The Role of Women
A Commentary on the Book of Genesis
In The Women's Bible Commentary, Susan Niditch presents a
commentary on the biblical passages of the book of Genesis
which involve women. In this commentary she presents
"Worldview and Concerns", especially those pertaining to
women's issues. In the process of examining the text, she
discovers several themes and concepts revolving around
In her commentary on the book of Genesis, Niditch states
that, "In reading the Hebrew Scriptures as a narrative
whole, including both Gen. 1:27 and Leviticus, one may
receive the message that the genders were meant to be equal
at the beginning". Later in the commentary, she states that
Jewish and Christian traditions have, "Viewed womanıs
creation in Genesis 2 as secondary and deriative-evidence
of a lower status". Niditch then says that Genesis 3 is
interpreted by these culures to further indite woman as the
one who, "let loose sin and death".
Niditch seems to concentrate on the section of Genesis 2
and 3 as a pivitol place for women in the Bible. She
believes that this text is very much misunderstood. Niditch
points out that in Genesis 3 Adam is passive. In fact he is
quite silent. Eve is the protagonist in the story and it is
because of her that humans gain the ability to know the
difference between good and evil. Niditch even says that
Eve is a "conscious actor choosing knowledge". This forces
the reader of the commentary to question and challenge the
tradiotional Jewish and Christian interpretatons of this
Bible and ask the question, "What would life be like if Eve
had not taken the fruit?".
After eating the fruit, it is at this time that Adam and
Eve become human as we know it. They aquire their "Marks of
social life and culture: knowledge of good versus evil,
clothing that defines and conceals, and gender roles. The
woman is to be the bearer of children, the Mother of all
life". In fact, Niditch shows that in sections of Genesis
such as 16:4, Matriarchs have closed wombs and are
humiliated and taunted by co-wives. Here, she shows how
women in the Bible are very often reduced to being wombs.
Niditch illustrates this idea very well in Genesis 16:4.
After Hagar conceives Abrahamıs child, she finds Sarah, "to
be of less worth". Furthermore, the concept of woman is
further developed by Niditch in that since motherhood is
the center of the womanıs life, there develops a
competition between women concerning children. For
instance, in Genesis 30:14-16 Leah "hires" Jacob's services
for the night by buying them with her sonıs mandrakes.
This leads to the next concept about women in the Bible.
Because the area of child bearing and rearing is dominated
by women, when it comes to matters concerning these issues,
the wife has control and very often the man is, "bumbling,
passive, and ineffectual". For istance, in Genesis 16:4
when Sarah has a problem with Hagar and wants to banish her
from the camp, Abraham simply tells Sarah to do with her
what she wants to do. On the other hand, when men are
active in these situations, such as Abraham in Genesis
21:10 expressing his disapproval of the banishing of Hagar
from the camp the second time, they are often silenced. In
this case Abraham is silenced by God who instructs him to
follow what Sarah says.
It is within this setting of domestic power, without any
social or political power, that the Matriarch's of the
Bible often tranform into tricksters in order to ensure
God's will. One of the most classic examples of this in
Genesis is in chapter 27. Rebekah tricks Isaac into
blessing Jacob instead of Esau, his first-born. This story
parallels Genesis 2 and 3 in that if either Rebekah or Eve
had not done what they did, then the kingdom of Israel
would have been quite different, if one existed at all.
Niditch also discussed the woman outside the realm of
domestic life. She says that women were, "in effect items
of exchange, extremely valuable commodities". This is
evident from the common practices of wife-stealing and rape
which were associated with war in ancient Israel. This
concept is very well illustrated in the story of the
violation of Dinah in Genesis 34, where she is, "Central to
the action," but she, "Has no voice". It is this comment
which Niditch makes that I find most interesting. Though it
is very short, it says a lot. This statement epitomizes the
position of women in the Bible generally. The women of
ancient Israel, as well as the women of today, carried
tremendous responsibility and with that responsibility,
they also carried a great burden of being subjugated by man
just as if they were slaves or privete property. This is a
grave injustice, because the women were just as importand
as the men of that time. The men may have controlled the
kingdom of Israel, but as Susan Nititch writes, "By giving
birth, the women further the march of the human culture".
From these stories of the Bible there is much to be
learned. Although we, as a culture, have come a long way in
the treatment of women in the modern world, there is still
much work to be done to aquire total equality among all
sexes. This issue goes much deeper than sexism though. It
also goes for racism and all other types of prejudice. We,
as a sociey, need to realize that all people are created
equal, not just all men.
Niditch, Susan. "Genesis". The Womenıs Bible Commentary.
Ed. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe. Louisville:
Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992. 10-24.