Women; Not the second-class citizen in biblical times.

Preface: I wrote this in undergrad, but thought it might be fun to resurrect it for Easter. I would like to introduce you to  Ishtar/Ashtar/Astarte = Ester/Easter……


The focus here is a population, of roughly 50%, being acceptably disregarded.  The ability to discard or disregard information, of half, of any population (that is necessary for the survival of the species as a whole) seems a sad circumstance.  The women in this paper seek only an honest audience that uses common sense as a foundation for considering new theories.

The majority of early historical writings are traditionally androcentric; i.e. the bible.  Women’s roles are vitally important to the stability of the community, but deemed common and unnoticed.  Remember that originally the literate were an elite class who were writing about the ruling class, also elite, women were not the only population left out.  It is estimated by Carol Meyers that 90-95% of the Israelite population lived outside the city walls; the common man and woman were not well represented by the elite and lived very differently.

We may not be able to define the exact gender role, however the focus of attention to the subject of gender differences is interesting and leads to changes in interpretation of the historical writings and archeological findings popular today.

Another possible theory of inaccurate interpretations of women may be found in designating gender on the basis of name.  Women have had masculine names and in some cultures are called by their husband’s name.  This theory may never be proved.  Approaching gender in two ways; gender identity, who they were, and gender ideology, who we think they were, may help.

Women in prehistoric times had many functions that were necessary for personal and species survival.  Primates  observed today  are protected to ensure survival, this is observed by Richard F. Taflinger from Washington State University.  Statistically the loss of many males is easily recovered from if the female population is protected; a female being left behind was not a lack of size/strength, moral or ethical issue, it was a survival of the species issue.  Male roles are assumed to take on the more dangerous jobs of hunting larger more dangerous prey protecting their future.  Females utilized their time and abilities by gathering and identifying food and forming societal bonds with each other and offspring thus culture and cultivation evolved simultaneously. This theory is used by social anthropologists to adapt and evaluate the natural societal evolution’s in its many stages during the same time period. Women were the founders of farming, not men.

Archaeology shows transitional evidence of females becoming more sedentary than men initially in their living spaces.  The roles of females are assumed to take on foraging, cooking, cleaning, production of clothing, planting, weeding, birthing and caring for offspring.  It is often a dismissed or questionable idea that females invented the things they needed to make these chores easier.

Common sense would lead us to think that in their gathering they became aware of how to find and select seed, and when to plant it.  Sykes in Seven Daughters of Eve puts forth the idea that a handicapped man with little desire to hunt figured out the gathering and planting of seeds.  This man would have likely been lost to natural selection. Allowing him to become the founder of agriculture is not realistic; this idea reinforces the stereotypical right of male invention.  Chad Bergert states that burials in Neolithic times have been found to contain pre-agriculture tools such as hoes in female burials not contained in male burials.

Marsha Ogilvie has documented evidence of determining hunter/gather from sedentary agriculture by femoral landmarks.  Skeletons that travel long distances develop a supportive ridge down the length of the femur; this ridge appears across sex lines.  The ridge is nonexistent in sedentary life style agriculture.  Ogilvie found a culture with mixed sedentary and hunter-gather that had distinct male femoral support ridges with females that did not, in Cochise culture in Arizona.    Archeology is finding ways to identify groups with regard to sex and social status leading us to the idea that women were the germination of Agriculture.  This theory has yet to be applied to other remains such as the ones from ancient Israel.

The Fertile Crescent has many archeological examples of agricultural based goddesses.  Ashnan was a goddess of grain while her brother was the god of cattle, these siblings could be representative of the culture that invented them.  Ninhursag an earth goddess grew 8 plants to curse her husband Enki with and then healed him. She is an example of a farming female shaman.  Nisaba is a goddess of grain and Ninlil of barley.  Inanna is goddess of field fertility or destruction, assuming women could have had the power not only to feed but to starve others.   Nidaba the goddess of harvest is also given power over writing and learning, it is possible that women out of necessity for communication with communal children and other mothers, especially during childbirth, were the founders of language and writing.

Evidence of Sumerian goddesses is found in archeological documentation, demonstrating respect and worship shown to women. Ishtar is a goddess of love and war, Nanshe a goddess of water and fish.  Ninisinna is the goddess of healing; the traditional nurturing, caring and reproductive assets of female roles given honor.  Sirish and Ninskasi the female forms of Dionysus.  Kindazi the goddess barber and last but not least Syria the goddess of the Sun.  These goddesses are found in architecture, scrolls and seals commonly found archeology books and documented on multiple Internet sites.

