Pauline Christianity as reform and compromise.
Just a theory.
I’ve marveled at drawings of women carrying water jugs balanced on top of their heads. How do they do that? I don’t think I’ll try it. (Likely I’d have to clean up water and pieces of broken jug!)
Think of the women in biblical times who carried the heavy water home so all in the household could drink and bathe. (Not a man’s job.) How much time each day was devoted to this task?
In Mark and Luke, Jesus tells his disciples to look for a sign, a man carrying a water jug. This is the man they should follow to find a dining room for the Last Supper. A man carrying water might not have been as rare as snowflakes in July, but rare enough to be a “sign.” So male slaves were not required to carry water if females were available??
It is puzzling to me that in all my years, I’ve never heard of any society where only the men carry the water. Why is it the job of the women? Aren’t men stronger and better suited for the task? My impression is that in so many societies, the women work constantly, carrying water, making and baking bread, sweeping and cleaning house, caring for children, caring for the sick and aged, doing laundry, doing their agriculture, weaving cloth and carpets, spinning and sewing, making baskets, shaping bricks, milking the goats, gathering firewood, keeping the hearths stoked, or other drudgery.
The men do a little trading or a little hunting, if and when it suits them. Doesn’t seem like much until you realize that these male activities have greater risk whenever the men leave the security of their own immediate territory, and thus, the contribution of the men can be significant. In New Testament times, the society is sufficiently complex so that each man has a trade or profession (fisherman, farm landlord, ruler, servant, priest, ship captain, jailor, banker, beggar, thief, rebel, soldier, tentmaker, tax collector, merchant, builder, carpenter, teacher, etc.) Because the men are gainfully employed, the families can benefit from this.
Before we get too sorry for the female water-carriers (and women still carry water in many places on this planet), it seems right to ask about the plight of the men who would have to risk breaking tradition or being called a “sissy” or worse?? if they dared to help themselves to some well water in their own village or carry water from a nearby river to their village. Think about it. What is preventing the men from doing this task? Taboo?
Women are the weaker gender (in terms of muscle power) on average. Why do they take on this task of carrying water? Because they want to be the personal slaves of the men? I’ll guess this division of labor was/is fully supported by the women who then have some subtle bargaining power over the men in their lives. Each man must wait patiently for his woman to fetch his water and must be dependent on her. What does this do to the marital contract? I’m not sure. No cooperation? No water. No warmth in bed. No food from her agriculture. Pity the poor men. All they can do is claim that the women are the property of the men.
In villages with well water or in desert communities, the women water-carriers have a mighty weapon for ensuring male fidelity. “You like her? Maybe her husband will let her carry your water.” Maybe civilization was built on such a little thing. What man would want his peers to snicker, “He’s drawing his own water. Maybe he’s not getting any from his wife.” Of course it’s just conjecture on my part that male aversion to water carrying could deter a man from helping himself to a little cup of water if he wanted to. But how much water could a man take to carry home before he had to fear losing his status in the community?
All the serving, coddling, cuddling, and emotional support by women is an inducement for men to stay domesticated, but not always. It does seem that wars generally don’t last more than a few years, long enough for the young men to act out their testosterone and realize they need something that raping and pillaging can’t provide. Didn’t I read somewhere that domesticated men have lower testosterone levels? So the men come back to their homes (if the homes haven’t been demolished in the war) get domesticated and get waited on. A mechanism for limiting outbreaks of war?
Let’s contemplate how the dynamic between men and women changed with the advent of indoor plumbing and modern conveniences. Maybe the invention of the “pill” was anti-climactic.
If we knew how “underdeveloped” societies and ancient societies functioned (and I don’t pretend to know even though I’m trying to write about it), then maybe we could put our broken and nonfunctional civilization back together again.
As I speculate here on why women carry water and the effect of that on men, I realize that there is a lot about biblical times that we will never know and thus our understanding of our own sacred texts is limited.
What can we know?
At the Last Supper for all we know, Jesus may have been washing the feet of both male and female disciples. Shouldn’t people wash each other’s feet in churches as Jesus commanded? Why just shake hands in the formal greeting? (wink)
By pouring water into a basin for those present and washing feet, Jesus is hardly acting like the alpha-male he apparently is (as indicated by his authority and his leadership of a pack of 12 males). Why does the author present Jesus this way? By having Jesus wash feet, the author makes Jesus more likeable by women – he is entering their class, the class of servants, slaves, and women. And breaking barriers.
