The history of our society, our religions, and our gender roles is vital to understanding ourselves and our world. Things are not the way we have been told they were. The truth may well shock and anger you.
We are becoming used to conspiracy theories and revisionist history surfacing in an almost constant stream these days. Much real history has been destroyed or distorted, and much we simply never knew. Spin doctors throw an immense amount of PR garbage in our faces to try and manipulate us into their camps. It is difficult to know whom to trust, particularly regarding emotionally loaded issues like religion and sex.
Merlin Stone has written a very good book about the history of gender roles in Western society and the part religion plays in forming these roles. She also gives us insight into the nature of laws regarding sexual behavior and marriage, a subject of considerable interest right at the moment.
The book is very well documented with quotes attributed and citations listed in the bibliography. While the subject of populations in remote historical times can be quite dry when treated in detail, Stone manages to mantain a high degree of academic depth while remaing very readable and accessible.
The book is well organized and leads one through the evidence to her very rational conclusions. She draws on vast amounts of archelogical and historical data, and her arguments are convincing. The information in this book correlates well with information I have seen from other sources in my investigation of why religions and governments put so much time, money, and energy into criminalizing sexual behavior.
The basic theme of the book is that gender roles, the nature of sexual expression, and the rights of women changed drastically when the Aryan-driven patriarchal religions took over in the Middle East. While we have been told that this was an inevitable "progression" as we moved to a "modern" society, the truth is that it was more a matter of physically superior forces destroying any opposing points of view. The changes studied here were not the progress of people thoughtfully moving to new ideals, but of vanquished peoples crushed by violent and greedy religious fervor. The evidence, even from the religious sources themselves, is undeniable. The bias in favor of the triumphant religious structure is shown to still exist today and to reach even into the halls of Science, which exists supposedly to free us from superstitious nonsense.
This is not a book about male-bashing, nor does it promote a particular feminist stance. Stone is not as strident as I sound in this review, but very logical and even-tempered. The conclusions and information in this book shed light on oppression and global violence that effect us all; male, female, or otherwise. When you see that sexual laws and supposed "morals" are actually twisted excuses for oppression and control, it might open your eyes to a new understanding of the debates about sex and marriage happening as I write this (March 2004). I sincerely hope so. We must grow beyond the twisted neuroses of sexually maladjusted, oppressive superstition if we want to make the Earth a safe, warm, loving home for all. Read this book if you want to grow in your understanding of our history, our present, and our future.
on April 1, 2006
In the beginning God was a woman...
I remember picking up the Bible as a young girl, and knowing that something was wrong with the content, especially the lowly status assigned to women. For this reason, I never connected with the Bible. Now I know why. Even without the extensive archaeological evidence that Ms. Stone discovered on the Goddess religion, I know this to be the truth--for thousands of years the Goddess reigned as Queen of the Heaven until Indo-European invaders, who worshiped a thunderbolt wielding war god, wiped it out. Everyone should read this book. Is our world a better place without the Goddess?
The final assault on the Goddess religion by the Levite priests was the most horrifying event in history. The mass murder of women, children and anyone who refused to denounce the Goddess-whole towns were slaughtered-it's all recorded in the Bible. Ask yourself-would a kind and loving God allow that to happen? The civilization that worshiped the Goddess for thousands of years, bringing with them in the earliest times knowledge of agriculture, medicine, architecture, metallurgy, wheeled vehicles, ceramics, textiles and written language were gradually stamped out because the northern invaders wanted to control the paternity of children, and land that the priestesses of the Goddess temples controlled. The legends were re-written to disgrace the sacred sexual customs of Goddess worship, and because of that, all females were regarded as sinful and blamed for the downfall of man in the Bible.
The key to a harmonious world is for both sexes to respect each other and not place one sex above the other-what we need in the world is balance.
I highly recommend this well-researched and well-written account of the murder of the original deity-the Goddess. Ms. Stone did a wonderful job of organizing the information so that it is easy for everyone to understand.
WHEN GOD WAS A WOMAN by Merlin Stone explores the controversy surrounding Eve by examining the links between the Old Testament text and archeological and linguistics research conducted in the 20th century. Although you may not agree with Stone's premise, interpretation of the Old Testament text, or conclusions, if you are one of Eve's daughters you owe it to yourself to learn more about her and how she may have been maligned by the ancient Levite priests when they constructed text such as Genesis, Deuteronomy, and other Old Testament books.
