Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Christ’s Emancipation of Women in the New Testament, the second half of chapter one.
Christ made abrupt and radical changes that restored women to a place of value with eternal potential. This book opens a window into family life during the time of the New Testament in order to better appreciate Jesus’ transformative teachings about women—teachings that are still influencing families today.[i]
Cultural Background and Baggage
In the Jewish world, dress was an important symbol of one’s station and values. Strict modesty was necessary in order to communicate one’s chastity.[ii] Even though the Old Testament did not forbid it, the pharasaic society of the late Second Temple era (20 BC to AD 70) required a married Jewess to be completely covered outside her home.[iii] If she did not entirely drape herself,[iv] her husband could divorce her and not have to pay for the marriage contract fee. The public protocol required a woman to cover her hair, face, and body.[v] If a Jewess uncovered her head in public, it was interpreted as a sign of rejecting God: “You have departed from the way of the daughters of Israel, whose habit it is to have their heads covered, and you have walked in the ways of idolatrous women who walk about with their heads uncovered.”[vi] The biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias described their custom of veiling their faces with a complex arrangement of “two head veils, a head-band on the forehead with bands to the chin, and a hairnet with ribbons and knots, so that her features could not be recognized.”[vii]
The veiling was so extensive that on one occasion, a chief priest in Jerusalem did not even recognize his own mother as the person in front of him being tried for adultery.[viii] Several generations after the New Testament, as rabbinic Judaism expanded their definition of modesty to include covering a woman’s ankles. The Talmud warned against “voyeurism” because it may lead to adultery: “He who looks at a woman’s heels . . . is as if he had intercourse with her.”[ix]
Outside of the city, the dress code differed slightly.[x] This is one reason why Jews in the city looked down upon their less pious kinsmen in the country.[xi] It was not practical for women in the country to wear such extensive wrappings because many farmers needed their wives’ and children’s help in the fields, and it would have severely impeded their productivity. Over the centuries, artists who depict New Testament scenes rarely portray women in public with their face and bodies completely draped, yet the writings from observant Jews from the time suggest that it was so.[xii]
Changes by Jesus
The rigor of the Jewish dress code provides an interesting backdrop for the story in Luke about the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair.[xiii] Given that women were to be covered in public settings, one can better understand the shock of Jesus’ host when an uninvited woman approached Jesus and unbound her hair (Luke 7:36-50). Instead of condemning the woman, Jesus acknowledged her thoughtfulness, humility, love, and faith as she wiped His feet with her hair. More astonishing, when the Pharisaic host questioned Jesus’ morals for allowing an uncovered woman to touch Him (which was interpreted as evidence that she was “morally uncovered”[xiv]), Jesus condemned the host (Luke 7:44-46).
I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment..
According to Luke’s record, Jesus pointed out that the host had neglected to offer his traveling guests the opportunity to wash upon arrival. Walking in sandals on dusty stones or unpaved roads left one’s feet callused, cut, and encrusted with dirt. Decorum dictated that a host provide the means for guests to wash before entering a house. At the very least, hosts provided basins of water for their guests; in more polite settings, the host assigned a servant or child to do the menial task of washing the guests’ feet. Foot care was such a filthy job that it was often delegated to slaves.[xv] In their homes, children often had the assignment to wash their fathers’ feet each day.[xvi]
In washing Jesus’ feet with her own hair, this woman entered into the role of “servant” or “child” of Christ. This act of submission to Jesus was a demonstration of her repentant heart, and Christ freely forgave her: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much” (Luke 7:47). She seems to exemplify that discipleship of Christ requires submission to Him as servant to master, child to father. She also became yet another example of Jesus’ acceptance of social outcasts and of His rejecting restrictive social norms for women.
In this account, we have no evidence that Jesus verbally condemned the woman for breaching the rules of dress by uncovering her hair. Rather, by allowing her to continue, He communicated an acceptance. When He needed to speak out or to educate about one’s clothing, He did. But rather than condemning uncovered hair, He condemned those who dressed and acted for social aggrandizement: “Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts” (Luke 20:46). He denounced dress as a form of pride. The Lord maintained a higher perspective around physical dress standards that fostered pure love rather than unhealthy rigid social standards.
After Jesus’ death, the Lord’s apostles counseled women and men to cover themselves with a different type of clothing—the armor of God:
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.… Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:8).
