Book Review: Women of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is a fairly intimidating source of scripture as it was produced thousands of years ago by a culture that is greatly foreign to our own. The strangeness of the Old Testament text and cultural milieu is likely particularly potent for women who approach the text. Among the few things that we can say with confidence regarding the culture of Ancient Israel is that it was misogynistic. Therefore, Camille Fronk Olsen’s recent book Women of the Old Testament is best considered as a good introductory text to help teachers, particularly those interested in applying scripture to women’s lives, tackle this very difficult work.

The book is structured thematically, picking out several prominent women from the Old Testament and using them to illuminate the scriptural text. Chapters discuss the context, [both] historical and religious, of the lives of matriarchs including Sarah, Hannah, Deborah, Huldah, the Widow of Ephrath, and others. Each chapter begins with an introductory overview, followed by an exegesis of the relevant scriptural narratives. Each chapter ends with a series of questions designed to make the stories and history discussed more easily applicable to the reader.

The book is more a devotional work than a scholarly work. This works to its benefit as an introduction to the Old Testament; each chapter provides a clear narrative explaining the story and a way to read it that fits into modern notions of appropriate behavior and gender concerns. For instance, Hannah’s story is presented in a context of spousal indifference and ecclesiastical neglect, a situation that some women within the church may find familiar. At the same time, Fronk’s explanation of the narrative delves into the familial dynamics of a polygamous household and the importance of sacred space within the Israelite sanctuary. The book operates from the assumption that the Bible presents as literal a history as possible, although it doesn’t shy away from questions surrounding the historicity of biblical events. Fronk does her best to balance the foreign and the familiar in the stories she examines, resulting in a text that is readable and relatable while still informative.

The book features several prints from Elspeth Young, created especially for this book. The illustrations are often very pretty, if somewhat distracting due to the artist’s occasional use of blondes to depict women from western Asia. There is an extended explanation of each portrait at the end of the book, including a bibliography of works used in her research.

However, I do have a few quibbles with Fronk’s approach. While the bibliography she offers at the end of the book features many recent works, her works cited within the text tend to be much older and the narratives she presents can reflect the state of scholarship twenty years or more ago. More thorough footnotes would have been very helpful, as references are provided according to a scheme that isn’t readily discernable. Finally, Fronk has a tendency toward whitewashing the narratives. For example, quite a bit of time is devoted to providing a rationale for Jacob and Rebekah’s usurpation of Esau’s birthright, when it may be easier to simply admit that sometimes God works through imperfect people (and imperfect acts) to accomplish his ends. However, none of this should dissuade you from considering this as a good introductory work regarding the role of gender in the Old Testament from an LDS perspective.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    My sister-in-law received a (non-LDS) book for Christmas called something like The Women of the Bible, and I quipped that I thought that such a volume would be a pamphlet rather than a thick book.

    Here’s a good test–what does she say about Tamar and her actions in seducing her father-in-law? Does she recognize the righteousness in what Tamar did?

  2. Just minutes ago I was reading at the beginning (we got this book for Christmas). I was commenting to my wife that I think there is a problem with the analysis of the word “kenegdo.”

    It appears the whole section about Eve is excerpted here:

    http://deseretbook.com/item/4988479/Women_of_the_Old_Testament?show_ex=1

    So you can read it for yourself.

    On second look, maybe it’s just a typo?

    The root of the word is identified as ‘kgd’ when in fact it should be ‘ngd’ …

    Here’s the paragraph in question (I bolded the root and translation provided):

    The second word (kenegdo), translated “meet,” is a compound of three common words that collectively appear in this form only in the Eden account (Genesis 2:18, 20; Moses 3:18, 20). The root word within this compound is the middle word, kgd, which means “to be conspicuous” or “to be apparent.” The word is used in the noun form only in these two verses, allowing for such suggested meanings as “in front of, opposite, or counterpart.” In Jewish Midrashim, the word means “equal,” as in the well-known saying, “The study of Torah is equal (keneged) to all the other commandments” (Freedman, “Woman,” 57–58). The collective meaning of the term suggests that Eve was an appropriate and worthy partner for Adam. God’s description of marital companionship in Genesis 2 indicates no hierarchical dynamic between Adam and Eve.

