Woman (Heb. אשׁהֶ, ishshih [plur. נָשׁים, a masc. form contracted for אַנָשַׁים, men], fem. of אישׁ, ish, as vira [in virago] from vir, and ἀνδρίς from ἀνήρ), like our own term woman, is in the Hebrew (and so the Greek, γυνή') used of married and unmarried females. SEE MAN.
I. Original Position of the Sex. — The derivation of the word shows that, according to the conception of the ancient Israelites, woman was man in a modified form one of the same race, the same genus, as man, a kind of female man. How slightly modified that form is, how little in essential structure woman differs from man. physiology has made abundantly clear. Variant, however, in make as man and woman are, they differ still more in character; and yet the great features of their hearts and minds so closely resemble each other, that it requires no depth of vision to see that these twain are one! This most important fact is characteristically set forth in the Bible in the account given of the formation of woman out of one of Adam's ribs: a representation to which currency may have the more easily been given, from the apparent space there is between the lowest rib and the bones on which the trunk is supported. "And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man." An immediate and natural inference is forthwith made touching the intimacy of the marriage-bond: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh" (Ge 2:21-24). This narrative is hence effectively appealed to as supplying an argument for enforcing the duties of the husband towards the wife (Eph 5:28-31). Those who have been pleased to make free with this simple narrative may well be required to show how a rude age could more effectually have been taught the essential unity of man and woman — a unity of nature which demands, and is perfected only in, a unity of soul. The conception of the Biblical writer goes beyond even this, but does not extend further than science and experience unite to justify. There was solid reason why it was not good for Adam "to be alone." Without a helpmeet he would have been an imperfect being. The genus homo consists of man and woman. Both are necessary to the idea of man. The one supplements the qualities of the other. They are not two, but one flesh, and as one body so one soul.
The entire aim, then, of the narrative in Genesis was, by setting forth certain great physical facts, to show the essential unity of man and woman, yet the dependence of the latter on the former; and so to encourage and foster the tenderest and most considerate love between the two, founded on the peculiar qualities of each pre-eminence, strength, intellectual power, and wisdom on the one side; reliance, softness, grace, and beauty on the other — at the same time that the one set of excellences lose all their worth unless as existing in the possession of the other. Many usages of early times interfered with the preservation of this theoretical equality: we may instance the existence of polygamy, the autocratic powers vested in the head of the family under the patriarchal system, and the treatment of captives. Nevertheless a high tone was maintained generally on this subject by the Mosaic law, and, as far as we have the means of judging, by the force of public opinion.
II. Condition of Ancient Hebrew Females. —
1. Liberty. — Women appear to have enjoyed considerably more freedom among the Jews than is now allowed them in western Asia, although in other respects their condition and employments seem to have been not dissimilar. At present, women of all ranks are much confined to their own houses, and never see the men who visit their husbands or fathers, and in towns they never go abroad without their persons and facesbeing completely shrouded they also take their meals apart from the males, even of their own family. But in the rural districts they enjoy more freedom, and often go about unveiled Among the Jews, women were somewhat less restrained in their intercourse with men, and did not generally conceal their faces when they went abroad. Only one instance occurs in Scripture of women eating with men (Ru 2:14), but that was at a simple refection, and only illustrates the greater freedom of rural manners. Instead of being immured in a harem, or appearing in public with the face covered, the wives and maidens of ancient times mingled freely and openly with the other sex in the duties and amenities of ordinary life. Rebelah travelled on a camel with her face unveiled, until she came into the presence of her affianced (Ge 24:64-65). Jacob saluted Rachel with a kiss in the presence of the shepherds (Ge 29:11). Each of these maidens was engaged in active employment, the former in fetching water from the well, the latter in tending her flock. Sarah wore no veil in Egypt, and yet this formed no ground for supposing her to be married (Ge 12:14-19). An outrage on a maiden in the open field was visited with the severest punishment (De 22:25-27), proving that it was not deemed improper for her to go about unprotected. Further than this, women played no inconsiderable part in public celebrations: Miriam headed a band of women who commemorated with song and dance the overthrow of the Egyptians (Ex 15:20-21); Jephthah's daughter gave her father a triumphal reception (Jg 11:34); the maidens of Shiloh danced publicly in the vineyards at the yearly feast (Jg 21:21); and the women feted Saul and David, on their return from the defeat of the Philistines, with singing and dancing (1Sa 18:6-7). The odes of Deborah (Judges 5) and of Hannah (1Sa 2:1, etc.) exhibit a degree of intellectual cultivation which is in itself a proof of the, position of the sex in that period. Women also occasionally held public offices, particularly that of prophetess or inspired teacher, as instanced in Miriam (Ex 15:20), Huldah (2Ki 22:14), Noadiah (Ne 6:14), Anna (Lu 2:36), and above all Deborah, who applied her prophetical gift to the administration of public affairs, and so was entitled to be styled a "judge" (Jg 4:4). The active part taken by Jezebel in the government of Israel (1Ki 18:13; 1Ki 21:25), and the usurpation of the throne of Judah by Athaliah (2Ki 11:3), further attest the latitude allowed to women in public life.
