Sunday, February 24, 2019

Smash the Patriarchy

Early archeology of Biblical history reveals that there were multiple religions in the Palestinian region well into the early days of the monarchical period, one these being the female goddess Asherah.  Biblical references to to Asherah, a goddess who some scholars argue was the consort of El or Yahweh, others argue was the consort of Ba’al, can be found in I Kings 18:19, Genesis 49:25 and 2 Kings 23:4. The worship of Asherah and other deities were seen as “artifacts… a source of inspiration and comfort” rather than “as Pinocchio that might come to life.” Religious leaders of the period would have us believe that sexual depravity was rampant among the pagan religions of the region, in fact, archeology tells us another story. The writers of the early text describe the people as deluded and gullible. They told the people that Yahweh was the one and only god and it is their waywardness, their faithlessness that leads to Yahweh finally turning his back on them.This is widely seen by scholars as a way to get the people to turn away from the worship of pagan gods and pull them into the national religion of Yahweh and it was, coincidentally, god who ordained the kings of Israel. Interestingly in later writings, Yahweh is a loner, in sharp contrast to other religions, he has no consort. Most deities of the regions had a female consort but in Judaic mythological imaginings there was no divine female to be by his side. Later Israelites tell the stories of the female divine in the Shekinah and as one scholar points out the text seems to indicates the “Israelites experienced the same goddess-hunger that can be found in peoples and cultures around the world.” Unfortunately, these references to the god-mother have been lost to Judaism and today there is only the barest reference to the feminine deity.

In the New Testament, there is little distinction in how they perceive the Father deity although we do see women gaining more prestige in the early church because of their proximity to Jesus and testimony of his teachings. Women were engaged in prophesy and ecstatic experience. However, resistance to women’s leadership in the church follows pretty quickly. Paul writes to the Corinthians and sets all straight with a hierarchical chart, "But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." I Corinthians 11:3

As the church gained political power after Constantine’s death bed conversion, the king/god relationship becomes a way for the church to wield political power. Roman emperors shift away from the Pagan gods and there is a move to cleanse Roman society of their deities and the Roman lifestyle- one that allowed men whatever sexual pleasures they desired. whether male or female, while women were largely regulated to serving men. Within the  Catholic tradition there is an introduction of the Virgin Mary at this time so the pagan rituals are folded into the new state church but Mary relegates women to motherhood and childbearing rather than giving them a goddess.

The Pope’s influence over the Kings was potent. In 800 Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish ruler Charlemagne as Roman Emperor, a major step toward establishing what later became known as the Holy Roman Empire: from that date on the Popes claimed the prerogative to crown the Emperor. If the Pope condemned a king the whole country was condemned to hell. When King Henry the VIII decided he wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (she could not give him a son and he, meanwhile, had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn), what ensued was a major crisis as Henry appealed to the Pope to try and get him to annul his marriage and the Pope attempted to maintain control of the English head of state by disallowing the dissolution of his marriage. Finally Henry broke from the Catholic church and aligned himself with the British reformation. Since this was more for convenience than from doctrinal change of heart, as king he is now the god appointed King and the head of the newly formed church of England but not without great consequence for England which would later become embroiled in a battle between the two religious powers. (Anne Boleyn has been immortalized as a protestant saint for being beheaded for her protestant leanings when in fact she was beheaded when Henry’s roving eye moved elsewhere).

From the beginning the Biblical myths created a religion that deified a great Patriarch in heaven. If God is in his heaven and is a Father ruling his people, then it is in the nature of things that society be male dominated and later, white since the church was interpreted and translated by Greco-Roman men. Marriage, sex, all societal roles are seen within this context and, as a result, the oppression of women is right and fitting, the natural order. This is so pervasive that even people who do not believe in god are influenced by this ancient patriarchal order.

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