    This phrase has always interested me because it is based on the root neged which has one potential meaning of “opposition” or “against” … in other words, God was providing Adam with a mate who would be “ezer k’negdo” which could potentially be translated as “help as his opposition.”

    I interpret that to mean that the man and his wife are supposed to be different and that they are supposed to sometimes have conflicting ideas and opinions about things – which will be an aid to both of them.

    So I am wondering if there is in fact any Hebrew root ‘kgd’ and where the translations came from. Maybe there is? I am not familiar with it. I will do a little research but thought others might want to chime in too.

  3. #1 Kevin ~ My sister-in-law received a (non-LDS) book for Christmas called something like The Women of the Bible, and I quipped that I thought that such a volume would be a pamphlet rather than a thick book.

    I’m surprised that you would say that, Kevin. There’s more data on women in the Bible than in any other work of LDS scripture for sure. I don’t have any illusions that they’re as prominent as the men are, but it’s not like the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine & Covenants where specific female individuals barely ever warrant a mention. They’re especially prominent in the ministry of Christ—a feature which oddly doesn’t carry over to the ministry of Christ in the Book of Mormon.

    John C. ~ I have to say, I cringe to hear the culture of the Old Testament referred to as “misogynist.” That seems like presentism to me.

    I’m curious to know how Fronk* reconciles the presence of women prophets in the Old Testament with modern LDS practices. Please don’t tell me she goes the “these women just had the gift of prophecy” route.

    *Why is she “Fronk” and not “Olson”?

  4. While there are many great female characters in the OT (as Jacks points out, more than elsewhere in scripture), my concerns have been with the stories of Genesis. I think that much of the patriarchy of biblical religion derives justification from these stories. That said, I am not a literalist and find value in the OT and Genesis because I do not feel a need to treat it as literal history. Much more symbolism than history in these narratives.

  5. Thank you for this review.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Jack, what I said to my SIL was meant to be a joke. I’m well aware that the Bible is a treasure trove of stories about women compared to the BoM. Still, it was a man’s world back then, and women characters are still a definite minority of the key players in biblical stories.

  7. Thanks for this review, John.

    Jack, you said, “a feature which oddly doesn’t carry over to the ministry of Christ in the Book of Mormon.”

    Why is this odd?

    We have a three-year ministry where Jesus teaches and interacts with people in their daily lives vs. a couple of days ministry where he heals all who come to him (presumably including lots of women) but where the “individual name” focus is on those he calls as his apostles. Years vs. days – totally different narrative focus.

    Why is the difference odd?

  8. Kevin,
    There is no mention of Tamar, but that’s hardly surprising as she is trying to make the Old Testament less strange, not stranger. She’s also being selective. There is no mention of Ruth, for instance.

    danithew,
    I think that you are correct that it is a typo. I’m not familiar with a kgd root (nor is there one in that word). I’ll take another look when I get home to my books.

    BJM,
    I went with Fronk because I know her and that’s what I’ve always called her. Also I didn’t know if it was Olson or Fronk Olson. So laziness was a factor.

    If you know a term that is appropriate to the OT’s treatment of women that isn’t “misogynistic,” I’m totally open to its use.

  9. No mention of Ruth? Does CFO say why?

  10. 6 Kevin ~ it was a man’s world back then

    No arguments from me.

    #7 Ray ~ a couple of days ministry where he heals all who come to him (presumably including lots of women)

    “Presumably” being the operative word there. In the Gospels we never have to presume.

    Ray, I began reading the Book of Mormon when I was 16. Before I’d gotten my hands on any counter-cult literature, while my perceptions of Mormonism were fairly unwritten and uninfluenced, one of the first observations I made was the lack of women in the Book of Mormon. I was especially surprised by their lack of mention in the ministry of Jesus given how frequently they appear in His ministry in the gospels. And yes, I would expect them to be present even in an account spanning just a few days.