2. The employments of the women were very various, and sufficiently engrossing. In the earlier or patriarchal state of society, the daughters of, men of substance tended their fathers' flocks (Ge 29:9; Ex 2:16). In ordinary circumstances, the first labor of the day was to grind corn and bake bread. The other cares of the family occupied the rest of the day. The women of the peasantry and of the poor consumed much time in collecting fuel, and in going to the wells for water. The wells were usually outside the towns, and the labor of drawing water from them was by no means confined to poor women. This was usually, but not always, the labor of:the evening; and the water was carried in earthen vessels borne upon the shoulder (Ge 24:15-20; Joh 4:7,28). Working with the needle also occupied much of their time, as it would seem that not only their own clothes but those of the men were made by the women. Such garments, at all events, were either for the use of the family (1Sa 2:19; Pr 31:21), for sale (Pr 31:14,24), or for charity (Ac 9:39). Some of the needlework was very fine, and much valued (Ex 26:36; Ex 28:39; Jg 5:30; Ps 45:14). The women appear to have spun the yarn for all the cloth that was in use (Ex 35:25; Pr 31:19); and much of the weaving seems also to have been executed by them (Jg 16:13-14; Pr 31:22). The tapestries for bed-coverings, mentioned in the last-cited text, were probably produced in the loom, and appear to have been much valued (Pr 7:16). SEE HANDICRAFT.
The value of a virtuous and active housewife forms a frequent topic in the book of Proverbs (Pr 11:16; Pr 12:4; Pr 14:1; Pr 31:10, etc.). Her influence was, of course, proportionably great; and, where there was no second wife, she controlled the arrangements of the house, to the extent of inviting or receiving guests on her own motion (Jg 4:18; 1Sa 25:18, etc.; 2Ki 4:8, etc.). The effect of polygamy was to transfer female influence from the wives to the mother, as is incidentally shown in the application of the term gebirah (literally meaning powerful) to the queen mother (1Ki 2:19; 1Ki 15:13; 2Ki 10:13; 2Ki 24:12; Jer 13:18; Jer 29:2). Polygamy also necessitated a separate establishment for the wives collectively, or for each individually. Thus, in the palace of the Persian monarch there was a "house of the women" (Es 2:9), which was guarded by eunuchs (2:3); in Solomon's palace the harem was connected with, but separate from, the rest of the building (1Ki 7:8); and on journeys each wife had her separate tent (Ge 31:33). In such cases it is probable that the females took their meals apart from the males (Es 1:9); but we have no reason to conclude that the separate system prevailed generally among the Jews. The women were present at festivals, either as attendants on the guests (Joh 12:2), or as themselves guests (Job 1:4; Joh 2:3); and hence there is good ground for concluding that on ordinary occasions also they joined the males at meals, though there is no positive testimony to that effect. SEE EATING.
3. We have no certain information regarding the dress of the women among the poorer classes; but it was probably coarse and simple, and not materially different from that which we now see among the Bedawin women, and the female peasantry of Syria. This consists of drawers, and a long and loose gown of coarse blue linen, with some ornamental bordering wrought with the needle, in another color, about the neck and bosom. The head is covered with a kind of turban, connected with which, behind, is a veil, which covers the neck, back, and bosom. SEE VEIL. We may presume, with still greater certainty, that women of superior condition wore, over their inner dress, a frock or tunic like that of the men, but more closely fitting the person, with a girdle formed by an unfolded kerchief. Their headdress was a kind of turban, with different sorts of veils and wrappers used under various circumstances. The hair was worn long, and, as now, was braided into numerous tresses, with trinkets and ribbons (1Co 11:15; 1Ti 2:9; 1Pe 3:3). With the head-dress the principal ornaments appear to have been connected, such as a jewel for the forehead, and rows of pearls (Song 1:10; Eze 16:12). Ear-rings were also worn (Isa 3:20; Eze 16:12), as well as a nose-jewel, consisting, no doubt, as now, either of a ring inserted in the cartilage of the nose, or an ornament like a button attached to it. The nose-jewel was of gold or silver, and sometimes set with gems (Ge 24:47; Isa 3:21). Bracelets were also generally worn (Isa 3:19; Eze 16:11), and anklets, which, as now, were probably more like fetters than ornaments (Isa 3:16,20). The Jewish women possessed the art of staining their eyelids black, for effect and expression (2Ki 9:30; Jer 4:30; Eze 23:40); and it is more than probable that they had the present practice of staining the nails, and the palms of their hands and soles of their feet, of an iron-rust color, by means of a paste made from the plant called henna (Lawsonia inermis). This plant appears to be mentioned in Song 1:14, and its present use is probably referred to in De 21:12; 2Sa 19:24. SEE DRESS.
