‘And Many Other Women’ Part III

October 5, 2004 | 28 comments
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I sometimes have a beef with religious art because of the assumptions that the artist must make about the scriptures in order to complete her/his work.

This is an interesting corrective. I have a poster-size version of it, framed, and I like it.

Focusing on the Gospel of Mark, here is some evidence that women were, in fact, present at the Last Supper:

(1) It was Jewish tradition for women to take part in Passover. To break from that tradition, in itself, would have been worthy of mention. Since in all recorded cases, Jesus is as open to women’s participation (if not more so) than his surrounding culture, it would have been doubly worthy of mention if his celebration of Passover excluded women.

(2) Compare Mark 14:28 with Mark 16:7. It makes the most sense to see these verses as referring to the same event instead of hypothesizing a second, unmentioned event.

(3) Referring to “one of the twelve” in 14:20 suggests that there were others present (see also 14:16 and 17).

(4) See 15:41. Women came up with Jesus to Jerusalem. Why did he go to Jerusalem? To celebrate Passover.

(5) While ancient and modern practices are not always parallel, I do note that, of course, women participate in the sacrament now.

(6) As my not-particularly-religious mother scoffed when I explained all of this to her the first time she saw Bohdan’s painting in my house, “(scoff) Of course. Who would have done the cooking, anyway?” (Not that I approve of that reason.)

There is a larger point here. We should be very careful with how we allow religious art to affect our reading of the scriptures. (One Institute student pointed out to me that in Bohdan’s painting, the floor appears to be made of huge stones. Not an easy trick for an ‘upper room.’) And we should not assume women are absent because their presence isn’t specifically mentioned.

28 Responses to ‘And Many Other Women’ Part III

  1. Ashleigh on October 5, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    You’re good at this Julie, you should, like, write a book or something :-)

    I really do like your help in reading the scriptures this way, thank you.

    Also, how do you deal with the whole idea that we have to dig so hard to find clues about women?

  2. lyle on October 5, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    nice portrait. great scriptural analysis.

    however…despite the failings in the art world; where is the evidence that this is a discrete problem? do males reading the scriptures figure there are no women? or when you or Ashleigh read scriptures, do you imagine there being no women? I guess my own imagination has never included/excluded on the basis of gender.

  3. Ashleigh on October 5, 2004 at 4:39 pm

    Lyle,
    I find that men just don’t think about it much at all. Even my husband, who is a very sensative kind a guy, just doesn’t think about the presence or absence of women at all. It’s a privilege you have by way of your gender.

  4. lyle on October 5, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    given the laud’s post Conference, i would have thought the privilege in gender resided with women.

    it’s gotta be nice to be more immune/resistant to the prevalent sins of the world; and not stand guilty by biology every priesthood session.

    :)

  5. wendy on October 5, 2004 at 5:18 pm

    Note that a lot of the posters on an online forum for LDS folks struggling with p0rn addiction are women:

    http://www.heart-t-heart.org/forum/display_forum.asp?fid=4

    So far, no women’s conference talks have been geared towards them, that I’m aware of.

  6. Greg on October 5, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    Very interesting, Julie. I just did a quick search for more info on the painting and it appears it was commissioned by a group advocating the ordination of women in the Catholic church. More info (on both the painting and the argument that there were indeed women present) here: http://homepages.iol.ie/~duacon/supper.htm

  7. Nate Oman on October 5, 2004 at 5:22 pm

    Julie: I am interested as to your source for “Jewish traditions” at the time of Christ. I know that once upon a time there was considerable use of the Talmud and the Mishnah to provide cultural background etc. for the gospels. However, my understanding is that this approach as fallen into disrepute because the Talmud and Mishnah are considered to be too late of a source to accurately reflect Judiaism at the time of Christ. Is this correct? Is there some argument for using the Talmud and the Mishnah as sources for NT commentary? Is there some other source?

    I am particular interested in this because it effects how you read some of the legal passages in NT, which are of particular interest to me.

  8. Ashleigh on October 5, 2004 at 5:27 pm

    Lyle, it is a different sort of privilege of which you speak. And I don’t really agree with the idea anyway. I don’t think that women are more moral or more righteous than men. It may be that men’s sin’s are just more visible, just like all things about men.

  9. CB on October 5, 2004 at 5:41 pm

    Ashleigh,

    I agree with your point that men tend to sin more spectacularly than women do.

    But Lyle has a point, too. A couple of years ago in priesthood meeting, president Hinckley said that any man who raised his voice to his family was unworthy of the blessings of the temple. So far, he hasn’t gone to the general women’s meeting and said that women shouldn’t have a recommend if they yell at their kids.