    I pointed this out to my LDS friends, who defensively insisted that the prominence of women in the BoM was no worse than the prominence of women in the Bible. That just isn’t true.

    The best explanation I’ve ever heard for the discrepancy (if one believes the BoM is an ancient text) comes from Seth R. here.

    #8 John C. ~ I was just curious on the Fronk/Olson thing. I would guess Fronk was her maiden name now being used as a middle name, but who knows.

    I’ve never had a problem describing Old Testament society as androcentric or patriarchal.

  11. Hunter,
    No explanation is offered. But really, the book isn’t meant to be comprehensive so if she leaves any particular story out, it shouldn’t be a source of concern.

    BJM,
    I find all those terms synonymous.

    She was married the whole while and has published under Fronk before. It is a source of confusion for me.

  12. #11 John C. ~ You consider “patriarchal” synonymous with “misogynist”?

    That’s interesting, given that the LDS church openly describes its current gender system as patriarchal. I’ll have to try calling it “the misogynist order” sometime and see if my LDS friends are down with it.

  13. So I am wondering if there is in fact any Hebrew root ‘kgd’ and where the translations came from.

    In Proto-Semitic it’s not even possible to have a root with two phonemes with the same point of articulation (like two velars), so the development of a root “kgd” in Hebrew is extremely unlikely.

    Thanks for the review, John. I’m with Jack: I think the Bible is lightyears ahead of all Restoration scripture in its portrayal of women. I’m also not convinced LDS women would find an androcentric, patriarchal, or even misogynistic text at all jarring–if anything, I suspect the reverse scenario is likely: that what Mormon readers find jarring about the OT is how prominent, and how powerful, women could be in this culture. That’s what goes against the grain of most sacred LDS texts, from lesson manuals to liturgy.

  14. Well, the ‘k’ sound in “kenegdo’ means like or as … it’s just not part of the root. So now I’m wondering how much of the other Hebrew stuff in the book can be fully trusted.

  15. “I suspect the reverse scenario is likely: that what Mormon readers find jarring about the OT is how prominent, and how powerful, women could be in this culture.”

    I bet most Mormon women would love the power to give their maid to their husband for reproductive purposes. Or not.

  16. I bet most Mormon men would love to be raped by their daughters. Or not.

    (Note: I never denied the culture was virulently patriarchal; believe me, if we want to turn this thread into a rant about women’s status in the OT, I’m absolutely in!! Maybe we can start with the nonsense being promulgated about Eve, Adam’s “neged.”)

  17. I bet most Mormon girls would love to hear stories of prophetesses: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna . . .

  18. Camllie Fronk was single when she taught my wife NT about 10 years ago at BYU, hence her once publishing as “fronk” and now “fronk olson”. She was extremely kind and covered everything in my wife’s class that I got from my NT class at IU using Ehrman’s introduction. I’d guss the kgd is a type-o. And her reading makes sense.

  19. I’ve looked around to see if I could find any such thing as ‘kgd’ but I don’t think that root exists.

    Also the meanings ascribed to it look like they could have come out of the Brown, Driver and Briggs Hebrew and English lexicon.

    So it’s gotta be a typo.

  20. We obviously disagree, Jack – on that one very narrow point.

    We agree totally that the BofM is far behind the Bible in its mention of women and in their prominence throughout the pages. That’s a no-brainer and blatantly obvious. Anyone who argues otherwise . . .

    I just don’t see how the two “ministries” are comaprable in almost any way (and I really mean almost any way at all) – much less in how women factor into them.

  21. Ray,
    Keep in mind there are far less deragatory comments in the BOM regarding women as well…

  22. #20 Ray ~ I’m fine with disagreeing with you, just so long as we’re not disagreeable.

    #21 matt w. ~ It’s true. Personally I’ll take the negative & positive over the non-existent.

    Besides, I kind of think the Old Testament culture wasn’t always the best deal for men either. Requiring males to cut off part of their genitalia as a symbol of the covenant always struck me as misandrist by modern standards.