The Samaritan woman (John chapter 4) lets Jesus know that the well belongs to her and her clan by saying it belonged to her ancestor Jacob. Implied – Jesus must either buy the water or convince her to give him some. So Jesus negotiates for the water, offering her some mystical water of his own in exchange.
Jesus is without the woman who would normally draw water for him (all his disciple followers have gone into town) so he must ask the Samaritan woman to draw?? Or the one who draws for him is standing right there and is not a disciple (and is maybe the one observing the conversation), but the well belongs to the Samaritan woman, so she would be the one to draw, not Jesus’ own woman?? In any event, nothing can happen until the Samaritan woman agrees he can have her water.
When the Samaritan woman tells Jesus that he has nothing to draw water with, it means that there is only the equipment already at the well and he would be out of line to touch it, in other words, he would be trespassing. It’s not as if the Samaritan woman totes a hundred feet or more of rope to the well every day when she visits the well. Her well might have been like a country well in the Syrian desert I saw on The Silk Road II videos, episode 15. As best I can recall, that well was equipped with a thick rope, a 5-10 gallon open-mouthed leather?? pouch, some type of pulley, and an adjacent trough to hold the water for sheep. A white donkey pulled on the rope to lift what might have been 40-80 pounds of water to the top of the well. A young woman dragged the pouch over the edge of the well with great effort and tilted it over the trough. An older woman rode the donkey out and back, guiding it for each lift (singing all the while). Camels drank from the trough and a large number of sheep were shown. Bedouins in tents tended the well, lived at it, and all comers had to pay cash or barter for the water.
When the disciples return they are surprised to see Jesus talking with a woman. Evidently, Jesus has broken some taboo just by engaging the Samaritan woman in conversation. He must have been very thirsty.
As far as we can tell, the Samaritan woman does not comply with Jesus’ request for water even though there is plenty of time for her to do so. She just keeps on talking. It was tough being a man in those days.
The Samaritan woman tells him that Jacob (their common ancestor) and his flocks drank from the well. Doesn’t mean that Jacob drew the water or carried it.
This chapter in John lets women readers of that time know that Jesus is someone who will abide by their water rules (wait to be served by a woman) and thus he supports the prevailing order in society. He does not conjure up water for himself or trespass or grab her water jug or do women’s work. He behaves in a civilized manner. All the posturing and pantomiming is important to convince first-century women readers that this Jesus is not a threat to them, despite his penchant for a father-god. Maybe Jesus could have helped himself to the water without it being noticed by villagers?? since he was there before the Samaritan woman arrived at the well – but he didn’t. Even if the well had only a rope, he could have improvised by dunking a piece of his clothing?? – but he didn’t. While Jesus washed feet and served a crowd with bread like a servant (elsewhere in John), he did not go so far as to fill water jars (Cana). Evidently not something a lord will do.
Something which is the privilege?? of women.
In Exodus 2 (CCE) Moses actually draws water from a well to water a flock, but only in conjunction with saving the well from intruders who had chased off the seven women charged with the task. For his heroism and unusual behavior (“He even drew water for us and watered the flock.”), Moses is invited to dinner by the women’s father. Notice that the patriarchal author has Moses complete the watering in record time – he can work faster than seven women!
While both Jesus and Moses sit at their respective wells (waiting for water?), Jesus shows no inclination to doing women’s work, let alone doing it better. Rather, he is shown respecting woman’s role. Are we supposed to think of Moses in this Jesus scene? I suppose so. There are passages where both are mentioned.
Notice that the Samaritan woman proclaims Jesus to her village in John. If an apostle is a messenger, then the Samaritan woman is an apostle, although not named as such. She’s not named at all in fact. Too bad we don’t have her name.
John does not want to lose his/her male readers and so concludes that episode by having the men say the Samaritan woman’s testimony became irrelevant once they heard Jesus for themselves. That’s what I thought at first. Now I think this is one more nod to women by the author – (“See how they treat women!”)
Interesting that Jesus’ all-important prediction of the end of sacrifice is given to this woman at the well in Samaria, a Pagan territory, as he predicts that there will come a time when there will be no more sacrifices or offerings, either in Jerusalem or on the mountaintops, and instead true worship will prevail.