Ishtar is the Akkadian goddess (Inanna in Sumeria) of love, lust (prostitutes), passion, war, creativity, procreativity, fecundity, power and probably most importantly today beer.  She is also responsible for judgment/decision and control of law of heaven/earth, thus she disperses destruction of fields and infertility of animals.  Reference is made to her being the Queen of Heaven and Occasionally the Underworld.  She is symbolized on seals, vases, temples and gates. Her symbols include Venus/Evening and Star/Moon.  She is shown driving a war chariot drawn by lions.  The 8 pointed star or rosette is used to identify her in archaeological findings.  She can be dressed to the hilt in war gear or bare chested surrounded by stars.  Along with the rosette she is also defined in Sumer, where she has 7 known temples found, by Inanna’s knot.  This knot has the appearance of a staff with a curling top akin to ram’s horns.

The number 7 frequently references Ishtar as she is told to have passed through 7 gates during her quest to the underworld to recover her lover.  Three versions of the myth are told; she is portrayed as already having control of the underworld or she conquers her sister Ereshkigal who controls or she leaves control with her sister.  All sexual activity stops for 3 days, while she is in the underworld, in Uruk, and crops failed during this time.  These three days are often associated with the moon dark phase and menstrual cycles of women, causing impotence of men. Ishtar is also infamous for her ability to attract lovers and turn them impotent.  After acquiring lovers she would become bored or angered and turn them from shepherds to wolves. She loved the stallion and broke it to whip and spur. The lion protected her and she dug 7 pits for them.  Her lover of youth, Tammuz god of harvest, died as direct result of her love.  She is not known to have a permanent mate or children.  Ishtar’s love was fatal.  Gilgamesh refuses to marry her on these grounds and begins a war between them where she is given the great Bull of Heaven to unleash on Gilgamesh.  Here we see merging of biblical figures with pagan figures.

Ishtar is credited for beguiling Enki with her beer and taking the Mes from him.  The Mes are sometimes listed as a hundred items or qualities bestowed by the gods.  They are not all known.  Known examples are temple drum, royal thrown, sacred bed, truth, justice, writing, weaving and pottery making.  The Mes symbolize order out of chaos, great attributes of civilization and the power of the gods. She is patroness of Uruk/Erek that benefits through prosperity of her guardianship.  This prosperity is credited to her acquiring the Mes.  Uruk’s expansion of urban culture and agricultural leadership is credited to the Istar’s acquisition of the Mes.  Here the very first credit is given to a woman for agriculture and writing.

The Uruk vase found in a deposit with cult object of the Uruk III period dating 4000 to 3100 BC has Inanna’s (Ishtar) knot with a female figure ornately dressed for a divine marriage that Inanna is responsible for.  Seals from the Jemdet Nasr period dating 3100-2900 BCE list contributions to Inanna at Uruk supporting her cult.  The temple of E Anna in Uruk is dated as 5000 years of age and shows original building and subsequent rebuilding maintaining Inanna’s role of importance in this culture. Her female power had huge effects on the cultures that embraced her.  Many of her tasks, talents and responsibilities were shifted later to male gods.

Seals, figurines, cult stands, bronze axes, shields and horse ornaments of all shapes and sizes have been found with female images from 2nd millennium BC.  The Bronze Age technologically allowed for female figurines to be manufactured on a larger scale.  Late Bronze Age has evidence of female symbols on amulets and the Iron Age has representations of females on cult stands.  Female representation is ubiquitous throughout Syrio-Palestine.

Female nudity has many meanings including: sexuality, fertility, power, sacred marriage, mediation of power, magic, apotropaic, supremacy over predator and prey, aggression, potency, protection, good luck, support, enemy impotence, and fecundity. Symbols used to make these interpretations are: griffins (power), goats (nature), gods with men (mediator), fish/birds (specific realms of nature), snake (magic), and inverted lions and goats (supremacy, violence) and lotus plant (eroticism).

How large the female is compared to male figures with the occasional reinforcement of other female goddess figures assumed to be in a secondary role-plays a direct part in the interpretation of the goddess’s significance.  Female figures are only found to be greeting each other, i.e. goddess with female of human stature, has only been found once on an Egyptian seal.  The Goddess is considered passive or active by holding or touching something or being touched.  These interpretations are from Nanno Marinatos.