  23. Jack:

    “non-existence” is hyperbole. Extremely Limited, miniscule, bare minimum, or scantily apparent, maybe, but non-existent is false.

    But I will agree the OT is quite a mess. Thank the Lord for further light and Knowledge, whether in the NT or the Triple Combination.

  24. #23 Matt ~ “non-existence” is hyperbole.

    Indeed.

  25. Yeah, I always assumed the reason there were men in the BofM is that there also were women.

  26. Kiskilili,
    Actually, I think that the combination of the prominence of women in the OT and the almost universally shabby manner in which they are treated would be a likely way in which to turn women off. Whatever its faults, the Book of Mormon doesn’t mention women in an effort to establish their second class citizenship.

    BJM,
    Yes. I think they are synonymous.

    Deborah,
    All them folks are mentioned.

  27. I disagree with the assertion that women in the Old Testament are treated in an “almost universally shabby manner.”

    I recommend Glenn Miller’s Women in the Heart of God series for anyone who is interested in an online overview of the topic.

  28. I also don’t see the women in the Old Testament being treated in an “almost universally shabby manner.” Are they treated shabbily by the text or by the readers (to the degree they can be separated)?

    I’m a feminist maniac and I adore the Old Testament. I readily admit there are some (ahem) fun passages to deal with, although gender issues are only one of many problems the text poses for us. But all in the context of a multilayered anthological tradition riddled with contradiction (thus destabilizing the text’s authority), a portrait of God who changes his mind and can be talked into things, and a narrative featuring scores of women who are central to the advancement of the stories, not to mention women who have arguably more religious and political authority than any women in the modern Church. And then there’s the fact that what in my opinion is the most offensive passage in the entire book–Genesis 3:16–is not confined in the Mormon tradition to just the Bible; it has echoes in Restoration scripture and liturgy, where the story is, to my mind, made more misogynistic than it was in the Bible. Is the Old Testament a feminist manifesto or a model for gender relations? Heaven help us if it is. Is its presentation of gender more problematic from a feminist perspective than that of other Mormon publications? I’m not convinced.

  29. I’m a feminist maniac

    I totally agree. :)

  30. Good–I’d hate to think my reputuation was flagging!

  31. Regarding the Book of Mormon – it sure would be interesting to see the texts Mormon was editing and see if women are more prominent there. Of course that doesn’t excuse Nephi or Jacob. I’d love to read the Jaredite records as well.

  32. BJM and Kiskilili,
    I respectfully disagree (which is why I’m comfortable with the characterization of the OT as misogynistic). While individual women are major characters in stories, the culture that the stories are set in and that the stories endorse are very, very misogynistic. Even something relatively benign, like the story of Zelophehad’s daughters, hinges on what the men have to say about the matter, reinforcing male privilege. Ruth is a story about how women are, ultimately, utterly dependent on men (and the Lord will lead you to the right one). Ester is something of a pawn in somebody else’s game. Certainly, some women get to be protagonists, but almost all the stories emphasize that men should be in charge, that women should be subservient to men, and that men are more spiritually in tune than women. Of course there are exceptions (Deborah and Hannah immediately come to mind (and even then they aren’t great exceptions)), but there are exceptions in all scripture (even Mormon scripture). The point being that the relative misogyny of other scripture is irrelevant to my argument which is that the bulk of the OT and the entire culture it represents is misogynist.

  33. The whole of antiquity was misogynist by those standards, John C. It’s not the Old Testament that you ought to have a problem with, it’s pretty much all of human history prior to 1900 or so (and arguably later).

    Which is all well and good if you’re a raging presentist. But I’m not.

  34. BJM,
    I agree that the whole of antiquity was misogynist and I think that this is one of the things that turns folks, especially women, off the OT. Which was the point I was making in the OP.

    You’re argument seems to be that people are willing to apologize for the text in order to enjoy it spiritually, which is a fine point and likely accurate. Certainly it explains the link you posted. And, I should note, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that. But arguing that the OT is anything other than misogynist is, I think, silly talk.