4. Family Relations. — The customs concerning marriage, and the circumstances which the relation of wife and mother involved, have been described in the article SEE MARRIAGE.
The Israelites eagerly desired children, and especially sons. Hence the messenger who first brought to the father the news that a son was born, was well rewarded (Job 3:3; Jer 20:15). The event was celebrated with music; and the father, when the child was presented to him, pressed it to his bosom, by which act he was understood to acknowledge it as his own (Ge 1:23; Job 3:12; Ps 22:10). On the eighth day from the birth the child was circumcised (Ge 17:10); at which time also a name was given to it (Lu 1:59). The first-born son was highly esteemed, and had many distinguishing privileges. He had a double portion of the estate (De 21:17); he exercised a sort of parental authority over his younger brothers (Ge 25:23, etc. 27:29; Ex 12:29; 2Ch 21:3); and before the institution of the Levitical priesthood he acted as the priest of the family (Nu 3:12-13; Nu 8:18). The patriarchs exercised the power of taking these privileges from the first-born, and giving them to any other son, or of distributing them among different sons; but this practice was overruled by the Mosaic law (De 21:15-17).
The child continued about three years at the breast of the mother, and a great festival was given at the weaning (Ge 21:8; 1Sa 1:22-24; 2Ch 31:6; Mt 21:16). He remained two years longer in charge of the women, after which he was taken under the especial care of the father, with a view to his proper training (De 6:20-25; De 11:19). It appears that those who wished for their sons better instruction than they were themselves able or willing to give, employed a private teacher, or else sent them to a priest or Levite, who had perhaps several others under his care. The principal object was that they should be well acquainted with the law of Moses; and reading and writing were taught in subservience to this leading object.
The authority of a father was very great among the Israelites, and extended not only to his sons, but to his grandsons — indeed, to all who were descended from him. His power had no recognized limit, and even if he put his son or grandson to death, there was, at first, no law by which he could be brought to account (Ge 21:14; Ge 38:24). But Moses circumscribed this power, by ordering that when a father judged his son worthy of death, he should bring him before the public tribunals. If, however, he had struck or cursed his father or mother, or was refractory or disobedient, he was still liable to capital punishment (Ex 21:15,17; Le 20:9; De 21:18-21). SEE CHILD.
III. Description of Modern Oriental Females. — It will at once be seen that under the influence of a religion, at the bottom of which lay those ideas concerning the relations of the sexes one to another, slavery, on the part of the woman was impossible. This fact is the more noticeable, and it speaks the more loudly in favor of the divine origin of the religion of the Bible, because the East has in all times, down to the present day, kept women everywhere, save in those places in which Judaism and Christianity have prevailed, in a state of low, even if in some cases gilded, bondage, making her the mere toy, plaything, and instrument of man. Nothing can be more painful to contemplate than the humiliating condition in which Islamism still holds its so-called free women — a condition of perpetual childhood — child-hood of mind, while the passions receive constant incense; leaving the fine endowments of woman's soul undeveloped and inert, or crushing them when in any case they may happen to germinate; and converting man into a capricious, haughty idol, for whose will and pleasure the other sex lives and suffers. In those parts of the East where the influence of the Bible has not prevailed, woman has been subjected to degradation, and viewed as little better than the slave of an imperious master. Being mainly immured within the harem, and prohibited from mingling in general society, their minds are left wholly uncultivated; and what time they can spare from their household duties is principally devoted to embroidery, dress, and smoking. This universal want of education, with the influence of polygamy, naturally disqualifies them from being the proper companions of their husbands. The state of morality in the higher circles, in some of the principal Eastern cities, consequent on this condition of society, is just what might be expected. Wherever the influence of Christianity prevails, woman is invariably elevated to her natural position in society — the equal and companion of man.