In Christianity, clothing took on an important figurative meaning.[xvii] More important than concerning oneself with outer adornments, the apostles asked followers of Christ to put off the natural man in order to put on the armor of God. Christians dress in God’s armor as they live God’s commandments and apply “the enabling power of His atonement.”[xviii] With its protection, one becomes more holy and less worldly
IV. Women’s Responsibilities
Cultural Background and Baggage
The most important duty of Jewish women at the time of the Second Temple was to bear and raise children. Bearing children was so crucial that if a wife were barren for ten years, her pharisaic husband had a religious obligation to divorce her.[xix] Some rabbis diminished women’s contributions in this sacred role: “All we [men] can expect from them [women] is that they bring up our children and keep us from sin.”[xx] Clearly, this statement does not recognize the nobility in motherhood. Raising children was often seen as a menial task on par with other household tasks.
A Jewess’ household responsibilities are enumerated in the Mishnah as the “duties which a wife must perform for her husband” and included “grinding flour and baking bread, washing clothes and cooking food, nursing her child, making his bed and working in wool. If she brings one servant with her, she need not grind.”[xxi] These duties would be increased or decreased depending on how many other women, children, or servants could help. Without slaves or children it fell to a wife to wash her husband’s face, hands and feet, and “prepare his cup.”[xxii] Often multiple generations lived in the same home or close to one another and shared in the work.[xxiii]
A chaste wife was an utmost requirement in honoring her husband.[xxiv] In Philo’s list of wifely virtues, sexual commitment to her husband received a triple emphasis through modesty, chastity, and cleaving. Rabbis often debated their views on social concerns that involved women and her virtue.[xxv] In one such dispute recorded later in the Mishnah, includes a twist of suspicion is found in a rabbi’s description of a woman’s work: she must always keep busy or her “idleness leads to unchastity.” Another rabbi refuted with this general observation: “Idleness leads to lowness of spirit.”[xxvi]
Next, a wife must be subservient to her husband.[xxvii] Philo explained that a husband, “delighting in his master-like authority, is to be respected for his pride: but the woman, being in the rank of a servant, is praised for assenting to a life of communion.”[xxviii] Most Jews referred to a wife as her husband’s property: “He that possesseth a good wife, beginneth a possession.”[xxix] As her husband’s subservient property, a respectable wife was to honor her husband: “a wife who honors her husband is accounted wise by all.”[xxx]
Wives were to take counsel from their husbands, not to give it. Josephus explained why Adam was cursed in the Garden of Eden: “Because he weakly submitted to the counsel of his wife.”[xxxi] This attitude potentially fostered a sense of superiority and self-importance in the man that could inhibit the development of cooperation, unity, and selflessness between companions.[xxxii] We see a lack of mutual respect in such statements: “Better is the iniquity of a man, than a woman doing a good turn, and a woman bringing shame and reproach.”[xxxiii]
It appears that male dominion became skewed.[xxxiv] The Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37-101) justified a man’s feeling superior to a woman by saying, “for says the Scripture, ‘A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.’”[xxxv] The “Scripture” that Josephus claimed is unknown, but his views on women are similar to those of other writers from the same era.[xxxvi] Josephus further added that women were only “sanctified through the deeds of men . . . the anomaly of women is worked out . . . by assigning her to a man’s domain.”[xxxvii]
In cities, Jewish women worked outside of their homes only if abject poverty required it. In cases of widowhood, divorce, or other experiences that caused extreme poverty, a woman was allowed to work as a cook, baker, spinner, weaver, laundress, inn-keeper, female hairdresser, midwife, or mourner.[xxxviii] However, a negative social stigma still fell on any woman who worked in these jobs, and any pay earned by the wife or daughter was paid directly to (and kept by) the man of the house.[xxxix] Husbands or fathers bore the sole responsibility for breadwinning.
In the country, economic necessity allowed some women to work outside of their homes to help with the harvest or other farm needs. Archeologists estimate that “90-95 percent of the population of ancient Palestine would have been rural peasants,” living off the land or sea.[xl] Though frowned upon in the city, in agrarian communities some “maidens” went to the well for water and women assisted their fathers or husbands in the fields as needed.[xli] Even though few records survived from the rural segment of the population, we do find some texts that describe women working in the fields: “a woman that returned from the harvest . . . or from olive-picking or from the vintage.”[xlii] This female contribution to the family coffers offered women more value in the country than in the city.
