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Testament of Reuben, Women

Reading through the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (Jewish text c. first century CE but with some later Christian edits). What struck me was how Testament of Reuben has a completely different view of women than Jesus, Paul, Peter, or John. For example, from Test. Reub. 5-6:

“Evil are women, my children; and since they have no power or strength over man, they use wiles by outward attractions, that they may draw him to themselves… command your wives and your daughters, that they adorn not their heads and faces to deceive the mind: because every woman who useth these wiles hath been reserved for eternal punishment… Beware, therefore, of fornication; and if you wish to be pure in mind, guard your senses from every woman. And command the women likewise not to associate with men, that they also may be pure in mind. For constant meetings, even though the ungodly deed be not wrought, are to them an irremediable disease, and to us a destruction of Beliar and an eternal reproach.”

To summarize: women are evil, they seek to seduce men, and those who wear makeup to look pretty will go to eternal hell, so men should not look at women, or associate with women, and even if no fornication or other sin happens, meetings between men and women are demonic and lamentable.

Contrast with Paul whose mission-assemblies had men and women present, and the women have the authority to veil their heads (1 Corinthians 11:10). He also allows women to pray and prophesy in the assembly (11:5, and cf 14:34-35 which is not original imo). He does not demand men and women stay segregated until marriage to avoid fornication, but permits single people to remain single or marry as they are called (7:25-35), allowing for an indefinite mixture of unmarried men and women. Meanwhile Jesus has an extended, one-on-one dialogue with the Samaritan woman in John 4. The gospels all depict his women followers as his most faithful, not scattering like the men, and the first to proclaim the resurrection. Similar things can be said about the rest of the New Testament writings. Even the most complicated passages about gender like 1 Tim 2, for all their restriction and differentiation, still do not proscribe men and women being around one another.

Testament of Reuben does not represent “the Jewish view” against which we say that Christianity is better and more enlightened. No, it is just one Jewish text among many others, which all have their own specific, sometimes tendentious and sometimes plausible, views on gender. But Test. Reub. does give us one example of how the early Jesus movement was often more (not fully but more) egalitarian than some of its peers. It also helps us to see Paul and Jesus’s views of gender with more clarity. I know some churches whose teaching on gender sounds a lot more like this comparison text than like Jesus! Last, it reminds me of the reason *why* the early Jesus movement felt this way: on Pentecost the Spirit poured out upon all the sons and daughters of God (Acts 2:17 quoting Joel 2:28) and so women carry the same authorizing and empowering Spirit for service within the life of the Church.

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