Jesus tells the woman at the well that she has had five husbands and her current man is not her husband. (A riddle?)
A friend has alerted me to the possibility that these are not regular marriages, but rather sacred ritual marriages of hieros gamos at a temple in which a priestess and a male member of the community are joined in remembrance of the Goddess and her “king.”
The “woman at the well” might be such a priestess and because of her religious role, a leader of her community. Thus, Jesus is pictured offering his Good News to someone representing the “other side.” Interesting that both parties are descendents of Jacob, reminding me of people in that part of the world today with common ancestors, each group still hostile to the other.
When the disciples return they are surprised to find that Jesus would speak with this woman. A Catholic Confraternity Edition footnote explains, “The Jewish doctors of the Law would seldom speak to women, even to their wives, in public.” (Not that Jesus is thought to have been such a lawyer.) Well, this priestess was not a downtrodden victim of patriarchy like those wives! Perhaps Jesus had no problem approaching her because she wore something, like a headdress, scarf, or pin that signified her leadership role. This encounter shows Jesus being ecumenical, reaching out to those with a differing view on religion. He does not treat her as “unclean” as would be expected by his countrymen.
One can only wonder who was witnessing this conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman after the disciples had gone off to buy food. Perhaps the witness is a poor downtrodden victim of patriarchy who is not even able to think of herself as a disciple and who is amazed at the power of this Pagan woman who dares to converse meaningfully with the Master.
Is the Samaritan woman independent and dignified or nothing better than a “temple prostitute” as many passages in the Bible would label her? Could there have been corruption? Could it have been a degrading life-style? Could she have been a victim of patriarchy, not even able to select her own partners? I suspect her life was hard. I rather doubt there was ever a golden age of women’s supremacy as some would have it. But maybe she had a certain degree of autonomy and respect as a representative of the sacred. There’s no way to know.
Perhaps John is not only showing us Jesus being ecumenical, but also showing us what needed to be reformed. Perhaps Christianity triumphed because women supported it; they supported the demolition of “temple prostitution,” because it was a threat to the sanctity of the family. Women opted for a new, improved, replacement Savior and King, one with a pure relationship with his mother; a savior remembered in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup (1 Corinthians 11:23-25), not in any other act. The women didn’t want their men running off to play at being “king of the Goddess” at the local temple. Of course, that’s a guess. So much history is “his story” and much of her story has been lost.
The many references in the New Testament to women who followed Jesus, served him, interacted with him, and later preached him, are there possibly to reassure women readers of the first century that this new Way was in no way anti-women. In fact, Jesus is shown bringing his message directly to a woman who follows Her. Jesus is explaining, reassuring, and being very, very convincing.
The sub-text for first-century women was: If the priestess bought this, you can, too. Try it. You’ll like it.
The priestess bought it, even though it would mean the end of her career as (um) hostess. But with only five? of the annual marriages completed, she was still young enough to find other employment, or even a regular husband. Maybe she didn’t mind – maybe her job wasn’t so great.
Maybe the only witnesses to the conversation of Jesus and the Samaritan priestess were themselves. Maybe she wrote John. Think about it. It seems to me that the principle New Testament author was someone who wanted to reform Paganism. For all we know, it could have been someone on the inside.
Most likely though, it was a group of Jews who saw that many centuries of violent murderous attacks against their Pagan neighbors had been to no avail and that reform could only come by offering a new Way that Pagan women could welcome. (I say likely a group of Jews because the New Testament scriptures are full of references to the Hebrew Bible.)
Check out Revelation’s chapters 17 and 18. The rant, “kings of the earth committed fornication with her” (a hated prostitute) is repeated three times. A reference to sacred marriages? “The voice of the bridegroom and the bride [king-player and priestess] shall be heard no more at all in thee” (DRA). Regardless of how this Pagan imagery is interpreted, there is no doubt about the author’s antagonism to it.
The author signs off with the closing, “the spirit and the bride.” I wonder who she was? (Revelation 22:17 (DRA))
Is Pauline Christianity a natural outgrowth of Judaism, genuinely rooted in the Jesus movement, but embellished with some Pagan symbolism, or is it basically a reformed Pagan religion perched awkwardly atop a Hebrew foundation? Who knows for sure?