Changes by Jesus
Christian women had many similar responsibilities to those of their Jewish peers: bearing children, serving one’s family, loving one’s husband, and serving those in need (1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:4). But the Lord made abrupt and fundamental changes to the priorities placed upon women. He never referred to women as possessions, nor did He dominant or try to control them (Matthew 9:22; 15:28; Mark 14:6; Luke 13:12; John 4:4-21; 8:10; etc.). The Lord’s restored church likewise denounces such treatment.[xliii]
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus “loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus” (11:5). When He went to their home in Bethany for a special dinner party, He noticed that Martha was frustrated with her sister’s lack of help. Even if the hostess had servants (which she probably did), Martha’s workload was huge.
From the perspective of most law-abiding Jews, Martha’s sister Mary was out of line to sit at Jesus’ feet to learn from Him. Not only did Mary neglect her responsibilities, but she was also speaking to a male guest, and it appears that she delved into areas of learning The Law, both of which were forbidden to women. Some rabbis taught that if a woman spoke with a man other than her husband, it was cause for a divorce.[xliv]
On the other hand, Martha acted as an upright Jewess preparing the meal and home for her honored guest, Jesus. She asked the male leader to correct her errant sister: “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me” (Luke 10:40). Jesus certainly did not mean that serving others is not important (as we discuss in chapter 8). His response to Martha sounds like a reminder of priorities to the modern reader.
Yet to that ancient society, His response would have been utterly shocking: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part” (Luke 10:41-42). Jesus’ support of Mary’s behavior was a revolutionary endorsement of female spiritual engagement, learning and communication.
The last phrase in Luke 10:42 is also interesting, “which shall not be taken away from her.” We need to examine that phrase in the world of the Second Temple. At that time everything a girl or woman earned or found legally belonged to her male guardian.[xlv] A female had no claim on anything tangible—including her children, who were the property of their father (and in the case of divorce, the father had full custody).[xlvi] A female did not even have ownership of her own life: her father or husband could sell her into slavery.[xlvii] As a slave, a girl’s freedom and chastity could be taken away, as could her earnings, property or food.
With this as background, we find even more meaning in the Lord’s promise that her relationship with Him—and her knowledge could not be taken away. Not only would Mary be able to learn and live a richer life from her experience, but also she would own her knowledge beyond this life. The Lord’s words apply to the eternal spectrum as we read in D&C 130:18, “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.”
In addition to the benefits of educating women, this story validated male and female interaction. Jesus’ example indicated that it was acceptable for women to participate in the world of the mind and of the spirit, and not exclusively in the traditional domestic tasks.
Like their Master, the apostles also encouraged women to participate, sanctioned their study, and authorized them to take an active role in building the kingdom of God, even in public settings. A shining example of a woman from the Greco-Roman world who embraced these opportunities is Lydia of Thyatira, a Christian convert living in Philippi. She led her household in her spiritual pursuits. The Bible does not tell us anything about her marital status, but speaks of her noble accomplishments. Lydia “worshipped God,” accepted the missionaries’ message, had an open heart, and followed the counsel of the apostle Paul (Acts 16:14). She had such a strong positive influence, that when she was baptized, her entire household, including servants, followed her example. We also learn that she sold a rare and expensive purple dye, and she had a home large enough to host the apostle Paul and his fellow missionaries (Acts 16:15). She was a disciple of Christ and a spiritual leader, who was able to provide for herself and for others both temporally and spiritually.
There are many other examples of women in the New Testament who took proactive roles in their worship and in building the kingdom. These include women like the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36-38), Mary and Elisabeth (Luke 1:39-56), Dorcas or Tabitha (Acts 9: 36-42), Damaris (Acts 17:22-34), Philip’s four prophetic daughters (Acts 21:8-14), Phebe (Romans 16:1-2), Prisca (Acts 18:13, 18-19, 24-28), Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5), all of whom will receive tribute throughout this book. They each followed the Lord’s counsel to put His teachings first in their lives, above their cultural traditions, and in some cases, even over loved ones if necessary: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26, ESV).
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark also included the need for disciples to forgo society’s influences that take them away from the Lord’s work (Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29). If being subservient to a husband or father kept one of them from following God, then the Lord summoned His disciples to forsake them and “come after me” (Luke 14:27).
