The Bible discriminates against women

Women in the OT


As far as we know, biblical literature was written and transmitted by men. There are only a few texts that focus on women. But because the intentions of these pieces mostly serve other narrative goals, the information available must be used to reconstruct what can presumably be said about the living conditions of women in ancient Israel. Such attempts at reconstruction are always dependent on the judgments and evaluations of those who make these considerations. In addition, it should be borne in mind that the texts in question come from very different periods of origin and can depict different life situations (e.g. urban or rural culture). Therefore, only a reasonably certain amount of biblical information is given in the following.

Social order

The legal texts of the Pentateuch as well as the narratives contain some references to the basic social order. The father of the family rules (patriarchy), marriages are primarily within the clan (endogamy), cf. Gen 28.2. The line of succession is patrilineal, i.e. follows the paternal line. Only later did there appear to be exceptions: according to Num 27, women can inherit in order to bridge the gap until there are male heirs again. The married women live with the husband (patrilocality), cf.Gen 24, who in turn can have several wives (polygyny), cf.Gen 29. All wives of a man are to be provided by him equally with everything necessary (Ex 21,10) .

Women's rights

Women's rights are particularly dependent on their respective marital status. An unmarried woman is subordinate to the father (Ex 22.16), who can sell her e.g. as a slave (Ex 21.7). With the marriage, the woman passes into the control of her husband; the husband is considered בַּעַל, Baal "Owner" of his wife. Women are given a stronger legal position after the birth of a child; in legal statutes about parents there is no differentiation between men and women (Lev 20,9). The naming of the children is handed down by women (Gen 29,32) as well as by men (Gen 21,3).
Widows enjoy the special protection of the law (Ex 22.21f. Cf. Isa 1.17). For the sake of patrilineal succession, there is the institution of levirate marriage: a childless widow marries the eldest brother or closest relative of the deceased so that heirs can arise (Gen 38). Men could give their wives a letter of divorce (Deut 24: 1-4), so they had the right to divorce. This custom is criticized in post-exilic times with reference to God's good creation (Mal 2: 10-16).

Position of woman

It is controversial whether traces of older matriarchal levels of (pre-state?) Society can be found in the biblical texts. Arguments for this are, for example, the naming by women and Samson's move to his wife (Ri 14), as well as the differentiation of the tribes of Israel according to the Leah and Rahel tribes.
In any case, it is clear that some texts show a comparatively independent position of women. This is especially true for cultic contexts. Thus, for example, Rachel can be found in Gen. or Michal in 1.Sam 19,13ff. deal with the image of God (teraphim). Archaeological finds have brought to light a large number of female figurines, which are evidently also to be regarded as a sign of a specifically feminine, fertility-oriented religiousness in the private sphere. In the meantime it can be considered certain that there was also worship of goddesses in Israel; but this was probably suppressed under the impression of the monolatrous YHWH-alone movement.

Women in cult

There are occasional references to a special function of women at official shrines. In Ex 38,8 there is talk of service with mirrors; in 1.Sam 2:22 women serve at the entrance of the tent in Shiloh. According to 2 Kings 23: 7, women at the Jerusalem temple wove robes for the Asherah. It is not possible to clarify which ritual customs are behind these notes. It is also controversial whether there were cult prostitutes (Hos 4,13f.).
A special relationship between women and cultic songs is clear, such as the Mirjamlied in Ex 15, the Deboralied in Ri 5 or the lamentations of women in Ri 11,40. Individual women are shown in special positions, such as the necromancer of En-Dor (1.Sam 28) or the prophetess Hulda (2.Kings 22). In later times women are evidently pushed to the edge of the official cult because of the increasing importance of cultic purity.

equal rights

However, other texts also show the disappearance of the previous role definitions. In the Song of Songs, the woman is portrayed as an equal partner who takes her own sexual initiative. Women like Judit or Ester save Israel from need and thus join the tradition of warlike heroines like Debora. The book of Ruth shows that even a foreigner can be seen as a community-loyal role model; the priestly realm of creation states in Gen 1:27 that man and woman are created in the image of God. Thus, in the end, the differentiation between the sexes in the monotheistic image of God has been mentally overcome; the practice of faith and life has not kept pace with this, however.


I. Fischer et al. (Ed.), The Bible and Women; Volume 1.1, Torah, 2010
U. Sals, Art. Frau (AT), WiBiLex 2006,
L. Schottroff, M.-T. Wacker et al. (Ed.), Compendium Feminist Biblical Interpretation, 2nd edition 1998.
W. Zwickel, Everyday Women in Biblical Israel, 2005.

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Electronic Bible Studies

The texts on this page are taken from:

Old testament

Rösel, Martin: Biblical studies of the Old Testament. The canonical and apocryphal scriptures. With learning overviews by Dirk Schwiderski, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 10., veränd. Edition 2018.