I’m not the first woman who has tackled the Old Testament. Oh, by no means!
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born in New York State in 1815. Daughter of a judge, she had an unusually fine education . . . for a girl. She attended Johnstown Academy, and excelled in Latin, Greek and mathematics. She wasn’t allowed to go on to Union College, of course – they only accepted men – but she got the best that Troy Female Seminary had on offer.
The unfortunate influence of an evangelical preacher during her teen years scared and nearly unhinged her, but once she fought her way back to reason and balance, she turned her back on organized religion forever, insisting that logic and a humane sense of ethics would keep you on the right path.
She married Henry Stanton in 1840, without the traditonal promise to ‘obey’. “I obstinately refused,” she later wrote, “to obey one with whom I supposed I was entering into an equal relation.” The birth and rearing of seven children helped to highlight for her how equal that relation really was in the mid nineteenth century, when women were still denied the right to hold property or wages or even guardianship of their own children.
Her own marriage weathered 47 years (not always harmonious, as Henry disagreed with women’s suffrage), but Liz joined with Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony in organizing the battle for women’s rights, including, of course, the right to vote. And she threw in a good word for temperance, whenever she had a spare moment.
Believing that suffrage would be wasted if women allowed the Church to continue controlling them, she attacked the irrational dogma that relegated women to an inferior position in society. “… the Bible in its teachings,” she said, “degrades woman from Genesis to Revelation.” For years, she and a score of women, including scholars in Greek and Hebrew, worked on The Woman’s Bible, challenging the sexism that pervaded organized religion. She was 83 by the time it was completed.
The version she produced was not a whole lot of fun. These were serious ladies.
But she made some excellent points: equal dominion is given to woman over every living thing, but not one word is said giving man dominion over woman. How did the church fathers miss that one?
And the argument that woman was inferior to man because she was created after him? Man was created after all the creeping stuff, so that line of logic would suggest . . . well, the conclusion was obvious, and unflattering.
Systematically, the contradictions were noted and dismantled.
“When women understand that governments and religions are human inventions; that bibles, prayer-books, catechisms . . . are all emanations from the brains of man, they will no longer be oppressed by the injunctions that come to them with the divine authority of “Thus sayeth the Lord.”
Stanton died of heart failure in 1902 – nearly 20 years before women were granted the right to vote in the United States.