The Lord also added another responsibility for women, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me” (Matthew 11:28-29). Women became students of the Savior and referred to Him as “teacher.” For example, Mary Magdalene addressed the risen Lord, ‘“Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher)” (John 20:16; NIV); and Martha “called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here’” (John 20:16, NIV). He empowered those who listened to learn. Even though these are standard titles, they had extra meaning in the context of women learning from Jesus. He wanted His hearers to think on their own, and He gave assignments, such as this: “Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).
Jesus began certain parables with the injunction, “Now learn a parable of . . .” (Mark 13:28; emphasis added, also see Matthew 24:32). The Master Teacher educated on the Galilean hills, by the sea, in the synagogue, in houses, and in the temple to men, women, and children of all classes. Learning from Him provides spiritual, emotional, and social emancipation.
Cultural Background and Baggage
Jewish magistrates did not allow women to act as legal or official witnesses in a court of law.[xlviii] Jewish law formally silenced a woman’s legal testimony because men did not think that women could be trusted. One source claimed that the custom stemmed from rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 18:15, “Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not.” From Sarah’s response, the rabbis extrapolated that all women were liars and unworthy of acting as witnesses.[xlix] Josephus rationalized women’s disqualification as witnesses because of the “levity and boldness of their sex.”[l]
The subject of female witnesses came up later in a rabbinic dialogue in Deuteronomy 19:15, “. . . at the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall the matter be established.” One rabbi asked, “Is a woman also qualified to give testimony?” Later rabbinic writings concluded that because the Scripture mentioned only two men, then women were excluded.[li] With these and other rationalizaStions, Jewish leaders kept women from speaking as a witness in legal matters.
Even outside of a court of law, some rabbis would not trust a woman’s word without additional proof. On a maiden’s wedding night, she had to produce various “tokens of virginity” because “we may not rely on her word, but she must be presumed to have been trampled of man unless she can bring proof for her words.”[lii] These later accounts sound as if a girl or woman were guilty until proven innocent.
Changes by Jesus
Fortunately, Jesus validated a woman’s judgment by trusting her word as witness and by treating her as capable of speaking the truth. Over and over again Jesus called and accepted women among His witnesses. Beginning with the birth narratives, we see God authorizing women as witnesses: the priestess Elisabeth, the mother Mary, and the prophetess Anna (Luke 1:41-45; 1:46-55; 2:36-38). But would people at the time of Christ’s birth have believed their witnesses?
The fact that Luke chose to include them in his Gospel gave their words credence in the early church. Luke followed the Lord’s example and allowed women to speak as witnesses. Beginning in the temple when the angel Gabriel struck the priest Zacharias dumb, the likely candidate for a witness could not offer a verbal testimony of his vision (though perhaps his nonverbal witness spoke louder).[liii] For nine months, his wife, the priestess Elisabeth, witnessed of their miraculous birth. When it was time to name their son, the local leaders wanted to name him after his father, Zacharias. Only Elisabeth was able to give voice, and she corrected the authorities: “Not so; but he shall be called John” (Luke 1:60). Her unsolicited interruption may have offended the local Jewish authorities, but Luke included her voice as part of the prophetic story of her son.
Luke also included the humble testimony of Mary’s acceptance of her calling from the angel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).[liv] Other prophets testified of Mary as “a precious and chosen vessel” (Alma 7:10), and that “she was exceedingly fair and white…most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” (1 Nephi 11:13, 15). By her honored role, she is known as the greatest woman to have lived.
Lord calling them:Shortly after Gabriel’s visitation to Mary, she eloquently testified to Elisabeth, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-47). Mary’s witness became a shining example to all generations that followed. Her words seem to have universal application for all women, young and old, who have felt the Spirit of the Lord calling them:
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever (Luke 1:48-55, NKJV).
Mary is the role model for all other women who seek to be handmaidens of the Lord and witnesses of Christ.
Forty days following the birth of the Lord, Joseph and Mary and the infant Jesus went to the temple to fulfill the Mosaic law for a woman’s purification offering following childbirth (Leviticus 12).[lv] There we meet the third female witness of the Savior, a widow. One of the most devout temple worshipers in the New Testament: the valiant prophetess Anna.[lvi] She is the only woman in the New Testament given the title prophetess.[lvii] The widow “departed not from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37).
