Were women excluded (or at least underrepresented) in the Bible because Jewish and Christian men were threatened by their enormous contribution to religious history?

First of all, early Christian fathers and Christians all the way up to the 1970s were hugely misogynistic. While we can’t underestimate that, I’d add that Judaism was also largely patriarchal, and so was  most of Hellenism.  So while Christians shaped the New Testament and views of it, Judeans wrote the Hebrew bible and Jewish hellenists mostly wrote the apocrypha, and most of those works are misogynist too.

In Judaism, Deuteronomy was the main force in suppressing polytheism, including Goddess worship. Worship of other gods like Dagon, Baal, and Adonis/Tammuz was also discouraged. Deuteronomy is the dominant theory of just about everything in the Hebrew bible, or it was for a long, long time, and its influence is responsible for a lot of misogyny in the bible. Lots of Jewish stories are anti-woman. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t exceptions, and those are what interest me. 

For example, we know the mystery religion of Isis was worshipped widely during the New Testament period, and the worship of Athena was widespread during different times in Athens. We know that the early Jesus movement welcomed women, which may be one reason why it succeeded where other religions like Mithraism failed. We know some gnostic stories prized Mary as Jesus’s most beloved companion. And as Christianity spread across Europe and later the Americas, encroaching on other religions, worship of the virgin Mary’s success depended on Mary replacing local goddesses already popular there. 

In the same way, we know that the second temple period in Judah devoted several important texts to women or the sacred feminine, including Ruth, Proverbs, Esther, and in the apocrypha, Judith, Susanna, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Perhaps these were written to redefine “valor” and “strength” in ways that helped the Jewish people survive against impossible odds. In the Jewish oral tradition, the Torah is female, and in the Kabbala, the Shekinah is portrayed that way. So it all comes back to the notion that the Hebrew bible is a conversation about these themes. It’s a debate without a resolution, one that entertains multiple points of view at the same time as a path to wisdom. 

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