Sexism and the Resurrection

In an earlier post, I discussed the views of Orthodox Rabbi Pinchas Lapide on the resurrection of Jesus. His views are unique for an Orthodox Jew, to say the least, in that he believes that God actually did raise Jesus from the dead – though he does not believe Jesus was the Messiah. One of the evidences that Rabbi Lapide found compelling was that the primary witnesses to the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus were women:

In a purely fictional narrative one would have avoided making women the crown witnesses of the resurrection since they were considered in rabbinic Judaism as incapable of giving valid testimony (compare Luke 24:11).

The distrust toward women's statements in matters of faith goes back to the Hebrew Bible where it says in an old midrash on the Book of Judges (13:8ff) concerning the promised birth of Samson:

"Manoah said to the angel, "Until now I have heard it from the women that I am to have a son . . . but one cannot rely on the words of women; but now the word may come from your mouth, I would like to hear it; because I do not trust her words; perhaps she has changed or omitted or added something" (Numbers Rabbah 10). "

A similar story applies to the matriarch Sarah who simply denied her disbelief in the birth of a son which was promised to her: 'But Sarah denied, saying, 'I did not laugh'" (Gen. 18:15). On the basis of this passage it has been taught that women are unable to give testimony before a court (Yalkut Shimoni I, 82).

This argument, of course, has been made by many others. That women’s testimony was of little or no value is firmly established. And lest we be tempted to think that this fact is merely academic, I recently ran across a relevant reference by Origen. In Contra Celsum 2.55, Celsus charges:

While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. But who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion (an experience which has happened to thousands), or, which is more likely, wanted to impress the others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars....

Obviously, the issue was not academic to the early Christians. The testimony of women is an integral part of the resurrection narratives. But they knew full well that such testimony would be problematic for those they were trying to convert. And so it proved to be. The only explanation is that the stories of the women at the empty tomb and experiencing resurrection appearances of Jesus were so firmly rooted in the Christian tradition that they could not be excised. And since no one would have any reason to invent a story that was of such little apologetic use, the most likely explanation is that the stories are true. Women did find Jesus' tomb empty. Women did experience resurrection appearances of Jesus.


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