Anna’s diligence at age eighty-four (or 103 depending on how Luke counted) was rewarded one day when she spiritually recognized the forty-day-old infant Jesus as the promised Messiah: “She coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Anna raised her voice to all those who hoped for the Messiah. The Greek text is in the imperfect tense, meaning “she kept speaking” or spread abroad her witness of the child.[lviii] Her role as a prophetess continued as her testimony of the Christ child came from “the Spirit of Prophecy.”[lix]
Perhaps the clearest witness of Jesus’ divinity during His ministry came from a woman. He asked a close friend, Martha, if she believed that He had power over death. John recorded her inspired answer of the Lord’s divine nature: “Yea, Lord I believe that thou art the Christ [or in Hebrew, the Messiah], the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:27). Her vibrant testimony shines as a second witness beside Peter’s in Caesarea Philippi, voicing almost the same words.
The Lord endorsed and fostered Martha’s testimony, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). Her resounding testimony is one of the few—and possibly one of the most powerful—testimonies of Christ that John included in his Gospel text.
Each of the Gospel writers documented that devout women remained beside Jesus at His cross and at the tomb (Matthew 27:55-56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40-41; 16:1; Luke 23:55-56; 24:1-10; John 19:25; 20:1). They also emphasized that these women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. Unfortunately, the social prejudice against women as reliable witnesses also affected the apostles. Initially they did not believe the women who ran from the empty tomb with the angel’s message that Jesus had risen (Matthew 28:5-6).
By the time the Gospels were recorded, the Christian authors had learned more of the Lord’s expansive teachings, and all four authors honored the women who were at the tomb enough to mention several of them by name as table 2 shows:
At first, trapped in their culture and fears, the apostles did not believe the women’s witness: “their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (Luke 24:11). In Mark’s Gospel, the women “neither said . . . any thing to any man” (Mark 16:8). Either the story was remembered that way, or they could not trust their witness.[lx] Even Jesus’ closest companions were originally entrenched in this cultural baggage.
John’s Gospel explains that the women’s account piqued Peter’s and John’s curiosity enough that they wanted to see for themselves. After the two men saw the empty tomb they returned to “their own home” (John 20:10). But Mary Magdalene could not leave yet; she stood next to the tomb weeping when the resurrected Lord appeared to her. How beautiful and empowering—especially with the cultural view of women—that Jesus chose a woman as His first witness of the miraculous resurrection! This moment is perhaps the most powerful example we have of the Lord tearing down the anti-female societal values of the time.
The Gospel of John honors Mary Magdalene as the first eyewitness of the resurrected Lord. According to John’s account, Jesus entrusted her with relaying His message, “go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17).
This act alone demonstrates Jesus’ veneration of women, raising them to a place of legal standing and giving them a voice in His religious order. Combined with the other female witnesses of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, we see the Lord championing women with opportunities and power. This legacy carried into the young apostolic church.
[i] The impact of the Lord’s teachings continues to bless the world. Bruce C. Hafen, “Covenant Hearts: Why Marriage Matters and How to Make it Last,” (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2005). Shortly before he presented the “Proclamation to the World,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “In my judgment, the greatest challenge facing this nation is the problem of the family, brought on by misguided parents and resulting in misguided children.” Lisa Ann Jackson, “Strong Families Key to Future, President Hinckley tells Colorado Forum,” Ensign (July, 2003).
[ii] Judith Lynn Sebesta, Larissa Bonfante, The World of Roman Costume (Madison, WI: University Press, 2001), 8. “Dress serves to distinguish friend and foe in war and in peace; divine and imperial figures, wife, prostitute, and defeated barbarian mother with child.”
[iii] Skolnik, Encyclopedia Judaica, 21.161.
[iv] Judith Lynn Sebesta, Larissa Bonfante, The World of Roman Costume (Madison, WI: University Press, 2001), 155, 186. Also see chapter 6 of this book on “Divorce.”
[v] Philo, Yonge, trans., 817. Philo described the head covering as a “symbol of modesty, which all those women are accustomed to wear who are completely blameless.” This quote is in Philo’s discussion of Numbers 5:18, dealing with a woman accused of adultery. Nearly two centuries before the time of the Lord, Ben Sira surmised that he could determine if a woman had broken the law of chastity by the only part of the body unexposed: “The fornication of a woman shall be known by the haughtiness of her eyes, and by her eyelids” (Ecclesiasticus, 26:12, Douay-Rheims Bible).