  35. My argument for the text is that people shouldn’t make moralistic judgments about past cultures based on our present, relatively enlightened understanding of gender. Calling the Old Testament “misogynist” is cultural imperialism at its ugliest.

    If any woman is really turned off by the mere existence of male privilege in a culture that existed 2000-6000 years ago (or any culture that existed prior to the 20th century, for that matter), for her sake, I hope she keeps her head firmly planted in its modern-day ostrich hole where it belongs. Why such a delicate flower would ever practice Mormonism—a religion that worships a pantheon of sexually male gods (talk about male privilege!) and arguably accords women even less religious status and power than they had in the Old Testament 4000 years ago—is beyond me, so I don’t see why we’re even bringing them up.

    In any case, I thank you for posting the review, John. I look forward to picking up a copy and blogging about Fronk/Olson’s treatment of female prophets in the Old Testament from a Latter-day Saint perspective.

  36. Jack, next time you see women performing rituals in the OT temples, let me know.

  37. Terrakota says:

    Kiskilili,
    “…and a narrative featuring scores of women who are central to the advancement of the stories”

    Solomon’s Songs?

    “…not to mention women who have arguably more religious and political authority than any women in the modern Church.”

    Well, it depends on how you look at it. Say, Esther, who had a profound impact on the course of history. But only because she found favor with her husband-king who had granted her wish, while he could’ve easily put her to death. Things have greatly improved since then, and I do not expect to be killed by my Branch President when I knock at his door.

    Better leave women out, then picture how they were (mis)treated.

  38. John, it sounds like we’re basically in agreement that the OT presents an undeniably patriarchal culture. (Let’s set aside the issues of (a) whether a portrayal of patriarchal norms might come as a shock to Mormon women and (b) whether “misogyny,” “androcentrism,” “sexism” and “patriarchy” are synonymous, as neither issue relates directly to the post–although it’s clear we have different perspectives.)

    The obvious question, then, which your post sort of skirts, is what the most responsible approach to take to a text mired in patriarchal assumptions but with currency in a modern community is. Do we attempt to rehabilitate the female characters in accordance with our own current conceptions of “femininity”? Or do we outright critique the text for its sexist assumptions and face the problems head-on? My impression from your review is that Fronk/Olsen does the former. But your comments tend toward the latter. Personally, I find the former approach distasteful, whether undertaken by orthodox Mormons or dogmatic feminist biblical scholars. Would you yourself have preferred an unsparing feminist critique of the Hebrew Bible that laid its problematic assumptions bare?

  39. #36 J. Stapley ~ Jack, next time you see women performing rituals in the OT temples, let me know.

    Hence the “arguably” part of my statement.

    Next time you see women directing the LDS church as prophets, please let me know.

  40. Actually, to qualify what I just said (that rehabilitative approaches are “distasteful”): while I’m unconvinced by the excesses of scholarly approaches to the HB that conclude gender plays no role in the text or that attempt to rehabilitate the status of and recover the perspective of every female character, I do think the basic insight behind this method has value: that the gendered assumptions of the text’s readers are as worthy of critique as the text itself.

    Terrakota, don’t you think it’s already significant that we single out Esther, a model of passive subordination to her male superiors, for praise, rather than gushing over Huldah—or even critiquing what was so wrong with Vashti’s attitude? Traditionally scholars refer to the characters in Genesis centered around Abraham as the “Patriarchs.” This is a reading that sidelines women; I maintain that the Patriarchs’ wives are just as important to the development of the narrative as their husbands. The Old Testament isn’t always as retrograde as its readers.

    You might object that these women aren’t necessarily heroines by our standards, but are the men heroes? I think there’s an unfortunate tendency to read stories about men as gender-neutral, so the problems in the stories are general issues, where stories about women are viewed as examples of what it means to have gender. They are that–all stories are, since everyone has gender. But they’re also more than that. It seems not all of the text’s readers are up to the challenge of viewing its female characters as people.

  41. #37 Terrakota ~ Better leave women out, then picture how they were (mis)treated.

    What about men being told that they had to cut off part of their genitalia as a symbol of the covenant?

