The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, and could be considered the most influential book in history. Lying at the heart of Christianity and Judaism, this text could be said to lie at the centre of human society, guiding the behaviour of billions. Indeed, the decisions of countless numbers of influential and powerful people - politicians, teachers, celebrities, artists - have emerged from this text. Its teachings are presumed by hundreds of millions to speak with authority, presenting a way of life, a code of ethics, and the moral standard for human life. Countless people have lived by it, and countless others have died defending its words.
The Bible has never been an integral part of my own life. My upbringing was not so much atheistic as a-religious; faith never presented itself as something of value to me. As I grew up, the importance of the Bible in society gradually became more clear to me, and I saw how its teachings came to influence the thoughts and actions of others. My personal interest in gender issues, in particular the social and cultural constructions of gender, began to intersect with these concerns. How, then, does the depiction of women in the Bible influence our society and its views of women?
The Bible has trained us as a culture to think in a certain way. Intentionally or unintentionally, this text is shaped by male interest, and reinforces male power. It would be naïve to expect that the men who wrote the Bible were free of the prejudice that existed within their times. And yet, despite this, women do exist in this text. These women are kind, beautiful, and on occasion powerful. They are also cunning, ambitious, and even murderous. But too frequently, women in the Bible are the pawns in men's games.
The violence and suffering enacted upon these women is often passed over. One might be deprived of a name in order to desensitize the reader to her death, another left to live out her days alone after her brother rapes her. However, women's voices in these stories are muted, but are not silenced. These quiet but resilient characters are the lifeblood of a very different culture, one that is harsh, unforgiving, and a struggle to comprehend for modern audiences. However brutal their lives, these women deserve a voice; their stories need to be isolated and depicted. We must be aware that the most important text of Western society illustrates women in this way. These characters quietly instruct us to look at ourselves, to reflect, and to progress.