It seems clear that Pagan women followers of the Goddess did not embrace patriarchy. Rather, they embraced Jesus, friend of women – a better friend than any other lord-king-savior they had ever heard of.
I don’t know if children were ever allowed to view a “king and Goddess” re-enactment. (“Mommy, what are they doing?”)
It’s not hard for me to understand why wives and mothers decided that bread and wine were sufficient and they chose Jesus.
Could it have been this “temple re-enactment” issue that launched Christianity?
By the way, I am not trying to be insulting by using the word “Pagan.” (My 1943 Webster says this is a peasant, heathen, or idolater.) As far as I know, there is no other word in English to describe the dominant religion in the Roman world at the time of Jesus, other than “Gentile,” which is problematic because for modern Jews, Christians are Gentiles. Think how thoroughly the old religion was obliterated that we no longer have a workable, polite word for it.
Idolater? Someone who places a flower before a statue of the Queen of Heaven (whether Mary or Isis) is no more an “idolater” than someone kneeling before a crucifix. Let’s be respectful of one another’s religious beliefs.
The history and pre-history of the millennia before Jesus are murky at best and I haven’t suddenly become an expert on that. So why am I going into all this? Unless we try to discover the milieu in which Pauline Christianity was developed, we can barely guess what Christianity is all about or what problem it was designed to address. I’d like to know. What was it that brought people together a generation or two after the issues Jesus raised about the Jerusalem Temple had become moot with its destruction? What exactly was Paul, the self-styled “apostle to the Gentiles” (Pagans) offering them? A comparison of Jesus with Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15) might give us clues, provided that all memory of that savior was not destroyed in shameful and fanatical book-burnings (Acts 19:19-20). Too bad Christians have been known historically for their destruction of other people’s libraries (Gnostic texts for example). This shameful behavior means that we know very little about the context for the development of Christianity. The Christian faith in the hands of book-burning numbskulls? We absolutely need to know the meanings of the Pagan imagery in our own sacred texts. Meanings now lost forever? How much did the fullness of Christian understanding deteriorate in the hands of the lowest common denominator?
If only the woman at the well could tell us how it all began.
Lest we think that Goddess worship was all fun and games for the men, I should mention that at one time, the Goddess worship also involved the ritual re-enactment of the sacrificial killing of the “king” by the Goddess (or other agent) as she gave the blood of this, her own son, to humankind for nourishing the soil (or other purpose). As far as we know, the king-players were not actually still being killed in the first century, at the time of Jesus. This butchering of ritual kings is recalled in the Hebrew Bible (Ezechiel 43:7-9 (Catholic Douay)): “And the house of Israel shall no more profane my holy name, they and their kings by their fornications, and by the carcasses of their kings, and by the high places. They who have set their threshold by my threshold, and their posts by my posts, and there was but a wall between me and them. And they profaned my holy name by the abominations which they committed, for which reason I consumed them in my wrath.” In other words, the abominations of “fornications” (ritual sex) and “carcasses of the kings” (ritual killings of king-partners) took place within Yahweh’s own temple but in a separate room. He became wrathful and killed? the perpetrators, presumably through the action of his male devotees. “High places” refers to the usual location of Goddess worship on a mountaintop or hilltop. The Douay puts this text in the sixth century BCE (nearly six hundred years before Jesus).
What mother would willingly support the killing of her grown son in a dark and evil killing-of-the-king ritual? Did the selected young man consider it an honor? Certainly men with any sense were glad to leave this practice of human sacrifice behind. I’ll guess most people today are clueless to the distant Pagan past and have no idea that human sacrifice was accepted, or that for many thousands of years before the coming of Yahweh, the Goddess was the Creator. The memory of all that was almost obliterated. Jesus’ once-and-for-all bloody “sacrifice on the cross” put an end to the need for sacrifice of any kind. But I suspect that human sacrifice was still a potential threat in the time of Jesus, maybe out in the boondocks?? Why else would the New Testament authors make Jesus into a human sacrifice to end the need for sacrifice? Seems like there’s some urgency in their writings.