    What about Levites being told that they couldn’t serve at the altar if they had crushed testicles?

    What about Onan being obligated to have sex with Tamar? He clearly didn’t want to do it, and God killed him for it.

    Is it better to leave men out altogether than to have to deal with the ways in which they were disadvantaged?

    Sounds like we’d better just delete the Scriptures and start over.

  42. Kevin Barney says:

    Kiskilili, re: your point in no. 40, I thought you might be interested that the book Jehovah and the World of the OT captions its section on Gen. 12-50 “The World of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.”

  43. Clark i was thinking about the editing as well. When you have to condense so much hsitory into a tiny portion….what else do you loose? I read Scott’s post on FMH about his theory of why so few women in the book of mormon and I wondered about Abish. She’s really the best woman in the book of mormon and she’s stuck there in Alma..so far after Nephi. Could it be that the missionaries learned from the Lamanites culture about women? Then why wouldn’t the more prominant women (the queens for example) get their actual names? A quandry.

    Thinking about Mrs. Jack’s comments while reading in Genesis today…there are a lot of women in Genesis, and a lot of dubious stories about them. My husband was reading at the end of Moroni the whole promise thing…”remember how merciful the Lord has been unto the children of men from the time of adam” (pardon the paraphrase) Because I’m reading quickly through the bible I decided to focus on that instead of looking for who was being blessed or worry about the cultural craziness or the general what in the world is that about things…

  44. Jack, I like some hyperbole, but to call a belief that women are worse off in modern-day Mormonism than in the OT “arguable” – and to belittle Mormon women who believe they are better off than they would have been in the OT times as “ostrichs” and “delicate flowers” (with the connotation of your usage) . . .

    You know as well as I do that if someone we didn’t like had said that, the old banning stick would be swinging. I’m not sure I’ve read a more derisive, mocking description of millions of good women anywhere in the Bloggernacle – and I wish it had come from someone whom I dislike.

  45. Terrakota says:

    Kiskilili, Esther is a heroine, there is no question about it, but her story is sad. And many other stories of the OT are, as well. I look at scriptures as a spiritual nurishment, not so much as a history book, and when I’ve tried to read OT from the beginning to the end, it often was a very unpleasant experience. So, God blessed Sarah by telling her to give her husband a mistress. Does this account help me to feel loved by God, does it help to be sure that He is there and answers our prayers? NO. (Is it a good lesson on humility and on history? Yes.)

    You seem to put emphasis on the “power” and “authority” that women of the OT had and say that the modern Church lacks it. I simply cannot agree with that. I don’t remember being mistreated or undervalued by men either at Church or at work (I also worked for the Church as an attorney). And I’ve been offered positions of “authority” in both places. And, seriously, this is waaaay down on my wishlist. But I’m not a feminist. Sister Hinckley said that her husband “let her fly”, and that is how I feel I’m being treated. And so I don’t like reading OT.

  46. Terrakota says:

    “Sounds like we’d better just delete the Scriptures and start over”

    Ms. Jack, I was going to offer that with respect to OT, but thought that I would be misunderstood. :)

  47. #43 Ray ~ What I said was that the religious status and power of women in Mormonism is arguably less than the religious status and power of women in the Old Testament—and I believe this because I believe that the ability to be a prophet and speak for God is an incredibly powerful one, among many other reasons. I didn’t make any blanket generalizations about Mormon women being “worse off.” Socially and culturally, of course Mormon women are better off than their Old Testament counterparts.

    I also didn’t call all Mormon women ostriches or delicate flowers. I was speaking of John’s hypothetical women (Mormon or not) who are supposedly bothered by the mere notion that the Old Testament is set in a culture of male privilege.

    Sorry to waste a good offended comment, but I really don’t believe I’m guilty of the insults you accuse me of having made.

    And I must say, I’m impressed that John C. gets away with calling the LDS church “misogynist” (see comments #10, #11, #12 & #26)—something I have never in my life done—and yet I’m the one who’s getting a lecture on banning.

