A recent piece in the Huffington Post suggests that women were given short shrift in the Bible, citing statistics that show women relegated to silence and anonymity.
“The Bible was written by men largely for men, and women’s contributions are scattered pretty thinly through its pages,” said Greg Carey, a New Testament professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary.
The piece was exploring a book called Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter, which was published in September 2014 by Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman, a female episcopal priest.
Rev. Freeman set out to count all the words spoken by women in the Bible in an attempt to discern what their contribution was to God’s Word. Even though the English-language Bible is a translation–so the word count is much different from what one would find in the Hebrew and Greek–it is still an interesting and worthwhile endeavor.
The HuffPost article, however, took a more tendentious approach, skewing the statistics to make the Bible appear misogynistic. The piece said that the 93 women who speak in the Bible uttered a total of only 14,056 words collectively, “roughly 1.1 percent of the total words in the holy book.”
What the HuffPost failed to mention is that the Bible is not a screenplay, and so the vast majority of words are not “spoken” by anyone at all–they are narration, poetry, prayer, and chronicling. Dialogue in the Bible makes up a tiny percentage of the overall text.
Take the Book of Leviticus, for example. Starting from the beginning, a reader needs to wade through seven chapters before encountering a single word uttered by a human being–in this case, Moses. Everything else is God speaking or a narration of events. Just looking at those chapters (and this was a completely random choice), only 148 words are human dialogue, or about 2.4 percent of the total text.
Or take the Book of Psalms. Though there are traditions regarding its authorship, the book is not made up of dialogue, but of prayer canticles, totaling 44,000 words with no human dialogue whatsoever.
This makes the HuffPost figure of “1.1 percent” entirely misleading.
The essay also mentions that Jesus’ mother, Mary, “utters just 191 words,” while failing to report that her husband Joseph never says a single word at all.
It goes on to lament that Mary Magdalene says only 61 words, but somehow forgets to mention that three of Jesus’ first and most important disciples–James, John, and Andrew–combined speak a grand total of only 129 words in the Bible. Jesus’ most notorious apostle–Judas Iscariot–is allotted only 42 recorded words.
No words at all are attributed to three of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles: Matthew (Levi); James, son of Alphaeus; and Simon the Zealot.
While there is no doubt that more men than women are recorded as speaking in the Bible, no service is done to scholarship by misrepresenting the facts.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.