Sunday, September 25, 2011

Women's orientation to work: part 5

Spinning was something that occupied every woman in ancient culture. It could be taken with you everywhere, in the same way that the women of my mother's age all knit. I anticipate your protest, that women today knit. That is true, but often the cost of the materials is equal to the cost of a finished product so there is no commercial value to knitting. It has lost the function that it had in the last generation.

However, in addition to spinning, women wove. Weaving was an essential skill that all women and some men learned. Clothes, bedding, carpets and tents were all woven. Weaving made up a major part of commercial production in ancient societies. While all women would have to know how to weave, some weavers, men and women, were apprenticed for several years to a master weaver to specialize in the art.

Woven products supplied the household with a major part of the furnishings. Woven products, garments and fabric, had a religious function and were dedicated to the building of the tabernacle which was a tent, after all. Woven products were traded between groups, and were presented to royalty. Purple yarn or fabric was on the same level as gold as a commodity. According to strict laws in the Roman Empire only the imperial family could wear all purple. Magistrates and officials, as well as Roman priests could wear purple bands woven into their togas and robes. The production of purple yarn was a specialized industry.

Weaving was a skilled artisan activity and was undertaken in groups. It brought income into the family. No woman today can imitate the function of weaving in ancient nomadic society by setting up a loom in her home. I know many women who weave, and most do it as a hobby, an expensive hobby. A very few design and sew custom clothing which they sell at a premium.

Although men also were involved in the weaving industry, it was a domain where women participated fully. We see in Proverbs 31 that weaving was an important skilled activity. In the New Testament, Dorcas was known for sewing for the poor, and Lydia was known as a trader in purple. This may have been purple yarn, fabric or clothes - I can't tell for sure.

Not only was weaving extremely important - essential, that is - it was also a highly creative activity. This article gives you some idea of the complexity of fabric and carpet production. This was the domain of women.

In short, if we were to imitate biblical womanhood today, it would not be about staying at home to care for the children in isolation from society and commerce. The woman would still be integrated into the commercial life of the community. Its hard to think of how we could imitate that today and stay at home. Some women renovate their house, taking on building tasks, and then reselling, or buying and renovating rental property. Others work in education so that their hours of work imitate the hours that their children are in school. In my view, there are no hard and fast rules about how women today can reconcile different commitments. However, I do know that staying at home, raising children and creating a supportive atmosphere for one's husband by keeping an attractive home, worthy as all this is, does not imitate the lifestyle of a biblical woman.
Biblical women were driven by the entrepeneurial spirit, to work, to initate and complete their projects. We need to follow that model.

Monday, September 05, 2011

refuting female superiority

After writing about 1 Tim. 2:12 on the BLT, in response to this post about Wright's explanation of this passage, I found myself asking a few questions about 1 Tim. 2:14. It seems counterintuitive. Women are crafty, women are gullible, which sexist notion is more easily supported by the biblical text?

1 Tim. 2:14, "And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner," is one of the most puzzling verses in the Bible. It does not describe the women of the Bible at all. In fact, quite the reverse. First, women who considered wise counsellors, and second, women deceived men all the time in the Bible. Let's look at these two situations.

First, the wise women of the Bible are the wise hearted חַכְמַת-לֵב or skilled women of Ex. 35,
25 Every skilled woman spun with her hands and brought what she had spun—blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen. 26 And all the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair. NIV

25And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen. 26And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats' hair. KJV
Clearly, women had skill (wisdom) in the same way that men had skills (wisdom.) Other women who give much needed and respected advice are Deborah, Esther and Huldah. But recently my attention was drawn to the wise woman of Abel.
16Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.

17And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.

18Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter.

19I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?

20And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.

21The matter is not so: but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the city. And the woman said unto Joab, Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall.

22Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king. 2 Samuel 20:16-22.

Is there any suggestion here that women are more vulnerable to deception than men? Did the ancient Israelites believe that? I find it hard to accept that it was a pervasive belief that women were more prone to being deceived than men. However, perhaps this had shifted by the time 1 Timothy was written.