It will assist the reader in forming a just conception of Hebrew women in the Biblical periods, if we add a few details respecting the actual condition of women in Syria. Mr. Bartlett (Walks about Jerusalem, page 291 sq.) visited the house of a rich. Jew in the metropolis of the Holy Land. We give the substance of his observations:
"On entering his dwelling we found him seated on the low divan, fondling his youngest child; and on our expressing a wish to draw the costume of the female members of his family, he commanded their attendance, but it was some time before they would come forward; when, however, they did present themselves, it was with no sort of reserve whatever. Their costume is chastely elegant. The prominent figure in the room was the married daughter, whose husband, a boy of fourteen or fifteen, as he seemed, wanted nearly a head of the stature of his wife, but was already chargeable with the onerous duties of a father. An oval head-dress of peculiar shape, from which was slung a long veil of embroidered muslin, admirably set off her brow and eyes: the neck was ornamented with jewels, and the bosom with a profusion of gold coins, partly concealed by folds of muslin; a graceful robe of striped silk, with long open sleeves, half-laced under the bosom, invested then whole person, over which was worn a jacket of green silk with short sleeves, leaving the white arm and braceleted hand at liberty. An elderly person sat on the sofa, the mother, whose dress was more grave, her turban less oval, and of blue shawl, and the breast covered entirely to the neck with a kind of ornamented gold tissue, and over all was seen a jacket of fur; she was engaged in knitting, while her younger daughter bent over her in conversation; her dress was similar to that of her sister, but with no gold coins or light muslin folds, and, instead of large ear-rings, the vermilion blossom of the pomegranate formed an exquisite pendant, reflecting its glow upon the dazzling whiteness of her skin. We were surprised at the fairness and delicacy of their complexion, and the vivacity of their manner. Unlike the wives of Oriental Christians, who respectfully attend at a distance till invited to approach, these pretty Jewesses seemed on a perfect footing of equality, and chatted and laughed away without intermission." Many of the daughters of Judah, here and at Hebron, are remarkable for their attractions. Mr. Wolff describes one of them with enthusiasm, and no small unconscious poetry — "the beautiful Sarah," whom his lady met at a "wedding-feast."
"She was scarcely seated when she felt a hand upon hers, and heard a kind greeting. She turned to the voice and saw a most beautiful Jewess, whom I also afterwards saw, and I never beheld a more beautiful and well-behaved lady in my life, except the beautiful girl in the valley of Cashmere; she looked like a queen in Israel. A lovely lady she was; tall, of a fair complexion and blue eyes, and around her forehead and cheeks she wore several roses. No queen had a finer deportment than that Jewess had." Mr. Bartlett was also admitted into the abode of a Christian family in Jerusalem, of whom he thus speaks (pages 205, 206):
"The interior of their houses is similar to those of the Jews. In our intercourse with them we were received with more ceremony than among the former. The mistress of the family is in attendance with her children and servants, and besides pipes and coffee, the guest is presented with saucers of sweetmeats and small glasses of aniseed; which, when done with are taken from him by his fair hostess or her servant, who kiss his hand as they receive them. They are more reserved, often standing during the visit. Their dress is more gorgeous than that of the Jewish women, but not so chastely elegant; it suits well with the languor of their air, their dusky complexion, and large black eyes. The head-dress has a fantastic air, like that of a May- day queen in England, and the bust is a little in the style of
Beauties by sir Peter Lely, Whose drapery hints we may admire freely.'
