Whoever finds me, finds life – Woman Wisdom, Prov. 8:35
Woman, as it turns out, was not a mistake or an afterthought or an addition to some more superior version of human. In fact, if we look into what I call the open secrets of Bible story, we find woman to be the vessel through which the Divine is often born into the world. She co-creates with God, (Woman Wisdom, Prov. 8) is the first to name God, (Hagar, Gen. 16:13), gives birth to God’s son (Mary) and is the first to be approached by God’s little trickster serpent in the perfect dome-globe creation of paradise with the choice to become fully human (Eve), just to name a few. Woman as a category in the Bible tends to bring out a unique aspect of God, the ongoing creation of the world.
When we re-read Bible story through the eyes of Woman, these stories take on new meaning, one that casts Woman in a different light. But, of course, it all depends on the interpretation. Hebrew is a slippery language, each word having a wide variety of meanings, depending on context and the many facets of linguistics. This is why, as I heard Hebrew Bible scholar Johanna van Wijk-Bos exclaim, “you will never get to the end of it, you will always see new layers of meaning each time you return to the text.” Building a world, a political system, a religion around a fixed interpretation of Bible is like building your house on a fault line, it will eventually shift and re-arrange every aspect of your habitat, it is the nature of created things to do so.
Many of the women who roam the Old Testament stories of the ancient world have become lost in translation. Not just in our modern world, but this was happening in the ancient world, too, as civilized culture came to dominate the landscape. While those in power invested in the tools of progress, it became more and more important to subvert the feminine role, to dominate the powers of created things in favor of invented things.
Why? Some say it has to do with disenchantment. Charles Taylor, Max Weber and others say that there have been several periods in history in which human beings made a concerted effort on every level – political, educational, industrial, social, religious, to believe more in material things than spiritual things. They call it Disenchantment and they have warned that it is fate of our time, the downfall of humanity.
One if Disenchantment’s victims (and there are several) is Woman. Not only was she made subservient to man in the Hebrew creation myth (written down during one of the great civilizing periods) but she has been made property and the target of violence, her nature so overly franchised and disfigured over time, that Woman, in today’s culture, has a difficult time finding a clear image of a true Self. When a woman hears the phrase, “just be yourself” it often creates a state of internal confusion, and it’s no wonder.
But it has not always been this way, we carry within us a memory that lives at a deeper level, the archetypal level, the level of nature. We see in some of our native and ancient cultures the archetypes of the Wild Woman, the Healer, the Warrior and many others that exist as a deep memory within us, a part of our unconscious that seems to be awakening in our time. Our native cultures, more victims of Disenchantment, have kept alive the memory in us of honoring the feminine, the reverence for Mother Earth, the power within the female body. I have even read in some Lakota literature that a woman’s body and power are so revered that she is not able to practice any kind of healing art, such as shamanism, until she is past menopause, because her power shifts during this stage to a deeper, more spiritual level. What a radical concept in our culture, a woman, more revered post menopause.
In Cherokee myth, there are two deities, male and female, Selu and Kana’ti, who bring their respective gifts into the world and are seen as co-equals, partners. In other creation myths, we find a more balanced concept of the male and female as co-creators, bringing life into the world, but somehow, we have not interpreted Bible this way as our dominant belief system. And if you doubt the Bible undergirds our dominant beliefs, read depth psychologist, C.G. Jung, who claimed that you cannot understand America, its history or your life within it, without reading Bible.
We are living through a time when these foundations are shaking and we are finding some things we have overlooked, namely, Woman. We are rescuing parts and pieces of ourselves that may have become lost in translation. Woman Wisdom is a prime example. She appears in Proverbs, one of the wisdom literature books, as God’s companion in the creation of the world. (Proverbs 8). But somehow, we have not seemed to notice that she is there.
We have also just assumed that the preacher/exhorter from the book of Ecclesiastes, another wisdom book, Qohelet, who says some pretty famous things like, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and has been quoted in great songs such as “Blowing in the Wind” and “Turn, Turn, Turn,” is a male voice. Yet, some interpreters claim there is much evidence in the Hebrew to support the fact that Qohelet is a feminine voice. Does it matter?
It changes things, like an earthquake changes things, creating new landscapes, new ideas and new forms when we begin to read these foundational stories from a different perspective, from the view of Woman, when we discover her archetypal remains right where she left them, in her own voice.
“See, this I have found, says Qohelet, adding one to another to find an accounting, which my heart still seeks and has not found: One human being in a thousand I have found, and woman in all these I have not found.” Ecclesiastes 7: 27,28 (Johanna van Wijk-Bos)
It changes things when a woman claims she cannot find Woman in her culture anymore. It causes the foundations to shake as Woman goes searching for her Self.
Those who miss me injure themselves. -Woman Wisdom – Proverbs 8:36