  48. Cynthia L. says:

    Jack: it’s just my personal feeling as an LDS woman, but I don’t find your comments in this thread helpful to me. It feels like you are turning real issues of women’s representation in the church into a cynical criticism wielded by outsiders, and imho this only inhibits progress.

  49. Julie M. Smith says:

    Amen, Cynthia.

  50. Suit yourselves. I’ll get back to letting you insiders wax eloquent on your misogynist church.

    Forget I stopped by. All is well in Zion.

  51. I thought it was the misogynist OT?

  52. “Calling the Old Testament ‘misogynist’ is cultural imperialism at its ugliest.”

    As opposed to taking aboriginal children away from their parents and sending them to live with white families in order to cure them of their native habit.

  53. One wishes in general we could have a more accurate history of events in Genesis rather than what the uninspired scribes compiling accounts many, many centuries after the fact only a few centuries before Christ.

    That said, I suspect they were rough times I’m very glad I didn’t live in. And not just because of the lack of plumbing…

    I do agree with Jack that we have to be careful how we judge the actions of people in the past working on their cultural assumptions. That said clearly people can and do rise above their culture. I don’t think it cultural imperialism to say that some acts are better than others and that we can judge that between cultures. (I also don’t find circumcision particularly onerous and arguably it has some health benefits – especially in the period in question)

    Still one problem in the Church is women role models. Sadly precisely because of the stories they are found in I’m not sure most of the OT accounts are particularly better than having no account ala the Book of Mormon. As for the NT, the characters are mentioned largely in passing and in terms of how they relate to major male characters. But at least they are treated more positively I’ll admit.

    That said I think there are lots of good characters in Church history, but like almost everyone living in the 19th century their lives weren’t always happy and often involved lots of tragedy. (Here thinking of my personal hero Zina Huntington – although there are quite a few others)

    Most of history wasn’t a time to live in. (And arguably for most of the world that’s continued largely unabated well into the present century)

  54. Surely we err when we judge an ancient society according to our modern sensibilities. And who can say that our modern sensibilities are right, and those of others are wrong?

    I think the scriptures are wonderful — and one so inclined can use them to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ. Using the scriptures as a basis for ranting and raving about current social matters is unproductive and maybe even harmful. I think the best use of the scriptures is to teach faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

  55. Cynthia, I appreciate your opinion, but Jack’s comments are very helpful to me. Sometimes, it is only by viewing something from a different perspective that we can learn something.

  56. BJM,
    Calling the OT misogynist is calling a spade a spade. I apologize if that offends your delicate sensibilities. I’m happy to call those eras not up to our current enlightened standards racist, misogynist, classist, and a host of other ists because each is accurate. That isn’t to say that we currently constitute a culture free of these social diseases, because we don’t (although I do believe we treat women better, both within and without the church). I (sincerely) apologize if I mischaracterized your approach to the OT in this instance. You just haven’t written anything that leads me to believe I have.

    Also, I called the OT misogynist, not the church. You said that you prefer patriarchal to misogynist. Then I said they are synonymous. Then you said, “Even if the church describes some aspects of it as patriachal?” Then I said even then. But, if you insist, I’m willing to grant the church a special dispensation wherein when it says patriarchal, it means something that nobody else means when they say patriarchal (I kinda believe it anyhoo). Just so we’re clear.

    Kiskilili,
    You ask an interesting question. I would respond by saying that I am not a member of the audience at which this book is aimed. FWIW, I think it is fine for what it is and it doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. While I would prefer a book that was a little more interested in asking and answering troubling questions (and one that featured footnotes), that isn’t the book that Sis. Fronk wrote (or, perhaps more accurately, that isn’t the book Deseret Book published).

    Terrokota,
    Familiarity with the festival of Purim would introduce you to a grand Jewish tradition of questioning the heroism of Esther (really of all the purported heroes in that story).

    Chris H.,
    It’s all good. I’ve clearly touched a nerve.