    If I am out of my depth here, someone please tell me.

  10. Rosalynde Welch on October 5, 2004 at 6:44 pm

    CB, I do remember specifically at least one GA over-the-pulipit admonition to mothers to speak in soft voice, though I couldn’t tell you where or when, so my recollection is pretty useless analytically.

    Of course, all comments about gender take place in a cultural context replete with various kinds of sexism, not in a semantic vacuum. So the “meaning” of an admonition to a woman not to raise her voice to her husband has a totally different meaning than the same admonition to man with regard to his wife–they shouldn’t be taken as equivalent utterances.

  11. Adam Greenwood on October 5, 2004 at 6:47 pm

    That’s all well and good, Rosalynde, but surely there is some overlap.
    I believe that there *are* women who scream and stomp around the house. Or has my faith in the natural man let me down?

    But if your point is simply that the prophet’s can’t give the same advice to both sexes, even if people in both sexes need it, because it is likely to be misunderstood or misapplied with respect to one sex, then I guess I agree.

    I wish there were some way to keep the priesthood session and RS general conference a little more private.

  12. CB on October 5, 2004 at 7:14 pm

    Rosalynde,

    Agreed. And I think the brethren are right to speak to men about this problem more than they do to women, because the physical violence that can result is worse, given men’s advantage in size and strength.

    But here is the probelm I see. As I look around my ward, I can pick out two or three men who are probably tryants in the home. And I can pick out two or three women who are probably tyrants in the home. After listening to the prophet last Sunday, the man will have no doubt that he is in the wrong, and in grave need of repentance. But a woman could hear that talk and think it did not apply to her. She could even justify herself because the prophet just told her she is wonderful, special, etc. She could assume that the principles in section 121 apply only to men.

    Julie, I apologize for taking this thread somewhat off-topic.

  13. Julie in Austin on October 5, 2004 at 10:06 pm

    Nate–

    I will admit upfront that my use of ‘Jewish tradition’ was a little fast and loose. As you probably know, there are *no* good Jewish sources for the 1st century; the best we can do is traingulate from the imperfect sources that we have. It is frustrating.

    That said, I feel comfortable with my statement because (1) women were included in the initial Passover and (2) women are included in Passover in the Talmud and Mishnah. It would be too weird to postulate that they were there at the beginning, then forbidden (with no sources to support this), and then allowed again.

    Ashleigh–

    As for digging so hard–that’s what *we* have to do. I think (I think, but I don’t knowfor sure) that Mark’s original audience would have taken it as a given that women would be present, wouldn’t have had to deliberately think through it or make a point of it.

    (BTW, I’m going to be out of town for a few days; I am not ignoring comments on this thread.)

  14. Rosalynde Welch on October 5, 2004 at 10:40 pm

    Again, I think the question of context is key–including the various regional contexts of the prophet’s many audiences. It’s my impression that the “be nice to your wives” theme we’ve been hearing recently is intended to counter the negative aspects of certain cultural mores of masculinity in various national and/or regional and/or cultural sub-populations of church membership–not primarily for mainstream Euro-American audiences. (Not that domestic abuse doesn’t occur in mainstream America, of course, or that a majority of non-Euro-American males are abusive–simply that domestic abuse/oppression may be less culturally acceptable in Euro-American culture. This is a tricky topic, and I suspect that in my efforts not to offend I am exceedingly difficult to understand.) So while in your ward, CB, there may be a roughly equivalent ratio of male and female tyrants, I doubt that’s the case in other geopolitical contexts.

    Rest assured, there is no lack of instruction for women on the importance of creating a loving environment in the home, and of deferring to the priesthood leadership of our husbands. It’s just that the burden of the instruction is being shifted from male voices to female voices.

  15. Adam Greenwood on October 5, 2004 at 11:30 pm

    Thanks for putting the remarks in contest, R. Welch.
    I give way completely,
    my arguments are undone.

  16. Gordon Smith on October 6, 2004 at 12:26 am

    Julie,

    I can’t tell: is that Mary Magdalene on the right hand of Jesus? ;-)

  17. Ashleigh on October 6, 2004 at 1:34 am

    “So while in your ward, CB, there may be a roughly equivalent ratio of male and female tyrants, I doubt that’s the case in other geopolitical contexts.”

    Excuse me for being a dirty feminist, but I’ve heard too many stories about men in my wards to let them off this easily. We don’t have a roughly equivalent ratio of male and female tyrants even in the happy perfect Euro-centric anti-abusive USA. Sorry. I know you guys want to believe this, but it’s just not so. Yes there are female tyrants, but in large ways and small the men outstrip us at least ten to one.

