No doubt you are aware of the recent wave of articles on allegations that movie magnate Harvey Weinstein was guilty of sexually mistreating numerous women over many years. But how truly aware are you and I that the problem is not isolated to the movie industry? It is a widespread problem that intersects every sector of society. We still live in a patriarchal society that often caters to and condones the abuse and disregard of women. Areas of ongoing concern include sexual misconduct, domestic violence, and inequities in the workplace.
The problem also extends to how we often read the Bible. For example, I used to think that the woman at the well in John 4 was rather loose. After all, she had had five husbands, and the man she was now with was not her husband. But there are several items to consider why she might have had five husbands and why the man with whom she now lived was not her husband. She may have been divorced by her husbands for improper reasons and/or widowed several times. In her present situation, she may have been a concubine or a second wife (not uncommon). Regarding the possibility of divorce, women back then did not have significant access to legal recourse, and would have been even more vulnerable to possible abuse outside of marriage. Initiating divorce would not have been the easiest or safest course of action for a woman much of the time. Why not think the woman at the well was the victim of loose or degenerate men rather than being a moral degenerate herself? Another item is worthy of consideration. Just because the woman came to the well during the heat of the day, it does not necessarily imply she was a social outcast. There is no evidence in the Greco-Roman world to suggest moral women went to draw water early in the day and degenerate women in the heat of the day. Furthermore, Jesus never told her to go and sin no more, as he did in the case of the woman caught in adultery recorded in John 8. Moreover, the people from her village came out to meet Jesus based on the women’s testimony. They must have taken her to be a credible witness given that they took to heart her praise of Jesus (Further to these points on the account in John 4, refer here, specifically pages 122-129). Other instances could be cited. Much work needs to be done to account for more accurate readings of the Bible regarding the identity, roles and significance of women. With this point in mind, I am indebted to my colleague Carolyn Custis James for her fine work on Ruth and other women in the Bible.