On the other hand, since women had less political and legal power than men, they often attempted to exert control over men in other ways. A man could overrule his wife, and it would be thought of as normal and right. But a woman could not overrule her husband. If desperate, she must resort to some other means. She did not have the same legal power as a man.

Some women who deceived men, and in this way furthered the narrative in the Hebrew Bible, and possibly the will of God, are Rebecca, Leah, Tamar and Delilah. Perhaps you can add to this list.

An alternative reading for 1 Tim. 2:14, then, is that, instead of declaring female inferiority, it simply refutes female superiority. This view is well represented here,

Paul follows his ban on women teachers by reiterating sound teaching that counters the false teaching. For Adam was formed first, not Eve, like the cult of Artemis and the gnostics taught. He then points out that Eve became deceived and sinned. This is hardly the basis upon which to claim female-superiority and divine knowledge. Eve did not do a noble thing or liberate the world; she was tricked into violating the command of God. It’s important to note that Paul is not arguing for male superiority, just refuting female superiority by pointing out the facts of the creation account. He is not implying that because Eve was deceived all women are prone to deception or because she was created second that women may never be entrusted with the ministry of the word. Directly after refuting this false teaching, he moves onto the childbirth subject.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

New blog on the block!

I am delighted to announce the debut of a new blog, BLT - Bible*Literature*Translation at BLTnotjustasandwich. The bloggers are Theophrastus, of What I learned from Aristotle, also long known as an erudite commenter on many biblioblogs; Kurk from Aristotle's Feminist Subject, now #24 in the top 50 biblioblogs, and Craig R Smith, translator of the The Inclusive Bible, The First Egalitarian Translation.

Theophrastus introduces the blog and its purpose here,

Welcome to the blog named BLT. It is not just a sandwich. It stands for a set of topics that we hope to discuss: Bible, Literature, and Translation. We’ll talk about the Bible as literature and the literature of translation and the translation of Bibles and the translation of literature and literature of translation and Bible as a translation and literary translations of Bibles and so on. And we are certain to throw in the arts, the sciences, philosophy, mysticism, religion, and pretty much everything else.

The initial crew of bloggers represents a diverse set of viewpoints but one that is unified in our openness to new ideas and a fundamental belief in the dignity of all humans. This blog is open to all: Jews, Catholics, Mainliners, Evangelicals, Eastern Christians, Atheists, Theists outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, etc. For me a strong underlying theme of this blog is that everyone has a voice — especially people that have been traditionally marginalized.

I’ll let my co-bloggers (currently J. K. Gayle, Suzanne McCarthy, and Craig Smith) introduce themselves, but I’ll simply mention that I am a professor at a US university with strong interests in applied issues in linguistics.

There won’t be any bacon or other treif meat in my posts, but there will be lots of substance. I look forward to hearing from you.

And here is a provocative first post about translation.

The original 1926 title of this artwork is La Négresse blonde, which SFMOMA translates as “The Blond Negress.”

Is this a good translation of the French title? How women of African descent feel when they see this title? The word “Negress” in 2011 is shocking to see – certainly it does not have the same meaning that Négresse had in 1926. Or is the title meant to be ironic (in the same way that the sculpture certainly is)?

What do you think would be a better way to translate the name of this sculpture into English?

(Bonus question: what is the best translation of Ἰουδαῖος (Ioudaios) as it occurs in the New Testament into English?)

I am going to hop over and continue commenting. Come join us!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Sky Burial

I have just read Sky Burial by Xinran. In The Blue Sweater, I read about Africa, and in Sky Burial, about Tibet. Surprisingly, there are few constants in gender roles globally. In Africa, women till the ground and harvest. They run businesses and provide for the children. The real problem has been that they were often not able to carry out banking or take out loans without the signature of their husband. In Tibet, according to Sky Burial, women carried water, cared for animals, made butter and cooked, but the men acted as midwives and undertook complex embroidery. This contrasts with China, where the detailed embroidery is done by girls and women. In Egypt men wove, but in Israel, usually women wove.

Women's orientation to work: part 4 - the spinster

Originally, the term spinster did not mean a single woman, but any woman spinning. And women spun. If you want to refer to the mother's side of the family, you could refer to the distaff side. This was work that was firmly in the woman's domain. However, once it came to dyeing and weaving, that could belong to either men or women, depending on the technology and culture.

