comments on men's idealizationns of women's proper status.
When Jewish myth did locate evil in a female being, it is significant that the being was
fanciful, not part of human genealogy nor of the Bible: the demon Lilith. Moreover, the menace
she supposedly represented--stealing babies was easily countered by the use of amulets and
other simple measures not requiring an overhaul of human nature. Thus an accessible remedy
was taught along with the danger.
In Mesopotamian creation myths, the gods avoid manual labor by creating human beings
to do it for them. The concept of people as slaves of the god(s) persists in proper names and
liturgies of the major scriptural religions to this day. In society, those who could, escaped
manual labor by forcing it on others. Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern systems of slavery are
well known to us through laws and records as well as literature. Traditional Arabian ideology
considered it more honorable to steal from cities and settlements (through raids) than to engage
in manual labor. In the ideology of the ante-bellum American South, slavery was to be the basis
for emulating the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome.
Later these evolve into ethical issues, as when Talmud defines humiliating people as
serious sin and organizes sanctity of Jewish life around the cessation of labor on the Sabbath.
In our literatures, something between deviance and horror is often personified and
individualized, then tamed into a freak--but a recuperable one--in the figure of the wild man,
such as Esau or Enkidu.
Many or all ancient texts were, according to our best understanding, designed to be read
aloud or recited. Accordingly, one word in Hebrew means both "read" and "call out." Letters
on clay tablets begin with instructions to the scribe to "say this to" the recipient.
Enkidu ( Epic of Gilgamesh) is a wild semihuman being until intercourse with the
prostitute civilizes him. Contrast Leslie Fiedler on man escaping women and civilization; and John Cawelti on the lone man patrolling the borders between civilization and savagery.
The "civis" in this "civilization" is not a city in our sense but any village or town, any
organized, stationary human settlement.
Examples are the brothers' revenge for the rape of Dinah and Absalom's revenge on Amnon for the rape of Tamar.
In Mesopotamian literature, fantasy figures are personified and individualized in the figure
of the hero such as Gilgamesh, "one-third" god, through his mother, or in the figure of a king
who depicts himself as under divine protection by claiming he has been "suckled," i.e., nurtured
and protected, by goddesses. King Gilgamesh, son of the goddess Aruru, is therefore in big
trouble when he incurs the enmity of Ishtar and a goddess turns against him.
Clark Elizabeth and
Herbert Richardson. Eds. Women and Religion: A Feminist Sourcebook
of Christian Thought. San Francisco: Harper, 1977.
Condren Mary. The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion, and Power in Celtic
Ireland. San Francisco: Harper, 1989.
Connerton Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge University Press. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989.
Davis Elizabeth Gould. The First Sex. New York: Penguin, 1971.
Dexter Miriam Robbins. Whence the Goddesses. A Source Book. New York: Pergamon, 1990.
Edwards Carolyn McVickar. "Shekhina: The Door to the Soul." Lilith Fall ( 1992): 5.
Eisler Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. San Francisco: Harper
and Row, 1987.