[vi] Sebesta and Bonfante, The World of Roman Costume, 186.
[vii] Jeremias, Jerusalem, 359. We get a feel for how much of a woman was veiled in a story of a pious woman named Qimhit, who claimed to keep her head covered even in the house as a sign of her uprightness: “May it (this and that) befall me if the beams of my house have ever seen the hair of my head.” Ibid., 360.
[viii] Ibid. 359. “It was said that once, for example, a chief priest in Jerusalem did not recognize his own mother when he had to carry out against her the prescribed process for a woman suspected of adultery.”
[ix] Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim, 2.4, 58c. “R. Josiah said: He who gazes at a woman eventually comes to sin, and he who looks even at a woman’s heel will beget degenerate children.” Another translation reads, “He that looks upon a woman’s heel is guilty of an act of lewdness.” This led to the counsel for men never to walk behind a woman—even if she were his wife—in case he might “see her heels.” Talmud, Berakot, 61a.
[x] Sebesta and Bonfante, The World of Roman Costume, 186, “Women of Arabia may go out veiled, and women of Medea with their cloaks looped over their shoulders.”
[xi] Jeremias, Jerusalem, 362; “there is no indication that the custom of wrapping up the head was observed as strictly in the country as in the town.”
[xii] Philo, Yonge, trans., 817. Later documents include, Mishnah, Nashim: Sotah, 3. 8. “How does a man differ from a woman? He may go with his hair unbound and with garments rent, but she may not go with hair unbound and with garments rent.”
[xiii] Luke is the only Gospel to tell this story, although shortly before Jesus’ death the other three Gospels tell of Mary anointing Jesus in Bethany with pure nard, and wiping His feet with her hair (see John 12:1-8; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9).
[xiv] Craig Keener, 1–2 Corinthians (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 92.
[xv] In Greek, “servant” is the same word as “doulos / slave, bondman, man of servile condition,” and similarly a female servant or handmaid, was a “doule / female slave, bondmaid” (John 15:15; Luke 1:38). See chapter 8.
[xvi] See chapter 7.
[xvii] Clothing also took on emblematic meaning for the afterlife as John the Revelator described “white robes” given to those who died as martyrs of truth (Revelation 6:11; 7:9, 13-14). The white robe represented their purity by “wash[ing] their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 9:14). And Isaiah described, “[God] hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). These clothes empower one with immortality.
[xviii] David A. Bednar, “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality” Ensign (April 2012).
[xix] See chapter 6 of this book under “Divorce.”
[xx] Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Sex,” 4.431.
[xxi] Mishnah, Ketuboth, 5:5.
[xxiii] Ken Campbell, ed., Marriage and Family in the Biblical World (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 232.
[xxiv] Philo, Yonge, trans., 138. Philo recounted the patriarch Judah’s reverie on a virtuous woman: “Perhaps then, according to my prayer, she is truly a virtuous mind, a citizen wife, excelling in modesty, and chastity, and all other virtues, cleaving to one husband alone, being content with the administration of one household, and rejoicing in the authority of one husband.” Ironically, Philo has these words coming out of Judah’s mouth in reference to Tamar, after Judah mistook her for a harlot and slept with her, making nearly every statement incongruous. The story screams of a double standard for men and women.
[xxv] Seven of the Mishnah tractates deal with women and family life. Five of them deal with transition periods of marriage, divorce, and widowhood (Kiddishin, Detubot, Gittin, Sotah, and Yebamot). One volume or “tractate” specifically deals with women’s menstruation, niddah.
[xxvi] Mishnah, Ketuboth, 5:5.
[xxvii] Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 44-50. A discriminatory attitude grew stronger throughout the period of the Second Temple. Throughout the entire apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus we find praises for male Old Testament heroes without mentioning the noble women in their past. Yet in the Old Testament we find many positive relationships between men and women—like Job giving his three daughters gifts of inheritance (Job 42:15; also see Numbers 27:7). But that changed as we draw closer to the time that surrounded the New Testament. M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, James R. Mueller, eds., The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha, 2nd Ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
[xxviii] Philo, A Volume of Questions and Solutions to Questions which arise in Genesis, I.29. In the same volume, Philo describes the creation of Adam and Eve: “God, when first of all he made the intellect, called it Adam, after that he created the outward sense, to which he gave the name of Life [Eve]” (I.53). He felt man was the intellect and woman the senses.