We might think that a father-god who wills for the death of his own son in a once-and-for-all sacrifice is grotesque, until we understand that this scenario is a vast improvement over the still-remembered horror of human sacrifices in Goddess worship. Also, we might question why, by tradition, Mary has to be titled the Ever-Virgin until we understand that by adopting the new religion, first-century men and women were rejecting incestuous deities. Unless we know where we’ve been, we don’t really know where we are going as we evolve our spiritual understanding.
Both men and women breathed a sigh of relief when Christianity eventually triumphed.
Was Pauline Christianity, with its ultimate human sacrifice, developed for Jews or Pagans? The quote above from Ezechiel tells us that Yahweh abhors human sacrifice. (See also Ezechiel 16:20-21 & 36, 20:26, 20:31, on children as human sacrifices.) Recall that Yahweh refused the human sacrifice by Abraham (Genesis 22). The Hebrews didn’t make human sacrifices except as an aberration. And Yahweh didn’t approve of human sacrifice. It is an abomination. Should we suppose that a god who is ethically opposed to the sacrifice of children will “will” the sacrifice of “his own son”? Would Yahweh welcome any human sacrifice? I guess that the line “Before Abraham was, I am,” could not persuade most Jews that Jesus as Christ was somehow grandfathered under Yahweh’s prohibition against human sacrifice.
Is there any recollection of the killing of kings in the New Testament other than the obvious Jesus-as-king? I thought there wasn’t until I read in Merlin Stone’s book1 of a report that in ancient Babylon, the ritual killing was eventually changed so that it was not the ruling king who was killed but some unfortunate substitute male. The king was merely stripped of his garments, humiliated, and struck. I wished I had made a connection between that ancient tradition and Jesus before I wrote my post on Barabbas and the torture of Jesus (where his own clothes are replaced, he is humiliated and struck), because it supports so well what I was hypothesizing, that we are supposed to see various possible outcomes for that scene, including the switch of Jesus and Barabbas.
The New Testament also has a scene where a eunuch is converted to the new Way (Acts 8). This man, a victim of Goddess-worship, had been voluntarily?? castrated in order to be in Her service as an important official in charge of the treasury of Queen Candace of Ethiopia. He now accepts the new revised Savior and is baptized. Whether the horrific practice of castration was still current at the time of Jesus, I don’t know. Perhaps it was only being remembered by the biblical author, but Matthew 19 seems to indicate it is an ongoing phenomenon. In any event, it would seem that both the Samaritan woman at the well and the Ethiopian eunuch are set forth as representatives of the old way who are in favor of adopting the new. They are selling it to the reader.
Every once in a while I wonder why Paul never married. I remember that Paul’s father was Jewish, but what about his mother? By outlawing even circumcision among his followers, Paul was able to assure there would not be any castrations. Why was he so opposed to circumcision? Because he knew his Pagan audiences would not accept it? Or was there another reason? Was Paul a victim? Just asking.
When Jesus curses the fig tree, is he having a temper tantrum? No, the sycamore fig tree was special to Goddess worship. So this is symbolism showing Jesus’ distain for what needed to be reformed. Is Jesus pushing Judaism? Hardly. He says salvation is from the Jews, but he is not endorsing their form of worship. Prospective converts were assured they did not need to be circumcised, nor were they required to eat only certain foods. So the new faith is supposedly rooted in Judaism but is not Jewish.
Were women in matrilineal societies (where property and land was passed through the maternal line) going to be concerned about male infidelity? Maybe some emotional upset, maybe some health issues, but it would not be a financial disaster. However, at the time of Jesus, I’ll guess that most? societies were no longer strictly matrilineal and had become sufficiently patriarchal so that Pagan women could be enticed by the perks offered in the New Testament: economic support for women over 60 (1 Timothy 5), property rights for widows (Mark 12:40), more stringent rules for divorce (Matthew 5:31). I’m assuming that these would be primarily of interest to Pagan women, not Jewish women, members of a society that could hardly still be in transition after more than a thousand years of the most patriarchal dominance known to humankind up to that point. Jewish women had long since come to terms with whatever rights they did or didn’t have or had achieved some sort of resolution to their inequality and were not looking for reform??, let alone a Pagan-style Lady and her Lord. When Paul said his gospel was for the Gentiles, I’ll bet he meant it.
