Friday, March 11, 2011

Women, serpents, matriarchy and patriarchy


I'm looking forward to a TV series that starts on Tuesday 15th March on BBC2. Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou is an atheist and a senior lecturer in the Hebrew Bible at the University of Exeter. She says things about the Bible that a lot of traditional Christians don't want to hear, but I do. She's quoted in the Telegraph:
Dr Stavrakopoulou said she had battled sexism in her field. "Most biblical scholars are middle-aged, bearded men. It's fair to say there's been an amount of sexism in the discipline and, as a young woman in the field, I've had to develop my own ways of coping with that." 
Merlin Stone, the American sculptor and academic, who wrote 'When God was a Woman' in the 1970s (published as 'The Paradise Papers' in the UK), made similar comments about biblical scholars. I came across her book after I'd taken a keen interest in the figures of female forms discovered by archaeologists in the Middle East. They inspired some of my work at college, in two and three dimensions.

Around the Mediterranean in the pre-Judeo-Christian era, societies were mainly matriarchal. The balance shifted and the social order changed, apparently because men wanted to be sure of the paternity of their children. They wanted to control women, and control who inherited their property.

From the introduction to Dr Stavrakopoulou's series in the Radio Times, it seems that she's made a connection between Eve and earlier goddesses:
There are hints in the Genesis story about the Garden of Eden that Jahweh was Eve's husband. The symbols we associate with Eve - particularly the trees and the serpent - are ancient symbols of fertility and regeneration associated with goddess worship. But Eve, particularly in the Christian tradition, has been very unfairly maligned as the troublesome wife who brought about the fall.
Now that I think about it, it seems obvious. Myths get recycled but in the retelling, this one helped to place women at a disadvantage for over 2000 years. I've never understood why women want to be priests in such a patriarchal institution as the Christian church.

Illustration - On the left, a Minoan Snake Goddess from Crete, approx. 1600 BCE. On the right, Eve in the Garden of Eden, 12th or 13th century mosaic, Sicily.

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