Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Jesus And Women (Part 2)

Part 1 is available here.

AP: Let's look at a quotation from a section about "Jesus and women" in a book titled Women in Christianity (Spanish version published in 2014) by Hans Küng. He writes the following:
"In the time of Jesus women counted for little in society. As in some cultures even today, they had to avoid the company of men in public. Contemporary Jewish sources are full of animosity towards women, who according to the Jewish historian Josephus are in every respect inferior to men. Husbands are advised not to talk much even with their own wives, far less with the wives of others. Women withdrew from public life as much as possible. In the temple they had access only to the Court of Women. And their duties in offering prayer were identical to those of slaves. However, regardless of the question of how much of the biographical detail in the Gospels is clear, the evangelists have no inhibitions about talking of Jesus' relations with women. According to them, Jesus dissociated himself from the customary exclusion of women. Not only does Jesus show no contempt for women; he is amazingly open towards them. Women accompany him and his disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem. We are given the names of many of them: Joanna, Susanna, Mary the mother of James and Joses, Salome and 'many other women', first and foremost Mary of Magdala. Jesus showed personal affection towards women. The group of disciples, which travelled around without possessions and had no fixed abode, was given effective support by women and the families of sympathizers, lie this of Martha and Mary" (Women in Christianity, trans. John Bowden [London: Continuum, 2005], 2). 
What sort of impression of Jesus does the reader get from reading Küng's description? Well, at the very least, that Jesus was an exceptional man in his day and that marked an absolutely amazing milestone egarding the treatment and social status of women. It's only one step more to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was the first feminist in history, a view put forward by many "biographers" of Jesus with which many agree. But I submit that Küng's words are a rather cursory analysis:
1. It ignores the historicity of the biographical details. Implicitly it refuses to present an image of Jesus with historical accuracy. 
2.  It ignores the situation in Galilee in the first century, where women could even be bartenders (or barmaids), where women worked in fields and represented their husbands on the market in selling their products, so that they had greater freedom than in Judea. 
3.  It also fails to mention that we hear from other rabbis of the time, or shortly after Jesus, who treated women well, although that did not necessarily mean that he had changed one iota in the way he viewed women as secondary essence based on Genesis 2 and the way people thought during that time. 
4. It refers to scenes in the fourth Gospel that are probably symbol, not historical. These include, for example, the scene with Martha and Mary or the one with Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Nothing can be inferred from these regarding the Jesus of history. It refers to private scenes, inside houses, where the treatment of women was very different. But this changed nothing about the social status of women. And contact with public sinners like when Jesus was anointed (practically the only case, which was also inside a house) say nothing about a change in social status of women. The story of the adulteress is historically very doubtful. It is more likely a secondary, late text. 
5.  It ignores the fact that, before the death of Jesus throughout his public life, there is only one text, a single text before the resurrection (Luke 8:1-3) that speaks of women as followers of Jesus instead of servants. 
6.  Maybe Jewish and pagan healers and exorcists of that day did not cast out demons and heal women? 
7. Maybe Jesus healed women because they were women, not because they were weak and certainly represented a stratum of society that was less important in most cases? 
8. The Gospels present numerous opportunities for Jesus to have addressed the issue of women, and yet not a single pronouncement is found where he tries to correct the social position of women during his day. Not even the slightest allusion. And without public pronouncements, and subsequent actions, no change in the status of women was possible. 
9. Jesus' teaching on marriage and the refusal of divorce is very similar, almost identical, to the views of the Essenes. Maybe the Essenes, in their defense of this view, were social reformers too? No way. And it is absolutely true that for the Essenes women were secondary beings and occupied a secondary place in both spiritual and social life. 
10. It does not take into account the exception clause in Matt. 19:9 ("except in the case of poreneia [some sexual deviation or illegitimacy] of women and marries another commits adultery. Sorry to say, but the prospect of that verse is totally sexist.  
11. It is probably true that the apostle Paul treated his co-laborers in the gospel with the utmost care. Paul's treatment of women is very broad and friendly . . . But . . . his public pronouncements (in his letters) on women is regrettable from the modern point of view, although completely concordant with the customs and society of his time. Therefore, the good treatment of Jesus with women cannot lead to the idea that he was a social reformer. 
We could look at much more, but this is enough. My conclusion from this analysis is simply that from a historical point of view, Küng's conclusions are questionable to say the very least.

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