[xxix] Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 36:26.
[xxx] Ibid., 26.26.
[xxxi] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, I.1.4.
[xxxii] Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 33:20, 23; “Give not to son or wife, brother or friend, power over thee while thou livest; . . . In all thy works keep the pre-eminence.”
[xxxiii] Ibid., 42:14. Also statements like, “As long as thou livest, and hast breath in thee, let no man change thee.” Yet on the other hand, we also find in the same text, statements that praise humility, “The greater thou art, the more humble thyself, and thou shalt find favour before the Lord” (3:18, 21).
[xxxiv] Ibid., 26.25; “A headstrong wife is regarded as a dog.” Submission was often tied with remaining silent—see page 28.
[xxxv] Josephus, Against Apion, II. 25. Neusner, ed., Judaism in the Biblical Period, 676. Furthermore, the “biblical society was defined in terms of its male members as indicated by the census in Exodus 20, and in Numbers 1 and 26, which counted adult males but no women or children” (673). Censuses were often taken to know the military potential or tax base.
[xxxvi] Peder Borgen, Philo of Alexandria: An Exegete for His Time (Netherlands: Brill, 1997), 58. A biblical scholar, Carras, observed ten points about which both Philo and Josephus wrote. The second point was, “Women are to have a subservient role to their husbands.”
[xxxvii] Josephus, Against Apion, II. 25.
[xxxviii] Mishnah, Ketuboth, 4.4, A “mourner” was a woman paid to cry and scream and throw dirt in the air in a demonstration of sorrow. This became a required part of mourning. See chapter 6, quotations found in “Women and Mourning.”
[xxxix] Ben Witherington III, Women and the Genesis of Christianity (Cambridge, England, NYC: Cambridge Press, 1990), 4.
[xl] Reta H. Finger, Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 100. Also see, Daniel Sperber, Roman Palestine 200-400, the Land: Crisis and Change in Agrarian Society as Reflected in Rabbinic Sources (Tel Aviv, Israel: Bar-Ilan University, 1978).
[xli] Jeremias, Jerusalem, 362. “Ordinary families could not adhere strictly to the totally retired life of the woman of rank, who was surrounded by her household of servants; and the main reasons for this were economic ones. For example, a wife had to help her husband in his profession, perhaps by selling his wares (M. Ket. ix.4). We may also see this relaxation of custom among ordinary people in the description of the popular feasts which took place in the Court of Women, during the nights of the feast of Tabernacles; the crowds were so exuberant that finally it became necessary to construct galleries for the women, to separate them from the men (T. Sukk.iv.I, 198.6). Moreover, in the country there were further relaxations. Here, the maidens went to the well (M. Ket. i.1o; Gen. R. 49 on 18.20, Son. 49.6, 425); the married women engaged in agricultural work together with her husband and children.”
[xlii] Mishnah, Yebamoth, 15.2.
[xliii] Elder Richard G. Scott, “Honor the Priesthood and Use it Well,” Ensign (Nov 2008), 46: “In some cultures, tradition places a man in a role to dominate, control, and regulate all family affairs. That is not the way of the Lord. In some places the wife is almost owned by her husband, as if she were another of his personal possessions. That is a cruel, mistaken vision of marriage encouraged by Lucifer that every priesthood holder must reject. It is founded on the false premise that a man is somehow superior to a woman. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
[xliv] Mishnah, Ketuboth 1:8. See chapter 6.
[xlv] Witherington, Women and the Genesis of Christianity, 4.
[xlvi] Beryl Rawson, ed., The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives (Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 36. See chapter 6 of this book.
[xlvii] Mishnah, Ketuboth, 3.8.
[xlviii] Josephus, Antiquities, IV.8:15. Encyclopedia Judaica, 21.161. However, there are exceptions to this standard. “For example, rabbinic literature excludes women altogether as witnesses in a court of law. . . . In the Second Temple period, however, women apparently did serve in such a capacity. For example, one Dead Sea Sect text suggests that wives were encouraged to give evidence against their husbands in the Sect’s tribunal (1Qsa 1 10-11).” Jewish Women A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, Tal Ilan, “Post-Biblical and Rabbinic Women,” jwa.org/encyclopedia.
