The way women are viewed and portrayed in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh, or the Old Testament for us Christians) “is complex and often ambivalent.” Biblical scholar Fr. Joel Camaya, SDB, PhL, SSL began the five-part course entitled Women in the Bible in DBCS last January 10 with this observation.
In fact, “both Jews and Christians have used the Genesis creation accounts to deprecate women on the authority of the Bible.” The story of Adam and Eve is often used to “justify the inferior status of women.”
But perhaps a deeper study and reflection of the biblical passages would reveal the opposite. Notwithstanding the opposition between male and female and the often subordinating view of women that exists now in the world, “In the beginning” it was not so.
After attending Fr. Camaya’s lecture, which on day one focused on Eve and Sarah (other women in the Old and New Testaments will be discussed in the coming days including Rachel and Miriam, Ruth and Esther, and more), I took some time to reflect particularly on the creation account in Genesis 2. After reading and studying John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) for my MATh thesis as well as attending last year a TOB speakers training given by Katrina Zeno, Genesis 2 has had a profound impact on me. Drawing from the treasure of TOB, I wrote the following reflection on woman.
In the second creation account (Genesis 2), man was made before woman.
Instead however of taking this as proof of her inferiority, it may be seen rather as an element of suspense. There is no intention here to claim what the inspired author’s intentions were. But given the Catholic understanding of this passage, especially in light of St. John Paul II’s TOB, it appears that man was first made to encounter other creatures (wild animals and birds) precisely to show that he was not like them and to heighten the anticipation or longing for someone who was. As man proceeded to name the other creatures, he realized that he was alone. The animals did not possess reason, self-knowledge, or freedom like man. And thus, they were not a suitable partner, a helper fit for him (v. 20).
Then woman, formed dramatically from the man’s rib by the Lord, enters the scene. And man exclaims (undoubtedly with great joy and exhilaration): “This one, at last, is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (v. 23). The delay in creating woman only underscores her equality with man. They are the same, and ergo, he is no longer alone. Man recognized this instantly with his words.
This one is not like the creatures he had earlier named. Man and woman, as John Paul II pointed out, shared “the same humanity.” They are both endowed with reason and self-knowledge. Both free to choose, free to enter into communion with each other. The sexual difference between male and female (which is seen and expressed not only physically, but also intellectually, emotionally, spiritually) does not take away from their equality but enriches them mutually through complementarity. This is why human life, and every aspect it involves — family and home, workplace, community, society, government, the various fields and areas of expertise and professions, etc. — is properly co-educative, needing the distinct contributions of both man and woman. Even in the Church their unique roles and contributions are evident.
In the beginning, man and woman beheld each other’s goodness and beauty in his and in her totality. And as a result, harmony and communion existed between them ― “the two of them become one body,” (v. 24) and “the man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (v. 25).
But when sin enters the picture in Genesis 3, this harmony and communion suffers a rupture. And the tone changes. Not only do both man and woman experience shame (vv. 7, 10-11), but they also turn against each other, as man puts the blame of sin on his wife (v. 12).
Here then, it appears, is the reason why women are viewed as less than men. Not so much because Eve fell first and then convinced Adam to do the same, but because sin has distorted how we see one another. It has damaged our lens and blurred our vision. It has made man’s view of woman (and woman’s view of man) myopic. We see the parts, and not the entirety of the person.
It is thus not surprising that women are viewed with such ambivalence in Scripture; this is after all the world in which the inspired authors lived. Our sense of suitability was damaged. And it is the Word made Flesh ― who Himself was “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4) ― who heals this rupture in communion through the work of redemption. And this healing is accomplished not only on the Cross but also through His many great deeds and words of compassion that were directed to women.
The relationship between Christ, the new Adam, and His Mother, Mary, the new Eve, is very telling of what it means to recover our sense of being suitable partners for one another. From the moment of the Annunciation to the Crucifixion, Mary is always with Jesus; many times a silent presence (she has spoken words only in the Gospel accounts of Luke and John), but one from whom undoubtedly Jesus drew much strength and comfort. She has a singular part in His mission. This is why Mary stands at the foot of the cross. She is at one with her Son’s sacrifice. She too offers.
When sin entered the picture, Adam and Eve fell away from each other, death ― here seen as “separation” (rupture of communion) as Fr. Camaya pointed out ― occurred. No such separation (rupture of communion) occurs between Jesus and Mary, even when Christ is condemned and executed like the worst of criminals. Unlike the first Adam who, after the first sin, was quick to disassociate himself from Eve before the Lord, the new Adam associated the new Eve in His work of redemption. “Woman, behold your son,” the crucified Christ said to Mary (Jn 19:26). And the Woman united herself with the mission of her Son Jesus even if she may not have completely understood. Mary stood, even as her eyes bathed in tears as she looked with sorrow upon her blood-soaked Son. And following the lead of Christ, she too through her perfect and singular cooperation embraced the Victory of the Cross, the Hour that made our salvation possible.
The paths we travel in this world as men and women will take us to many places. But in the end, the Lord only wishes us to come together, to be a communion of persons in truth and love, and to journey toward Him, who is our beginning and our destiny.
Fr. Joel Camaya, SDB, PhL, SSL will offer “Women in the Bible” on January 10, 17, 24 and February 7 and 14, 2017 (all Tuesdays) from 2:00-5:00 pm at Don Bosco Center Studies, Paranaque. Registration fee is at P1,500. He is also set to offer a course on Families in the Bible from February to March 2017. See the Events page for more information.
Maria Divina Solano, MRS, MATh is a graduate of Don Bosco Center of Studies. She is Research Coordinator and guest professor teaching Theology and Spirituality of the Laity.