by force from the dance; then they went back to their heritage, building up their towns and living in them.” (Judg 21:23 BBE)
“When you come to a town, before attacking it, make an offer of peace. And if it gives you back an answer of peace, opening its doors to you, then all the people in it may be put to forced work as your servants. If however it will not make peace with you, but war, then let it be shut in on all sides: And when the Lord your God has given it into your hands, let every male in it be put to death without mercy. But the women and the children and the cattle and everything in the town and all its wealth, you may take for yourselves: the wealth of your haters, which the Lord your God has given you, will be your food.” (Deut 20:10-14 BBE)
“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Num 31:17-18 NIV)
I could go on, but why? These are only shortened versions of much longer tales of unspeakable horror. The details of the stories are much worse. There are many such accounts as this throughout scripture. If you have never read these accounts, then you do not know the worst part. These were not the instructions and actions of the bad guys; these atrocities were ordered and committed by god’s own people. Moses was just one of them.
In all of the stories, the men received an honorable death while the young girls were captured and raped as part of the spoils of war. Just how young were these girls? They were young enough so that they had never been with a man. By any definition, they were, in many cases, little girls. God considered them plunder, not people. They were lumped in with the cattle as mere possessions. They were objects to be used for the pleasure of the men. Our modern day sensibilities do not tolerate such behavior from our soldiers even in the most desperate situations. We would haul them before a war crimes tribunal for the rape of one woman. What, then, are we to do with the god of the bible?
Perhaps we must give him a pass, seeing that the circumstances of these events were uniquely horrific. After all, war is hell in any era. Surely, the run of the mill rapist would receive a penalty measuring up to the fullest extent of the law, or perhaps not.
“If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor, for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her.
If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” (Deut 22:23-29 NIV)
Understand, this is not about the spoils of war or special circumstances. This is not some commander of some army giving instructions to the men. This is the law of god. This is the torah. Understand that all of the above scenarios in the above passage are talking about rape. If a man rapes a woman who is engaged in the city proper, she is to be executed along with the rapist if she does not scream loud enough to be heard by someone else. If the rapist happens to gag her, according to the law, she is completely out of luck
In the next scenario, the engaged woman is raped in the countryside where there is no one there to hear her screams. God is gracious enough not to have her executed in the event she screamed with no one there to hear her. Do not miss the part that makes this completely nauseating. The law is only concerned about the woman as she is the property of another man. The crime the rapist is punished for is not rape; it is spoiling another man’s possession. The final scenario bears this out. If a man rapes a woman who is not promised to anyone, he pays the father a few coins and marries the girl. He cannot divorce her. I can hardly believe it myself. According to god’s law, the victim has to marry, and remain married to her tormentor forever. A man could rape his way into quite a harem.
As I mentioned before, there are other verses that are equally sickening, if not more so. The god of the bible is no friend to the woman of any age. I know there are other passages that seem to suggest a more even handed approach to women. But there is nothing in the bible that cancels out what we have just read.
Gender gap is putting it mildly. If the god of the bible is accurately represented by the bible, then the attitude and treatment of women and children is enough to make me want to defy this tyrant to his face. Yes, I know my life expectancy in such an eventuality would be greatly reduced, but I will never voluntarily bend the knee to such a god.
Who is this god? The bible has sown nothing but confusion about his law, and nothing but confusion about his creation. Has he given us anything reliable about his kingdom? Let’s find out.