The literature of this period comes from three types of sources--historical, prophetic, and one piece of "professional literature"--Lamentations. The historical material is given in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. The prophetic literature that falls into this period occurs in the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
This period is a period of high turmoil also, especially culturally, so the only 'leisure literature' of the period is a "professional" mourning piece--Lamentations--produced AFTER the Fall of Jerusalem.
The biblical literature is not very extensive, compared to earlier periods, but many of the same basic elements that we saw in earlier periods are evidenced here as well.
We can arrange this material under the following categories:
Once we have examined that data, we will discuss some of the passages that could be seen as being 'slurs' on women.
- The social visibility of women in this period
- Indications of cultural power & responsibility
- Indications of status and value in the culture
- Indications of God's care and heart for women
Women are very visible, from a 'public standpoint' in this period--in domestic, governmental, and cultic areas.
27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The singers also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem -- from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem. 30 When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall. 31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate. 32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 as well as some priests with trumpets, and also Zechariah son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, 36 and his associates -- Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani -- with musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God. Ezra the scribe led the procession. 37 At the Fountain Gate they continued directly up the steps of the City of David on the ascent to the wall and passed above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east. 38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people -- past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped. 40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 41 as well as the priests -- Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets -- 42 and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.
Women play two roles here: as part of the choir/singers (vs 29), and as part of the audience (v.43).
"Now, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them 18 and say, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the women who sew magic charms on all their wrists and make veils of various lengths for their heads in order to ensnare people. Will you ensnare the lives of my people but preserve your own? 19 You have profaned me among my people for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread. By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died and have spared those who should not live. 20 "`Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people like birds and I will tear them from your arms; I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds. 21 I will tear off your veils and save my people from your hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power. Then you will know that I am the LORD. 22 Because you disheartened the righteous with your lies, when I had brought them no grief, and because you encouraged the wicked not to turn from their evil ways and so save their lives, 23 therefore you will no longer see false visions or practice divination. I will save my people from your hands. And then you will know that I am the LORD.'"Notice that these women of power were singled out in the prophecy--highly visible in that day . (We have seen earlier cases of this as well: Amos 4.1; Is 3.11ff; 4.4f)
Notice that in this partial "official" list of the workers in rebuilding the city, are the daughters of one of the rulers. This list would be a public document (like the plaques on buildings, describing who sponsored/did the work). These daughters were in very respected company, judging by the titles and names on the list!
Esther not only is declared 'better than' all the other women in Persia, but saves the entire people of Israel by her actions! The story teems with examples of her cooperation with her uncle, and her sage-like independent action. That God has used her in a great deliverance (cf. 4.14) is obvious from both the results (9.1-10) and the various 'providential timings' that occur in the book (e.g. 7.8!). What an example!
Notice that only ONE public figure of the period has literature written ABOUT them (as opposed to BY them): Esther! (The other major figures of the period--Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah--wrote their own stories.)
Although all of the recorded instances we have indicate a MIS-use of this prophetic role, that does NOT give us cause to believe that ALL such women misused this responsibility. There probably WERE some good ones around. Be that as it may, the 'bad' ones demonstrate adequately that these women had highly visible roles in the community.
It is also highly significant that there is no powerful kingship during this period, suggesting that the prophetic role was elevated in status along with the priestly/scribal ones(cf. Neh 6.14f below).
We have already looked at this passage as indication of their public role, but it is important to also note that this passage follows the 1st half of the chapter in which the (male) prophets are also publicly confronted with their evil.
2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. 4 Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam. 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 The Levites -- Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah -- instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.Notice that women were explicitly mentioned as being in the assembly, listening attentively to the Law, praising the Lord, worshipping the Lord. Notice also that women were instructed by the Levites in the Law (8.7)--no exclusion from study of Torah here!
Notice that women were involved in the public re-confirmation of the nation to serve YHWH.
We saw in the Divided Monarchy period that there were several indications of women's cultural power, but that most of the manifestations of this were negative. This period will show the same pattern of women's power, responsibility, and equal-guilt before the Lord.
12 He said to me, "Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, `The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.'" 13 Again, he said, "You will see them doing things that are even more detestable." 14 Then he brought me to the entrance to the north gate of the house of the LORD, and I saw women sitting there, mourning for Tammuz. 15 He said to me, "Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this." 16 He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east.
Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 and said to him, "Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it." 5 As I listened, he said to the others, "Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. 6 Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple.
"Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right. 6 He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of the house of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor's wife or lie with a woman during her period. 7 He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. 8 He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between man and man. 9 He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. (and twice again later in the chapter.)
"`See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. 7 In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow. 8 You have despised my holy things and desecrated my Sabbaths. 9 In you are slanderous men bent on shedding blood; in you are those who eat at the mountain shrines and commit lewd acts. 10 In you are those who dishonor their fathers' bed; in you are those who violate women during their period, when they are ceremonially unclean. 11 In you one man commits a detestable offense with his neighbor's wife, another shamefully defiles his daughter-in-law, and another violates his sister, his own father's daughter. 12 In you men accept bribes to shed blood; you take usury and excessive interest and make unjust gain from your neighbors by extortion. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign LORD. Ezek 22.6-12.
"`And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? 21 You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols.Note that God's relationship to Israel is pictured here as Father/daughter (no obvious slur on being a daughter!)
Another thing you do: You flood the LORD's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. 15 Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 16 "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.Notice that God withholds blessing from the people because they break faith with their wives. He hates divorce, and likens it to a type of violence (v16). The 'break faith' issue is mentioned THREE times in this short passage. The wife is an older woman (v.14), and is called a 'partner' and 'covenant' party. (v.14). God is obviously trying to protect His daughters from capricious divorce.
[It is important to note that not all divorce in the OT WAS capricious. In Ezra 9, YHWH Himself orders several hundred divorces--some even involving children. These 'hated and reluctant orders' are only done by God under the most extreme of circumstances (these marriages to foreign women threatened the nation's future). In another situation, God is said to have written a bill of divorce for unfaithful Israel--Jer 3.8:
8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries., apparently along the line of Jesus' words in Matt 5.31, and the "righteous" intentions of Joseph in Matt 1.19 . These situations would hardly be called a 'breach of faith' and so do not incur the 'hated event' status of capricious divorce. See also YHWH in Is 50.1f.]
There are two passages that COULD BE seen as being 'slurs' on women, from this period's literature.
The first is Ezek 36.17: Again the word of the LORD came to me:
17 "Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight.
18 So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols.
The issue of menstrual blood was sometimes used in extra-biblical antiquity to indicate women's inferiority to men. If that viewpoint were present in this verse, it would be an absolutely UNIQUE case in the bible of this position!
But this passage probably doesn't elevate female uncleanness beyond that of male uncleanness (i.e. emission of semen) at all. Men were unclean by both intentional emission (Lev 15.18 ) and unintentional emissions (Deut 23.10). The woman's blood-related case is probably used here simply because of its (1) predictability--"monthly"-- (tied in with the predictability of Israel's sin) and (2) its blood-base (tied in with the bloodshed by the people mentioned in vs. 18).
The second is Ezek 44.22: They (the priests) must not marry widows or divorced women; they may marry only virgins of Israelite descent or widows of priests..
This is sometimes thought to imply that sexual intercourse 'defiles' a women (but not a man). But it is so obvious that this CANNOT be the meaning here since the priest CAN marry the widow of another priest! (And, of course, intercourse DID defile BOTH man and woman--temporarily--Lev 15.)
Instead, I would understand the prohibition against divorcees of priests to be in light of the possibility of re-union with the ex-spouse. (It apparently happened back then, since some very specific cases were singled out by God as inappropriate--Jer 3.1 and Deut 24.4)
The (possible) preference for virgins in the passage is probably related to the overall "model" character of the law. Everything was to be in its 'original' and 'unused' condition--without spot or blemish. It was simply a picture of how the perfection of the future will look like--in which "all things become new" (Rev 21.5!).
Once again, the data of the text reveals a very meaningful contribution/involvement by women in the public sphere. The roles of prophet, foreign queen, powerful women, cultic singers, builders, and mothers(!) were major players in the shaping of the events of this period. The new stand taken by YHWH on divorce--protecting His daughters from men--is new data, revealing something about God's heart for His daughters. And, God still constantly reminds them that He has a wonderful "present" for them--at the end of time.