How the Bible Paints Women as Liars and Whores

How the Bible Paints Women as Liars and Whores November 29, 2017

Theology professor Candida Moss has a column in the Daily Beast arguing that the response from the Christian right, which paints Roy Moore’s accusers as liars who were asking for it, is consistent with and reinforced by many stories in the Bible and its general treatment of women.

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The problem isn’t just that the women of the Bible are largely presented as temptresses, whores, and chattel; it is that they are also depicted as liars. The biblical seductress Delilah embodies this understanding of women when she leads astray and emasculates the heroic Samson. Delilah is both a whore, as she is paid by the Philistines to discover the secret of Samson’s power, and a liar, as she pretends to care for Samson in order to extract his secret and render him impotent. The upshot of the story, which is entrenched in ancient near eastern mythology in general, in that beautiful women cannot be believed, especially when it comes to the bedroom.

In another, often overlooked passage from the Bible, the daughters of Lot seduce their own father. After surviving the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and realizing that they now have no possibility of marriage and offspring, Lot’s unnamed virgin daughters get their father drunk and become pregnant by him. In the modern world this is rape, in the biblical one it is coded as seduction. If the women are evaluated negatively here it is not for sexual assault it is for deceit and seduction: they misled him. (Side bar: it seems only fair to note that several chapters before this Lot was eager to turn his daughters over to an angry mob to be gang raped to protect the angels he was keeping in his house).

In the biblical chronology this idea goes all the way back to the first humans: in the Garden of Eden, after being expressly told not to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve is persuaded by the serpent to take the fruit and offer it to Adam. She does and the rest, as they say, is primordial history. Eve does not actually lie to Adam just as the serpent is not actually the Devil in the story. But the idea of women as a deceptive and dangerous somehow sticks. Connecting the nature of women to the Garden of Eden and Satan, the thirteenth century theologian and saint Albertus Magnus argues, “What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. One must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil.”

She notes that the Virgin Mary is a counter-example, but mostly because she is married. It’s unmarried, childless women who are constantly portrayed as lying temptresses. And a married woman in the Bible is treated as little more than a piece of property. And when it comes to rape specifically, bear in mind that the Bible says that if a woman doesn’t scream loudly enough, it isn’t rape. And even if it is rape, the penalty for the rapist is that he has to pay her father 50 shekels and he gets to marry her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). That’s absolutely horrifying, but it reinforces the notion that women are property, first of their fathers and then of their husbands.

I’ve heard Christians defend that command by saying that it was really designed to help the woman because in that culture, if a woman is raped she’s ruined, spoiled, no longer good to marry, so it actually helps a rape victim because they get a husband out of it that they otherwise would not have. How anyone could advocate such a thing is beyond me. Think about it: They actually believe that God, while giving his people rules to live by, doesn’t say “hey, don’t rape women, ever, for any reason.” And he doesn’t say “if a woman is raped, that does not make her ruined, it makes her a victim and you should treat her no differently from any other woman (other than showing her more support and compassion).” No, the command he chooses to give, the “solution” to this problem he offers them, is to require the woman to marry the man who rapes her — once he pays a fee for his new piece of property, that is. That’s morally bankrupt.

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