    You are welcome to beat your heads against the wall trying to convince me otherwise, but from experience I know this is true, I see it all around me all the time. Women talk to me about these indignities just about every day, and often don’t even recognize them as such because their spirits are so crushed, they don’t see that they are worth more than that. I think if you don’t see it, you’re just not looking.

  18. Dustin on October 6, 2004 at 2:27 am

    It’s hard not to see even if you aren’t looking…

  19. Kristine on October 6, 2004 at 9:30 am

    Julie, where can I get a poster-sized print?

  20. Rosalynde Welch on October 6, 2004 at 10:21 am

    I’m happy to contestualize your arguments whenever necessary, Adam–it’s so much more fun than dreary contextualixation. But please don’t give way completely, for then I would have no reason to visit T&S and thus procrastinate my nearest deadline.

  21. CB on October 6, 2004 at 10:59 am

    Rosalynde, Ashleigh,

    Thank you for your kind and thoughtful responses. I also want to be careful of saying hurtful things or causing damage. Sometimes, in spite of my efforts, I am kind of tone-deaf in this area. (Women nod heads and say “sheesh, no kidding� in unison.)

    It is beyond dispute that men are the primary offenders. Ashleigh, I don’t discount your personal experience. 10 to 1 is, in my opinion, a stretch. The relationship counseling articles that I have seen seem to agree on about a 70-30 split, although I can’t remember where I read it and maybe it was wrong to start with. If the indicators of abuse include demanding total control of household money, demanding the partner give up outside friends and hobbies, and criticizing and making demeaning remarks, it seems quite plausible to me that this problem exists in about the same proportions in the church as well, at least in North America.

    I think the point of Julie’s post is that, in the scriptures, women aren’t mentioned much and are almost invisible, and, as a result, sometimes women question their value to God. (Did I say that right? If not, please correct me, but nicely!) I’m really glad she has prepared herself and thought about this and shares what she has learned.

    The point I am making is that we don’t see talks from out current leaders where they praise men just for being men, and make broad generalizations about all our wonderful qualities. Instead, we get quite a bit of repetition about how we need to do better. It is all true, of course. But, once in my life, I’d like to hear a church talk entitled “The Glory of Guys�.

    Besides, I’m going to blame this all on Julie. She started it with her “Talk I never gave�, where she explains how men really are second class citizens in the church.

    What? You mean that talk was meant to be funny? Uh oh . . .

  22. Kristine on October 6, 2004 at 11:08 am

    CB–they don’t *have* to say it to the men, because the scriptures, the history of the church, the structure of the current church, etc. all constantly validate men and maleness as valuable and important. It’s possible to read the more or less constant, (sometimes) insipid praise of women and femaleness as a way to keep women involved without changing the structure to include them and actually treat them as important. I don’t think that’s the whole story–I think the men who say nice things about women are completely sincere, but I also think if they got used to listening to and working with women, the rhetoric would become more balanced.

  23. CB on October 6, 2004 at 11:32 am

    Kristine,

    You’re right, of course.

    Can we agree that, sometimes, even insipid praise is nice to hear?

  24. Renee on October 6, 2004 at 11:36 am

    There are segments of both genders that have their respective problems with unrighteous dominion. That’s what it sounds like you all are talking about. There are heinous men who abuse their priesthood, there are women who are angry, nitpicking, vindictive, unforgiving hags. Both have the capacity for violence. Both hurt their famlies to various degrees. Anyone who would ignore the existence of either group would have their eyes closed. They even exist in all other countries, be they enlightened ones or otherwise.

    As has been said by at least 1 other here, both groups are being addressed, albeit sometimes in different settings. This includes weekly local RS and Priesthood meetings, Teachings of the Prophets books, scriptures, the general RS meeting, stake conferences, in Sunday talks, private meetings with bishops, CES devotionals, Institute classes, Ensign articles, and probably other places as well.

    All one has to do is explore these texts and listen to these communications to know no one is getting off the hook.

  25. Justin on October 6, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    Copies of the painting can be ordered at:

    http://www.newlastsupper.com

  26. maria on October 6, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks for this post, Julie. I’m going to ask for this print for Christmas.

  27. Greg on October 6, 2004 at 6:21 pm

    Following Justin’s link, there are certainly more theologically provocative paintings available there than the new Last Supper. Of all people, Mormons should find the “Creation of Woman” quite interesting. Julie, any chance we could get some exegesis to back up that depiction?

  28. Michael on October 7, 2004 at 10:23 am

    This really is a horrible painting. Not in terms of the concept, but in the realization of the concept. One of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s right up there with the 3-D “Bleeding and Blinking Jesus” postcards.

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