Stone's work has been referenced by feminist writers Margaret Starbird, Sue Monk Kidd, and Lynn Picknett, and her chapter "Unraveling the Myth of Adam and Eve" presents a compelling argument and an interesting perspective, especially when contrasted with Elaine Pagels' ADAM AND EVE AND THE SERPENT, and Joseph Campbell's mythology works.
I enjoyed this book very much. As one who studied the Bible many years and found the murder and mayhem in the Old Testament quite disturbing, I was intrigued by Stone's insights which caused me to reflect on the folks the Hebrews fought. Perhaps they were not nearly so wicked as we were taught to believe ages ago. On top of that, the criticism of women in the Old Testament may be totally unjustified as it was directed towards non-Hebrew women who were forced marry the male Hebrew victors after they had killed their kinsman. In other words, when the walls of Jericho fell, who died?
This book is so stunning, I am amazed that Stone had the courage to write it, let alone that a publishing house published it. If nothing else thia book is an example of having the intellectual courage to address a verboten subject that could lead to a Christian fatwah if Christians did such things. Think of Merlin Stone as Christianity's answer to Salmon Rushdie. Only this is not a work of fiction, however speculative it may be.
The only complaint I have concerns the sourcing of statements. As it happen, I know a bit about the Bible so I could follow Stone's arguments. Unfortunately, she offers direct quotes in some cases, but does not in others. One unfamiliar with the Old Testament might find Stone's book challenging.
on March 11, 2002
Ms. Stone's book continues to be printed, bought and read because she has done a marvelous job bringing together archeological discovery with religious insight, creating a picture of the evolution of God that turns Monotheism on its ear. She suggests that when human beings first began to acknowledge a higher, creative power, that they recognized that power as belonging to the female principle. The first part of the book dedicates itself to the sketchy, distant archaic world that initiated the worship of the Goddess. In time, however, the male principle pushed aside and eventually crushed the worship of the female divinity, and replaced it with a Father God who was responsible for all creation. Now the Male Principle is perceived as the ultimate creative force in the universe, somewhat of an obvious paradox, but one we have bought into for thousands of years. With the tools she develops through an understanding of the rise of Male dominion, she takes a fresh look at the story of Adam and Eve, and comes to some startling conclusions. Could the story have in fact been a carefully contrived myth with little more than a political agenda? Read it and find out.
The book is a little tedious at the start, as Ms. Stone spends considerable time laying the groundwork. In the first 50-60 pages you'll find yourself saying, "All right! I got it!" Then it picks up from there, and the conclusions are well worth the tedium at first (however, that's why I give it only 4 stars).
on March 5, 2002
This is a really good book. ... having read quite a bit of other stuff on proto-Jewish, pre-monotheistic religions, I confirm that the author does stick to pretty well-known facts.
She bases her arguement primarily on a few (pretty-well established) facts, namely:
- that (visibly female) goddess images are *the* oldest religious imagery to have been discovered,
- that animistic religions with large local pantheons abounded for most of human history,
- that the Jewish pentatuch was written in the context of other contemporary religions, and
- that it is an easy jump to believe that prior to the advent of animal domestication/husbandry the relationship between men and pregnancy was probably not well understood/known.
She uses these main pieces of evidence as well as scholorship on pre-historic religions to build a (very convincing) argument that once upon a time when people thought women possessed some magic ability that allowed them to reproduce alone (via parthenogenesis and sans l'homme), femaleness was worshipped. So, people had no clue where babies came from, men were seen as pretty much useless and inheritance was a purely matrilineal affaire. Then, ta da, a big bad monotheistic religion (proto-judaism) came along and said "Forget this stuff about men being useless! No,in fact, the Man is the creator of ALL!And what's more, the woman is born of the man -- contrary to all appearances. And we've got proof, just read this book we wrote called Genesis!"