  57. Um, I’m not wrenching the scriptures from their original context. Their original context was greatly misogynist. Nor am I judging them unworthy, bad, or evil. Plenty of genuinely good stuff comes from misogynist cultures. Nor am I using scripture to offer a critique of our modern era (or using our modern era to offer a critique of scripture). Not that there is anything wrong with either (people do it all the time), but the long dead no longer care what I think of them and I don’t think of our era as being particularly enlightened (with some exceptions, the treatment of women in the West being one of them (but even then it comes and goes and I’m hesitant to say that we are headed anywhere good with that)).

  58. If misogyny means hatred of women, then I offer that neither the Old Testament as a document nor the people in the Old Testament as a whole are or were misogynist. I don’t know and can’t prove, but I tend to believe that Adam loved his wife Eve, that Abraham loved his wife Sarah, that Isaac loved his wife Rebekah, and that Jacob loved his wives Leah and Rachel. The Old Testament does not encourage the hatred or mistreatment of women by men. It might record some facts of bad actions of some individual men, but that doesn’t make the culture, the people, or the record itself misogynist.

  59. Cynthia, Julie–from a structural perspective, Jack’s comments are an accurate description of Mormonism. The fact that lived experience within that structure is different than what one might expect from the exterior is worthy of comment, but does not negate the critique of the structure, which, in turn, need not be perceived as a criticism of the women who inhabit it and find it comfortable and empowering. Please don’t scare/annoy Jack away.

  60. ji,
    I’m using misogyny less in the sense of “actively hating women” and more in the sense of a society which is systematically dismissive of women. I’m also critiquing the OT, not the people about whom it was written (because how am I supposed to know the rest of that story?). As to whether the culture of antiquity was misogynistic, even Jack sorta agrees with that. You’ll just have to trust me (or do the research yourself).

  61. I would agree that the ancient culture had norms or sensibilities that differ from our present culture — I wonder what commentary about us might be offered by men and women from the ancient culture of they could see our day — their commentary of us might not be as flattering as we likely suppose it must necessarily be.

    I adopted a principle long ago of not criticizing another culture (or using loaded labels to describe another culture), especially an ancient culture, from the mindset of our modern sensibilities. A corollary to this is to not exalt our present culture in comparison to the “barbarisms” of other cultures. Doing such weakens the value of the historical study. Thus, I wouldn’t use the term “misogynist” to describe the Old Testament culture and people (or the document itself) — I might simply note that gender roles differed in those days, and that the writers of the Old Testament document seem to make more mention of men than women in the narrative. Such are factual observations. But using a label such as “misogynist” implies a value judgment, and I seriously doubt our ability to fairly judge the values of the ancient culture. After all, we know so very little.

    Even if times were hard in the Old Testament times, our God is mighty to save all his children — male and female. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in those times and had wives in those times, and now “have entered into their exaltation . . . and sit upon thrones” (D&C 132:37). According to our knowledge of these matters, we can safely presume that Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel are also exalted with their husbands.

  62. John C. and I have talked a bit in private and I think we’ve made peace. I apologize for my harsher comments. I adore the Old Testament and “misogynist” has such negative connotations.

    As far as me being an “outsider” goes, I just spent three hours in LDS meetings today (the ward having moved today to an awful 11:30 AM start time—UGH) because I attend the church once a month and today was my day. I have visiting teachers who were assigned to me at my request. 5% of my paycheck goes to the LDS church. I have three LDS sisters-in-law, one LDS mother-in-law, three LDS nieces and a daughter who may or may not someday be LDS. I have a lot more invested in how the church treats women than the standard outsider.

    I’m sorry if I overstepped my boundaries with my comments on this thread, but sometimes I’m rather unclear on where those boundaries are. I genuinely like John C. and most of the BCC community and I hope we can let this thread go.

    I have 8 hours a day of class every day for the next week, so you probably won’t hear from me on this thread again. Take care.

  63. I saw this title on Amazon.com and ordered it, believing that it was a sexy calendar. Alas, no. One star out of four.

  64. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    All those who are grateful gst didn’t find these pictures sexy, click your right mouse button.

  65. A Warrior Culture tends to generate misogynism.

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