Would I be disappointed if Mary and Jesus were an upgrade to their counterparts in Pagan mythology instead of something “foretold by the prophets” of Israel? Quite the contrary. I would be very pleased to know the story elements pre-dated Judaism by many thousands of years and appear in the earliest known religion (virgin mother and child, sacrifice of the son, lamentations, resurrection). Truly a story for humankind, a story with incredible longevity, staying power, and apparently, universal deep meaning.
Unless you at least begin to do a study of the history of religion (and I have only barely begun), you cannot get a sense of the amazing scholarship that went into designing the New Testament. What organization had the knowledge, skill, resources, and the motive to do this? Very interesting question wouldn’t you say? Sometimes I ask myself if their descendents or heirs are still out there somewhere and they know the complete answer. They feel no need to announce their presence to book-burning numbskulls.
In recent days, as I have written this post, I have gotten the idea that the Jesus and Mary upgrade was a very workable compromise between competing theologies and ways of organizing societies. I really have confidence that the women of the first century, like the woman at the well, made the right choice.
Some might disagree and say that the Epistles in the New Testament are blatantly anti-women, telling women they must wear head coverings when they speak in church to pray or prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:4-16), and contrarily, they should not speak in church at all (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Further, women must not teach men (1 Timothy 2), and conversely??, women should teach what is good (Titus 2:3). (TNIV) However, I think that these instructions, as confused as they are, would have been considered a compromise at that time, perhaps a compromise still being developed given the lack of coherence. These instructions would have been a compromise in light of the dominant position held by women in former times, when women took the lead (literally) in “sacred marriage” ceremonies in which we may presume there was a lack of body coverings. Also, back then, it was women, not men, who were the oracles who gave advice to community leaders, at least that’s my understanding.
Would women of the 21st century submit to wearing head coverings and not teaching men? Perhaps you have not been to a church where the women wear the most extraordinary hats, and I’ve seen these for sale – broad brimmed hats, bright electric colors, loaded with acrylic jewels! They don’t mind wearing head coverings. And how many churches have a group entitled, “Women’s Bible Study Group” or some such that excludes men? They don’t mind excluding men. These women don’t think their religion is anti-women.
In Luke 2:36-38, Jesus’ mother Mary receives a prophecy from a woman prophet who lives night and day at the Jerusalem Temple. Now I rather doubt there could have been such a role for a woman among the male priests of Yahweh, so maybe she was a homeless woman who hung out in the Temple court? Or maybe this imagery of a woman being a temple prophet (oracle, counselor, advisor) is Pagan and was placed in the text by the author to show Pagan women that the new Way was really their way. The prophet is named Anna. Did the author give her that name deliberately knowing that the name of the Creator in Sumer was Inanna? In any event, having Anna prophesy is hardly unfriendly to women. Rather, it affirms the old Pagan tradition of women oracles in temples.
Three different letters in the New Testament say a woman should “submit” to her husband and add that husbands should be loving or respectful and considerate to their wives (Colossians 3:18-19, Ephesians 5:22-25 & 28-29, and 1 Peter 3; see also Titus 2:5). We may wish the author(s) had chosen some word other than “submit,” but are these passages a reaction to the continued influence of matrilineal societies where men were merely satellites of women’s communities centered on Her temple, and paternity of children was inconsequential or unknown? 1Corinthians 7:39 seems to address this by proclaiming that a woman is bound to her husband for as long as he lives. Would seem to preclude her waltzing off to get herself with child at a sacred marriage ceremony.
Do I need to say it? Children need two parents. Society works best and is strongest when men and women respect each other. Furthermore, there is no need to ascribe gender to the Almighty, however you define it, whether Source or Higher-Self, Law-Giver or Guide, Ground-of-All-Being or Transforming-Love, Process or Destiny, Compassion or Providence, etc. Subjective personal deities can be whatever gender (or none) as the individual prefers and no harm is done.
Pauline Christianity seems to me quite possibly to be a skillfully marketed reform of Paganism targeted at Pagan women. The New Testament is quite possibly a carefully crafted compromise between the old Goddess religion and newer Yahweh-type storm gods; a compromise between matrilineal systems and the patriarchal way of living. First-century women bought this package.
I’m glad they did.
1 – Merlin Stone, When God Was A Woman, Barnes & Noble Books, NY, 1976, 1993. (Babylon – Page 142)