Using Fiction to Highlight The Historical Oppression of Women

Keeper of Relics is a fantasy novel that places men in social roles historically assigned to women in patriarchal societies.  Often these social roles were prescribed for women “in the name of God.”

Tragically, many of these roles were created by men who had a vested interest in maintaining power and privilege in their social order.  As a result, women were often stripped of their personhood, and relegated to the position of subordinate servants to “male authority.”  

Here is a list of just some of the injustices perpetrated against women that are reflected in the novel:

In the 3rd century AD, Origen of Alexandria combined the Christian faith with a patriarchal, nonbiblical, human philosophy called Neoplatonism. He then concluded, “God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine.” (Selecta in Exodum)

In the 4th century AD, Roman Bishop Augustine of Hippo declared, “the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God” (On the Trinity §10). Augustine–like Origen–used Neoplatonic philosophy as an interpretive guide to the Bible.

In the 4th century AD, Latin Bible translator St. Jerome–strongly influenced by Origen’s Neoplatonism–declared that women were “reduced to the condition of a slave,” as punishment for Eve’s transgression (Against Jovinianus, Book 1 §27).

Canon law of the 12th century AD drew upon an influential document called Gratian’s Decretum. This document recommended banning women from serving as teachers or leaders in the church. This ban was based upon Roman law and the commentary work of patriarchal theologians; it was not based upon the Bible.

In keeping with canon law of the 13th century AD, Junia–the female apostle mentioned in the New Testament book of Romans–had her name changed to a man’s (Junias) by Aegidius Romanus, Archbishop of Bourges.

In the 13th century AD, the Inquisition began arresting women who claimed to be able to relate directly to God, without the mediation of an exclusively male priesthood. These women were found guilty of heresy and/or witchcraft and burned to death at the stake. Thousands of women were killed.

In the 15th century AD, a 17 year old young woman named Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) received visions from God about the liberation of France from English occupation. Following the direction of these visions, she led the French army that freed the city of Orleans from an English siege. Jeanne was later captured, sold to the English, and tried by the Inquisition. She was found guilty of heresy and of wearing men’s clothing into battle. She was burned to death at the stake.

Throughout the Middle Ages, women accused of witchcraft were tried by water. Those who floated were pronounced guilty and executed. Those who sank to their deaths were declared innocent.

In direct contrast to this terrible history, the Bible portrays both women and men as created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). The apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

In our oldest available Bible manuscripts, God is not portrayed as a Being that subjugates one group of people to another on the basis of their gender. Rather, God is portrayed as “Love” (1 John 4:8); women in both Old and New Testaments are portrayed as judges, leaders, teachers, prophets, ministers and apostles.

My hope is that this “role-reversal” in fantasy literature will help to highlight just how different God’s love is from religious traditions that have subjected one group of people to another, solely on the basis of their gender.

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