Dethroning the Masculine Ideal

Recently this book, “The Representative Women of the Bible,” published in 1907 caught my eye. It was high on the top shelf in the library – tucked between numerous modern and post-modern works about women.

I’ve read so many books about women – written by women and written by men. The concept of woman, her nature, her role, what is and is not femininity, is analyzed and scrutinized. Each generation of books – and their authors, born in various cultural settings and decades from one another – bring their own unique understanding of ‘woman’ to the mix.

Some of the books delight me. Some present images of women I desire to emulate. Some of the books infuriate me, presenting an image of woman not worthy of our sex!

But occasionally I stumble upon a book that is out of the ordinary.

Such is the case of the recently discovered book by Dr. George Matheson. He presents unique concepts that enlighten and reveal there may be so much more behind the stories of woman in the Bible than what we are usually taught.

His introduction alone gives us much to ponder.

Since the book is in the public domain without a copyright and and can be freely copied I’ve shared several paragraphs from the introduction for your enjoyment – including a few of comments of my own.

Here he is referring to the creation of humanity and woman’s struggle with the serpent. Picturing the woman as a warrior, battling the enemy, has never crossed my mind!

“It is a hymn of female conquest expressed in colours. Out from the canvas there starts an unprecedented picture – a woman triumphant over the forms of nature. She is seen struggling for the possession of a garden. her antagonist is the serpent – a symbol of those powers of craft and diplomacy which hitherto in the artist’s experience have been the rulers of the world.”

“Long and fierce is the conflict; and the woman does not emerge unwounded. But she emerges victorious.” p 7.

“We see her foot on the head of the serpent–a unique sight for the primitive world to behold.

“We see in vision the conquest of craft by simplicity, the defeat of subtlety by artlessness, the subjugation of diplomatic power by the intensity of the heart. Woman is recognized as the prospective possessor of the garden of life–the future mistress of the home.” pg 8

I found these words to be profound – especially in light of all the noise in the churches bickering over a woman’s place in the Body of Christ. It seems many are content to keep slaves or remain slaves to the systems of the world rather than experience the full emancipation won at a great cost.

“What we are in search of is not an attainment but an ideal. The triumph of the Bible is its conception. It’s merit is that at a time when woman was a slave it painted a gallery in which she was free.

“It lifted the minds of men above their surroundings by the picture of a golden past upon whose threshold womanhood sat enthroned, claiming her legitimate empire amid the forces of the world, and receiving the promise that her battle shall be won.” p. 8

He offers a unique understanding of the Sermon on the Mount. Essentially, he sees that text deconstructing the masculine ways of “Hercules … Caesar, [and] Alexander.” He can no longer abide the “pointing of the youth to the red path as the path of glory,” because he argues Jesus is replacing these masculine ideals with feminine virtues.

“In the streets of that Roman world of which Israel had become a part stands an exultant female proclaiming to all the earth the tidings of her emancipation, ‘He that is mighty hath done great things for me.'”

“It is a representative voice – uttered, not only for herself as mother of the Messiah, but for that feminine nature of whose exaltation the Messiah was to become the forerunner.”

“It is the cry of a long repressed sex claiming its rights and hailing their recognition. ‘Thou has regarded the low estate of Thine handmaiden.’ The words breathe a sense of the world’s long neglect. We hear womanhood rejoicing in the lifting of her chain. We hear her giving glory to God for restoring to the earth a feminine ideal of greatness – for realizing the prediction of the morning that the female spirit should bruise the serpent’s head.” p. 10

“In exalting Woman, Christianity has transformed the ideal of human greatness.”

It has not added a new ideal; it has dethroned the old one.”

“The qualities once peculiar to herself and by the possession of which she was socially degraded, have become the qualities essential to humanity–male as well as female. p. 11

I look forward to uncovering more treasures to share with you all. Until then, think deeply on the ideas presented in the quotes presented above.

Photo credit: A baroque Mondsichelmadonna (Madonna on the Crescent Moon) painting by Rubens, main altarpiece of the high altar at Freising Cathedral (c. 1625).

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