Recently interesting information has come from a seal discovered in Israel in 1964.  It was initially thought to belong to Queen Jezebel.  Queen Jezebel was married to King Ahab in the 9th millennium BCE.  She was a Phoenician and pagan.  She encouraged reverence of the god Baal.  The bible says she corrupted power by forging her husband’s seal.  New evidence confirming the existence of her own seal refutes this idea with the proof that she was a woman of real power with her own seal.  Initially it was argued that the seal belonged to someone else due to an upper piece of the seal missing.  The name was interpreted differently, until it was determined that the missing piece could contain the two letters that would correctly spell her name in mirror image, as seals were designed to print correctly,   by Dr Marjo Korpel at the University Utrecht in November of 2007.  This information sheds a whole new light on the perspective of her portrayal in the bible and the legacy of her name being attributed to all lewd and wicked female connotations.  The seal has a female-headed lion-sphinx with a female Isis-Hathor crown this designates queen status.  The seal is also of above average size coupled with a winged sun disk showing royalty.  A lotus is shown below the Horus falcon, which is also a female symbol. This seal confirms that female power extended beyond Egypt.  The design of the seal containing a Horus and double cobra also shows Egyptian symbolism permeating Israel.

The Bible has interpretive females symbol application also.  The Dove or Holy Spirit is symbolic of impregnation, creation, annunciation and the sacraments.  The church is often referred to as the bride of Christ. An example found in Biblical text of extraordinary female effect on the history of religion is Miriam.  Miriam was the elder sister of Moses and Aaron, and a prophet.  She saves Moses by guarding him, he is discarded in a basket in the river by their mother in hopes of his survival; male infanticide is practiced at this time per the bible.  Miriam waits as an Egyptian princess finds Moses and decides to adopt him, she then offers her mother as an available woman to nurse the boy. Miriam is always at her brother’s sides in the bible.

Warrior women are present in biblical writings.  Examples include Deborah, Yael and Judith.  Deborah is a Judge who delivers Israel from Jabin.  Deborah is the prophetess that foresees Jael killing the Jabin General Sisera by beguiling him and driving a stake through his head.  Judith is a widow who becomes impatient with her fellow Jewish men’s inability to end the war, positions herself with the enemy general Holofernes gains his confidence and upon his inebriation decapitates him.  Theses three female figures left an enduring mark while surviving androcentric writing and edits.

The Judges section of the bible shows some examples of what Carol Meyers feels may have been closer to the representation of the more common peoples roles of the time of ancient Israel.  Women were the leading gender per Meyers.  She establishes this theory on the egalitarian style of housing and the requirement from the main cities for the men of fighting age to go to war to protect the agrarian lifestyle. Ester is found wielding her power over her husband in the bible.  Esther’s name has been linked in meaning and context to Ishtar/Ashtar/Astarte.  She is not given the sexual proclivities of her namesakes.  She is however an unlikely heroin in her tale.  Secretly, Jewish, the Queen beguiles husband into saving her “people”.  Scholars report that Esther’s story was long debated for inclusion in the bible and to this day is doubted and categorized as a purely fictional piece in the bible by them.

New interpretations are being pursued in this line of thinking, finding different solutions and opinions to questions by allowing the female perception to have a voice without detracting from differing opinions. The tools use doesn’t necessarily reveal the identity of the user or inventor.  “Just about everything written back then was biased in some way or another, Gender and sex bias were almost certainly at work,” says Dan Adler of early archaeology methods, from the University of Connecticut.  These and other unknown and undiscovered ideas are opening the doors of alternate ideas in the area of archaeology.


For More of Me


















*Ben-Tor, Amnon, ed. (1992) Ancient Israel. YaleUniversity Press. New Haven, CT.

*Dillion, Mathew, auth (2002) Girls and Women in Classical Greek Religion. Routledge, New York, NY.

*Finklestein, Israel and Neil Asher Silberman, auths (2002) The Bible Unearthed. Touchstone, New York, NY.

*Lesko, Barbara S., ed (1989) Women’s Earliest Records.  Scholars Press, Atlanta, Georgia.

*Marinatos, Nannos, auth (2000) The Goddess and the Warrior.  Routledge, New York, NY.

*Meyers, Carol, auth (1988) Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context.  OxfordUniversity Press, New York, NY.

*Morton, H.V., auth (1941) Women of the Bible. Dodd, Mead & Company. New York.

*Pyburn, K. Ann, ed. (2004) Ungendering Civilization.  Routledge, New York, NY.

*Rautman, Alison E., ed. (2000) Reading the Body, Representations and Remains in the Archaelogical Record. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PN.

*Russell Marble, Annie, auth (1923) Women of the Bible.  The Century Co, New York and London

*Stig Sorensen, Marie Louise, auth (2000) Gender Archeology. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

*Sykes, Bryan, auth (2001) The Seven Daughters of Eve. W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, New York, NY.