FURTHER PROOF OF WOMAN’S EARLY DIGNITY.
448. It is but a meager account which we have in the Bible of the ages between Noah and Abraham. The distance in time is spanned by the tenth and eleventh chapters of Genesis. But we have light on this period in archaeological discoveries. The Tel el Amarna tablets, the Code of Hammurabi (King Amraphel of Genesis 14:1), and the numerous discoveries about Nineveh, in Babylonia, Egypt and other places, have combined in enabling scholars to reconstruct the manners and customs, to a considerable extent, of these peoples of early ages.
449. First in time, we had information that in Egypt, of old, women occupied every dignified position, in public as well as in private affairs; but this was supposed to be a quite exceptional fact. But after Bachofen’s book appeared, and others, particularly McLennan’s well-reasoned work, in which he traced the signs of that early dignity of women, and gave investigators new clues to follow out into past facts, historians and others have interested themselves increasingly in this newly-discovered chapter in woman’s ancient history.
450. We are not turning aside from legitimate Bible study, as regards woman’s place in the divine economy, in bringing these facts to the front, for they help us the better to understand numerous incidents in the Bible as regards women. Nothing is of more importance to the Christian woman today than to understand that God did not Himself subordinate woman to man. He merely prophesied that such subordination would follow as the fruit of sin in this world. The subordination of woman to man is not the result of God’s ordinance; it is the fruit of wrong-doing; and, as such, the fruit can be no more God’s doing than the bad tree.
451. Ancient history proves that woman, in earth’s earliest ages, was not subordinate. As to Egypt, we shall never forget the profound impression made on our own mind by a review of the long line of ancient monarchs in stone, to be seen in the Gizeh Museum, a few miles from Cairo, near the pyramid of Cheops. Beginning at the end where the most ancient were placed, we noticed that the queen sat by the side of the king, of equal size and importance. A few centuries down the line, the queen had become smaller than the king. The representations were all rudely true to life, and we could not but conclude that for some reason the man had taken to marrying a wife not as mature as himself; and beginning to bear children in her immaturity, the development of woman’s stature had been arrested. Further on towards our own days, the queen¾now more properly only the king’s wife¾sat on a lower level than his eminence; the queen had become the subject of the king also. Lastly, the queen was no longer carved out of a stone block; she was merely scratched in portraiture upon the pedestal of the stool upon which he sat, or upon the arm of his chair or throne.
452. Now here was a story which could not lie. No man had carved more than one or two of these stones; they had not been carved under the same dynasty; no architect had conceived the plan of the whole; no sociologist, no theologian had written this history of womanhood; no romancer had woven the tale. It was cold fact, in cold stone. And that revelation of the ages tells us that the Egyptian woman was, of old, a dignified personage; she gradually lost that dignity; her fall was not all at once; it was accomplished only gradually, through the working of ages of custom. How very different this is from that theological teaching that while the nations were as yet unborn, God placed their mother, Eve, under servitude, so that, by divine ordinance, every woman excepting Eve has been born in servitude!
453. Turning to Isaac Myer’s work, Oldest Books in the World, we quote what he says about ancient times in Egypt: “The mother of the deceased is usually shown with his wife, and his father rarely appears. The custom as shown by the funeral steles, was to trace the descent of the dead on their mother’s side, and not, as we do, on the father’s. This produced also the curious effect that the father of the mother was considered the natural protector.” “The position of woman both in religion and in government was elevated in ancient Egypt.” Mr. Myer reproduces teaching which was found on what he calls “The Papyruys of Balak, No.IV.” He dates the writing about 3,000 B. C. The words are in the language of a god, addressing some mother’s son: “I have given thee thy mother who has borne thee; she gave herself a heavy burden for thy sake . . . When thou wast born after thy months [of gestation], she was truly subjected to thy yoke, for her breast has been in thy mouth during three years. As thou grew marvelously, the disgust of thy untidiness did not turn her heart against thee. . . [Now] that thou hast married, . . . have an eye on thy child, raise it as thy mother did thee. Do not do what she would reprove in thee, for fear that, if she raises her two hands towards God [against thee], he will hear her prayer.”
454. Dr. J. H. Breasted, in his History of Egypt says: “Under the Old Kingdom [which he would place about 3,000 B. C.], a man possessed but one legal wife, who was the mother of his heirs. She was in every respect his equal. . . . The natural line of inheritance was through the eldest daughter, though a will might destroy this.” To these statements, and many more kindred ones which we might quote, we know of no reliable historian who would take exception.
455. We turn now from Egypt to ancient Babylonia, to learn the same things, as regards the early dignity of woman. Formerly it was supposed that Hebrew was the oldest language, and no people were older than the nation from whence Abraham came. But before the Babylonians were the Sumerians; and Prof. Sayce tells us in his book, Babylonians and Assyrians: “Two principles struggled for recognition in Babylonian family life. One was the patriarchal, the other the matriarchal. Perhaps they were due to a duality of race; perhaps they were merely the result of the circumstances under which the Babylonians lived. At times it would seem as if we must pronounce the Babylonian family to have been patriarchal in its character; at other times the wife and mother occupies an independent and even commanding position. It may be noted that whereas in the old Sumerian hymns the woman takes the precedence of the man, the Semitic translation invariably reverses the order; the one has ‘female and male,’ the other, ‘male and female.’” Again he says: “Women could hold civil offices and even act as governors of a city.” Again we read the same lesson,¾in Babylonia WOMAN WAS BORN FREE!
456. Let us not distract our mind at present with mental discussions as to the desirableness, or otherwise, of such social conditions. At present we put these facts of history forward wholly for the sake of making one point perfectly clear and convincing,¾viz., Woman was NOT subordinated, at the beginning of human history through the wrong-doing of Eve. At the dawn of authentic profane history, which must have been much later than Eve’s day of course, we find woman holding a position so dignified and honored, both in family and public life, that men are constrained to name it a matriarchate. If this be so, then the theologian has not read his Bible correctly in his supposition that he can trace the subordination of woman all the way back to Eden, and to a day when the blight of God’s curse fell upon Eve. We have shown, and will show further, by the teaching of the Bible itself, that such a conception is not consonant with the general spirit of the Word, and that such a sad day as God’s curse of womanhood never dawned on human history.
This matter may seem of so little consequence to male Bible expositors that they are more than willing even to this day to ignore the “woman question” in their teaching, and allow the case to stand as God’s blight on the sex, when it is wholly the result of man’s wrongdoing. Thus Adam was more than willing to ignore the Serpent in the Garden, and lay the responsibility of his own wrongdoing at the door of the Almighty,¾as he did when he said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me.” But such continuance in an evil way will no escape God’s eye, inasmuch as the teaching that all women are left under condemnation because Eve sinned is more a slight and disrespect shown towards Jesus Christ, the Atoner for ALL SIN, than a slight and disrespect shown towards women.
(To be continued)Lesson 59 Home