A heavy shawl is gracefully wreathed round the figure, and the dress, when open, displays long, loose trousers of muslin and small slippers. The ensemble, it must be admitted, is very fascinating, when its wearer is young and lovely." We now pass to the peasantry, and take from Lamartine a sketch of the Syrian women, as seen by him at the foot of Lebanon, on a Sunday. "After having with their families attended divine service, the latter return to their houses to enjoy a repast somewhat more sumptuous than on ordinary days; the women and girls, adorned in their richest clothes, their hair plaited, and all strewn with orange-flowers, scarlet wall-flowers, and carnations, seat themselves on mats before the doors of their dwellings, with their friends and neighbors. It is impossible to describe with the pen the groups so redolent of the picturesque, from the richness of their costume and their beauty, which these females then compose in the landscape. I see among them daily such countenances as Raphael had not beheld even in his dreams as an artist. It is more than the Italian or Greek beauty; there is the nicety of shape, the delicacy of outline, in a word, all that Greek and Roman airt has left us as the most finished model; but it is rendered more bewitching still by a primitive artlessness of expression, by a serene and voluptuous languor, by a heavenly clearness, which the glances from the blue eyes, fringed with black eyelids, cast over the features, and by a smiling archness, a harmony of proportions, a rich whiteness of skin, an indescribable transparency of tint, a metallic gloss upon the hair, a gracefulness of movement, a novelty in the attitudes, and a vibrating silvery tone of voice, which render the young Syrian girl the very hour of the visual paradise. Such admirable and varied beauty is also very common; I never go into the country for an hour without meeting several such females going to the fountains or returning, with their Etruscan urns upon their shoulders, and their naked legs clasped with rings of silver." The ordinary dress of the women of Palestine is not, perhaps much fitted to enhance their natural charms, and yet it admits of ease and dignity in the carriage. Dr. Olin thus describes the customary appearance of both male and female:
"The people wear neither hats, bonnets, nor stockings; both sexes appear in loose, flowing dresses, and red or yellow slippers; the men wear red caps with or without turbans, the women are concealed by white veils, with the exception of the eyes " (2:437).
The singular beauty of the Hebrew women, and the natural warmth of their affections, have conspired to throw gems of domestic loveliness over the pages of the Bible. In no history call there be found an equal number of charming female portraits. From Hagar down to Mary and Martha, the Bible presents pictures of womanly beauty that are unsurpassed and rarely paralleled. But we should very imperfectly represent in these general remarks the formative influence of the female character as seen in the Bible, did, not we refer these amiable traits of character to the original conceptions of which we have spoken, and to the pure and lofty religious ideas which the Biblical books in general present. If woman there appears as the companion and friend of man, if she rises above the condition of being a bearer of children to that noble position which is held by the mother of a family, she owes her elevation in the main to the religion of Moses and to that of Jesus. The first system — as a preparatory one — did not and could not complete the emancipation of woman. The Oriental influence modified the religious so materially as to keep women generally in some considerable subjection. Yet the placing of the fondest desires and the glowing hopes of the nation on some child that was to be born, some son that was to be given, as it made every matron's heart beat high with expectation, raised the tone of self-respect among the women of Israel, and caused them to be regarded by the other sex with lively interest, deep regard, and a sentiment which was akin to reverence. There was, however, needed the finishing touch which the Great Teacher put to the Mosaic view of the relations between the sexes. Recognizing the fundamental truths which were as old as the creation of man, Jesus proceeded to restrain the much-abused facility of divorce, leaving only one cause why the marriage- bond should be broken, and at the same time teaching that as the origin of wedlock was divine, so its severance ought not to be the work of man. Still further — bringing to bear on the domestic ties his own doctrine of immortality, he made the bond coexistent with the undying soul, only teaching that the connection would be refined with the refinement of our affections and our liberation from these tenements of clay in which we now dwell (Mt 5:32; Mt 19:3 sq.; 22:23 sq.). With views so elevated as these, and with affections of the tenderest benignity, the Savior may well have won the warm and gentle hearts of Jewish women. Accordingly, the purest and richest human light that lies on the pages of the New Test. comes from the band of high-minded, faithful, and affectionate women, who are found in connection with Christ from his cradle to his cross, his tomb, and his resurrection. These ennobling influences have operated on society with equal benefit and power. Woman, in the better portions of society, is now a new being. Yet her angelic career is only just begun. She sees what she may, and what under the gospel she ought to be; and ere very long, we trust, a way will be found to employ, in purposes of good, energies of the finest nature, which now waste away from want of scope, in the case and refinements of affluence, if not in the degradations of luxury a most precious offering made to the Moloch of fashion, but which ought to he consecrated to the service of that God who gave these endowments, and of that Saviour who has brought to light the rich capabilities, and exhibited the high and holy vocation, of the female sex. SEE WIFE.
IV. Literature. — Atkinson, Women of Persia (Lond. n.d. 8vo); Jessup, Women of the Arabs (ibid. 1874); Lane, Modern Egyptians, part 1, chapter 6:Thomson, Land and Book, 1:174 sq. On special points, see Selden, Uxor Ebraica (ibid. 1646, and later); Schroder, De Vestitu Mulierum Hebr. (Leyden, 1745, 1776); Sporl, De Ornamentis Hebr. (1758); Srach, De Mulierum Morbis (Strasburg, 1597); Zipser, Ueb. d. Wirter נָשַׁים Und