In agricultural societies, women spun and wove flax. In nomadic societies they spun wool. The traditional belief about women and work has always been that just as men had work, so did women have work, and women also nursed their babies. That's just the way it was. There was no contrast between the orientation of men and women regarding work. Both worked with their hands. If the family was wealthy, neither worked with their hands.

The notion that it is right and good for men to go out to work and seek a career, that men are generally oriented to work; and that women, by contrast, are generally oriented to relationships of support and companionship, is about one generation old.

The man as provider, and the woman as receiver, is a paradigm that does not exist anywhere in the Bible, or even in history, until now. Perhaps, at this point in time, where women are equal before the civil law, some are trying to find a way to withdraw women from the mainstream.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Women's orientation to work: part 3 - the tent peg

In the ancient world women harvested, threshed and ground grain as well as preparing and cooking meals. Women also cared for animals and carried water. Everyone worked. It's the same on a farm today. Rebecca cared for animals, and provided water for Eliezer's camels. This is the kind of work that all women were responsible for.

But women also specialized. Many were midwives and nurses, and a few were prophets, judges, musicians and queens. At least one woman built cities, 1 Chronicles 7:24, "His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah."

In times of crisis, women worked alongside men, repairing the walls of Jerusalem, Neh. 3:12, "And next unto him repaired Shallum the son of Halohesh, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, he and his daughters." Jael put a tent peg through the enemy's head. It was woman's work to set up the tents.

Woman's work was comparable to man's work. Both were physical and tiring, requiring strength and endurance. For those living a subsistence lifestyle, many tasks, those of both men and women, were repetitive and mindless. The goal was survival.

For those with wealth, there were different patterns. In Proverbs 31, the husband was a scholar or judge, and the wife was a business woman with a household of servants or slaves under her direction. Both held positions of influence and dignity. Among slaves, men and women both worked hard. But even then, among the poor there was specialization, some women adept at being midwives, others at composing songs, performing music and dancing. Women were known for their specialization, just as men were.

The children were not simply cared for. They worked alongside their parents. Young children were often cared for by grandparents as is the case in many cultures today. This frees up the mother to work at a wage-earning job and contribute financially to the family. Women in the Bible were not simply consumers of goods, and carers of children. They contributed economically to the family.

I am hardly advocating that we return to this state of affairs. I had a friend who grew her own wheat and ground her own flour. But she had the advantage of technology. I wouldn't want to work in the fields all day, or carry water on my head, or grind grain. But this is a large part of women in the Bible did. We can't all of us be judges, prophets and musicians.

One thing is clear, however. Women have an orientation to work. At least, they should have. Just as men should. Women need to work to provide for their family. The only catch is that they have to do this while also bearing and nursing children.

Women, like men, are driven to work. It is a part of being human. They are like men in this way. However, they are unlike men, in that they also have to figure out how to do this at the same time as reproducing.

A curriculum which contrasts men and women, and teaches that men have an orientation to work, and women have an orientation to nurture, is not honest. It does not prepare women for the reality of both work and children.

Unfortunately, not all women resolve the tension between working and bearing children. Some women never do have children, and other women stay home and restrict their work to caring for their husband and children. But many women have the opportunity, or the need, to combine an expanded working life with raising children. It is not always possible to control the pattern that your life will take.

The only thing we can say about a woman's life in the Bible and today for a certainty, is that it includes both an orientation towards nurturing and an orientation towards work.

The Blue Sweater

I am reading The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz. She has worked in Africa and Asia for over 25 years, learning how to administer funds, providing grants and loans to small businesses. She is the CEO of the Acumen Fund. The Blue Sweater is a must read for anyone interested in donating funds.

This book is an account of one woman whose energy for work and innovation has contributed to changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. She speaks solemnly of the waste and detrimental effects of donated funds unless they are properly invested in income producing industry which is shaped by the recipients themselves, and creates and sustains profit. She openly discusses many failures that she has seen or been a part of, as well as the successes. This is a book rich in detail and example.