[xlix] Mishnah, Shebuoth, 4:1, interpreted Leviticus 5:1 as “[The law about] ‘an oath of testimony’ applies to men but not to women.”
[l] Josephus, Antiquities, IV.8:15. The full quote reads: “But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex. Nor let servants be admitted to give testimony, on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.”
[li] Deuteronomy 19:17; Tal Ilan, Jewish women in Greco-Roman Palestine (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 163; “the meaning of the ‘two’ in the other instance is men and not women.” This rabbinical debate dates to the Talmud.
[lii] Mishnah, Ketuboth 1.7 also 1.6. This example was not recorded until after the time of the New Testament.
[liii] The New Testament chronologically begins and ends at the temple as recorded in Luke’s Gospel, with several temple encounters between (Luke 1:5, 9, “A certain priest named Zacharias . . . his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord;” Luke 24:53, “And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen”). After introducing a temple priest and priestess, Luke announced an angel in the temple sanctuary (Luke 1:8-21). We meet at the temple again with the forty-day-old Christ child and his parents (Luke 2:24-25). In the next story, twelve years later, they are back once more at the temple (Luke 2:46). Next Jesus cleansed the temple (John 2:15), followed by His teaching there (Matthew 21:23, 26:55; Mark 14:19; Luke 21:37; John 7:14, 28). The Lord stood outside of the temple and prophesied of its destruction (Matthew 24:2). His death caused the rending of the temple veil (Mark 15:38), yet his apostles continue to preach at the temple daily, praising God and being filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:46-47). Paul received a vision of the Lord in the temple (Acts 22:17). Unmistakably, the temple is central to New Testament events, theology, and empowerment. The temple stands as a witness of the Savior.
[liv] “Handmaiden” is the word for female slave (see chapter 8). This is in part a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”
[lv] Leviticus 12:2-4 describes a woman’s purification period after childbirth—forty days for a boy and eighty for a girl, to “make an atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed” (Leviticus 12:7). The Mosaic law required two offerings, “the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering” (Leviticus 12:8). This is part of the reason the number forty became synonymous with purification or a purification period in the Bible. An explanation from Second Temple period describes why the purification was different for a male and female. Philo “alludes to this when he says that ‘man’s formation being more perfect than woman’s . . . only required half the time, that is forty days; but woman’s nature being less than perfect, took twice as many days—eighty” (Malan, Adam and Eve, 210). The Second Temple pseudepigraphic book of Jubilees looked to the creation to explain the doubling of time; as Eve was created second, it follows that the birth of daughters should take twice as long for purification (Jubilees 3:14). James VanderKam, Book of Jubilees (Sheffield England, Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 31. We see the same doubling before postpartum bathing: “in the eighth night after the birth of a boy and the sixteenth night after the birth of a girl.” Steinberg, Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics, 184.
[lvi] Anna is the Greek form of Hannah, meaning “favor” (1 Samuel 1-2). As Anna joins Simeon in the temple she becomes a second witness. This is Luke’s pattern of having two witnesses offer a double proclamation of Jesus’ greatness. Luke’s Gospel is filled with parallelisms in his examples.
[lvii] Luke 2:36. See appendix 4. In the Old Testament the title “prophetess” is given to five women: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Noadiah and Isaiah’s wife (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Nehemiah 6:14; Isa 8:3).
[lviii] Fitzmyer, Anchor Bible: Luke I-IX, 431.
[lix] The “Spirit of prophecy” was described by Joseph Smith: “No man is a minister of Jesus Christ, without being a Prophet. No man can be the minister of Jesus Christ, except he has the testimony of Jesus & this is the Spirit of Prophecy.” Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, ed., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, UT: Religious Studies, BYU, 1980), 10-11. Joseph intended this statement to refer to all humanity, not only one gender.
[lx] David Noel Freedman, ed., Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2000), 859. A second century Bishop, Papias, claimed that Mark was “Peter’s interpreter,” according to the Roman Church historian Eusebius (AD 263 -340). For centuries, Christian tradition taught that the Gospel of Mark was actually Peter’s message recorded by Mark while he was with Peter imprisoned in Rome. Biblical scholars debate this theory now.