Women in the Heart of God (5)

The Data From the Exilic and Post-Exilic Community


[updated 11/16/96]
This period of time stretches from the destruction of Jerusalem after 600 B.C. to the close of the OT writings (apprx 400bc).

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:

  1. The social visibility of women in this period

  2. Indications of cultural power & responsibility

  3. Indications of status and value in the culture

  4. Indications of God's care and heart for women

Once we have examined that data, we will discuss some of the passages that could be seen as being 'slurs' on women.

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  1. The social visibility of women in this period

    Women are very visible, from a 'public standpoint' in this period--in domestic, governmental, and cultic areas.

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  2. Indications of cultural power & responsibility

    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.

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  3. Indications of status and value in the culture

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  4. Indications of God's care and heart for women

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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!).

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Summary:

  1. Women show up in official lists.
  2. Many women functioned in professional singer roles.
  3. Many women functioned in prophetic ministries.
  4. Women participated in all public functions, esp. cultic.
  5. Women were taught the Law by Levities.
  6. Women were part of the dedication of the temple event.
  7. Women were covenant partners in the renewal of the covenant.
  8. Women were highly visible in the society.
  9. Women took part in highly visible projects of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (and were publicly recognized for their role)
  10. Queen Esther (of Persia) was the main hero of the entire period, and in saving the entire nation from destruction, probably overshadowed the contributions of other male leaders of the time (e.g. Daniel, Nehemiah)
  11. Their roles are used as figures/symbols in prophecy.
  12. Powerful (although oppressive) women were apparently easy to find!
  13. Women bear equal guilt and equal judgment before YHWH.
  14. Daughters and wives were valued highly in the community.
  15. Male sexual standards were consistently re-enforced, without a 'double standard', in the prophecies of the period.
  16. God still tries to get the rulers to care for His widows.
  17. God calls the females His "children" and Israel His "wife".
  18. God intervenes on behalf of His daughters, in taking a stand against capricious divorce.
  19. God's gracious promises of future blessing SPECIFICALLY single out the benefits to His daughters! He seems intent on them knowing that they are individually special to Him.
  20. One precious woman was used as a symbol for the beloved Temple of God!
  21. We have no indications of any negative views of women by God in the text.

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.


The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)