Role of Women in the Book of Genesis Research Paper

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Women in Genesis

In the Book of Genesis, women are portrayed mostly in a negative light, and are judged by their obedience to God and the patriarchs and how well they fulfill their duties as wives and mothers. God has a plan for the world, but repeatedly the sins of humanity interfere with it, and from Eve onward, women are often portrayed as particularly weak, dishonest or untrustworthy. Adam's duty was to protect the Garden of Eden while both he and Eve were required to "be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it"(Gen 1:28). Because of the disobedience initiated by Eve, humanity is expelled from paradise. Even after God destroys the world in the Great Flood, he commands Noah and his sons to repopulate the earth, although their wives are not even given names (Gen 9:1). Nor do Lot's wife and daughters have names, although he clearly has total power over them, even to the point of offering his daughters to the men of Sodom to save the angelic visitors from rape. Later, Sarah and Rachel threaten to block the divine plan to build a great nation because they cannot have children, although God repairs this deficiency. Sarah gives Abraham her Egyptian slave Hagar, then drives her and her son Ishmael out because if jealousy, creating a state a warfare between the two lines of the patriarch (Gen 21:9). Leah also tricks her older sister Rachel be taking her place with Jacob on their wedding night, but as Tamar later tricked her father-in-law Judah by disguising herself as a prostitute. Sometimes women are victims as well, such as Dinah and Hagar, and in general foreign women like Esau's wives, Tamar, Hagar and Joseph's wife Asenath have even lower status than Hebrew wives.

Genesis has two separate creation stories in chapters one and two that were later combined into the same book, and only the second one has the story of Eve being created from the rib or Adam or their fall from grace and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. From the start, the Bible makes it clear that the main function of women is to be "helpmates…wives and mothers" (Bellis 59). In the first Genesis creation story, God creates the heavens and the earth, the land and oceans along with all the plants and animals, then creates Adam and Eve together in His own image on the sixth day. God repeatedly states that his creation is "good" and finally "very good." In Genesis 1:2 "the earth did not have any shape. And it was empty," then God creates light, followed by dry ground, then the sun, moon, stars and planets, followed by all the creatures on the air sea and land (Gen 1: 4-10). On the sixth day, "God created man in his own image. He created him in the likeness of God. He created them as male and female" (Gen 1:27). Then He gives them control and dominion over the entire earth and all creatures on it, and "God saw everything he had made. And it was very good" (Gen 1: 31).

In Genesis 1 God creates the universe out of nothingness (ex nihilo) and in this story He is an invisible, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe, who creates Adam out of clay then breathes life into him. In Genesis 2, the serpent is not explicitly identified as Satan, but only later does the Bible reveal that Satan is a fallen angel cast down from heaven because of his pride and arrogance. His main purpose is always to deceive, tempt and test human beings and to lead them astray, and in Genesis 2, Eve is tempted by the serpent and eats the forbidden fruit first. In Genesis 2 in which Adam names all the creatures on the earth (Gen 2: 20), but when he was unable to find a helper among them, God puts him to sleep and then creates a woman out of his rib. Then Adam gives her the name woman "because she was taken out of a man" (Gen 2: 23). This second creation story therefore gives precedence to the male, although in the first they were created as equals at the same time, directly by God. In Genesis 3, the serpent "was more clever than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made" (Gen 3: 1), and tells Eve that if she eats of the tree she will never die and "you will be like God" (Gen 3: 5). After God learns of their transgression, He curses the serpent to eat the dust of the ground forever, punishes Eve with the pains of childbirth and condemns Adam and his descendants to hard labor to obtain their food from the ground. Then he exiles them from the Garden so they will not be able to eat from the tree of eternal life (Gen 3: 8-20). Even after this fall from grace, however, women still have a key role to play in determining "who receives the Israelite Deity's promise," often through cunning and trickery, since their most important purpose in life was to produce male heirs (Schneider 10). In this totally patriarchal world, this give matriarchs like Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel a certain degree of power, even though they are usually portrayed as using it poorly and unwisely.

Genesis routinely describes women as tricksters, cunning and manipulative, and causes of violence and conflict, even when they are acting on God's instructions. Rebecca tricks the blind Isaac into blessing her son Jacob over his older brother Esau because God had revealed to her that "the older would serve the younger" (Gen 25:23), but as usual when women interfere, this leads to conflict and warfare in the family. Leah follows the orders of her father Laban and takes the place of her older sister Rachel in the bridal bed of Jacob, who evidently did not notice the difference. Rachel always begs God to "give me children - otherwise I am dead," although Jacob later has children with Leah and his slaves (Gen 30:1). Rachel and Leah both hated their father Laban, as well, and when they escaped from his control they stole his teraphim (household gods), for which he searched frantically. Rachel was also cunning enough to prevent any men from searching her by claiming that she was menstruating and therefore unclean -- literally untouchable. Genesis 31 seems to indicate that although women were legally powerless against fathers and husbands, they could still find informal ways of striking back at them (Lapsley 25). Like Hagar, who was also not a first wife or a matriarch, Leah was able to obtain a degree of freedom from her oppressors and was blessed with children as "gifts from God" (Jeansonne 2). Leah's daughter Dinah, however, was also a cause of strife, since she is childless and "the role of women as mothers is more important than their role as wives, slaves, or daughters" (Schneider 166). Even when she is raped, the Bible blames her and indicates that she deserved it for moving around without the permission and protection of men. After being defiles, she is no shamed and no longer marriageable, which means she has little value to the family. Her brothers kill Shechem for his crime, but then the whole family has to flee from the vengeance of his clan. Tamar pretended to be a prostitute so that she could have a child with Judah, who also evidently was unaware that she was his daughter-in-law, although in this case the Bible makes it clear that it was all God's will (Menn 7).

More important than whether all these events are literally true, they are highly revelatory about the status of women in an extremely patriarchal society, which was true not only of the Hebrews…

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