So, her book is about this; how did we get to this impasse? How did men manage to turn the common sense of the preceding millenea on its head? And how has this situation managed to persist for thousands of years (3 thousand to be exact)? Where did monotheism come from? Where did the notion of male gods come from, for that matter? Were there some groups worshiping male gods and others worshiping female gods which existed concurrently? How did a major female figure of divinity manage to acquire, first, a son, then a consort, then a husband/father? And after she acquired all of these celestial relatives, how did they manage to metaphysically dominate and eventually eclipse her entirely -- making feminity utterly un-associable with divinity until well into the 10TH century (with the cult of Mary)?
So, those sound like pretty good questions, huh? I have read quite a bit on religions, but I would say that this is one of those rare books, where you don't actually have to know anything about the subject to be able to be consistently engaged by the authors reasoning. If you really think the author is totally off the wall, as far as historical facts, then read some other stuff too. But as an arguement, this book is up there with any plausible historical theory.
on March 10, 2000
Merlin Stone pulls no punches that her story has a point of view. The more you buy into a literal interpretaion of the Bible, the more antagonistic this book is. However, for armchair anthropology, this isn't half bad. The fact that she often uses patriarchal sources to prove her point is a bonus. While many may argue with the way things are said, Stone presents some undeniable facts; I was trying to poke holes in her theories and had a good deal of trouble most of the time. Early Judaism wasn't pretty, and what's happpened to women since the Indo-Aryan invasions isn't either. Read this book first and then *The Chalice and the Blade* by Riane Eisler to get a good picture of the history of sexual politics.
on October 6, 2004
First of all, to the reviewer "Jeremiah" in Boston, MA, if you had read the book you would know that Merlin Stone IS in fact a woman. Maybe you shouldn't review books that you haven't read!
As a girl growing up in a male controlled, fundamentalist Christian home, I always felt as though it didn't make sense that if God loved us all equally that he would tell half of the population to submit to the other half. So many things I was taught didn't "ring" true for me. Now it all makes sense.
This book reads a lot like a dissertation, but keep reading because the conclusions she makes are fascinating and eye opening. In the opening of the book she quotes a Hebrew prayer in which men thank God for not making them a woman. Now I can thank God for making me a woman! :D
I will never look at the Bible, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam in quite the same way.
on August 26, 1999
In light of the recent decision by the board of education in Kansas, I now know that we truly live in a society of ignorance. The historical evidence presented in this book is well-researched and I don't feel as though any is taken out of context. I can see why Christians and Jews would take offense to this book because it threatens their supposed one true god. Stone goes point by point taking apart the origin of their religion through the destruction of what had existed as a belief system for eons. Could something had existed before Adam & Eve? Perish the thought! I feel closer to the Goddess now and how things used to be thousands of years ago than I ever did in 10 years of Luthern Sunday School and confirmation class. As for the state of Kansas, I pity the students for they will make ignorant adults when evolution ceases to be taught. Its just another example of "accidental or intentional censorship" of ideas outside of Christian thought. I am truly disgusted with those who are in positions of power nowadays. It is so reminiscent of those long ago patriarchal invaders who propagate their own opinions by making people think its how "its always been."
on October 2, 2001
What a wonderful book! As a woman, this book was such an eye-opener, a breath of fresh air, and provided me confirmation for many of the sneaking suspicions and problems I had with Christianity.
I am a former Evangelical Christian, who has since left and is walking the Witch's path. I had so many problems reconciling my feminist values--my values as a *human*--with the misogyny that left its gross stink seemingly everywhere in Christendom, from the Old Testament to the "megachurch". This feeling grew even deeper as I read more and more of the Bible.The repression of the Feminine Principle in every way shape and form was so clear, so blatant, that I *knew* something was up.
Well, thanks to Ms. Stone, the jig is up! Her research is painstakingly thorough, and although it can get "heavy" at times (thus the reason for 4 and not 5 stars), if you can hang in there through those parts you are well rewarded. Everything flows so seamlessly together, and she makes a very compelling case. I never looked at the Bible the same way after reading this book, it opened my eyes in so many ways.
If there is one problem I have with this book, it's one that actually isn't Ms. Stone's fault. Her work was groundbreaking, revolutionary even, and unfortunately a slew of quack pseudo-scholars have followed in her wake, *poisoning* Wicca and the feminist spirituality movement with theories parading as fact pulled straight out of their arses. So many flaky New Agey sunshine-and-moonbeam twits have taken her well-grounded research and twisted it into all kinds of half-baked "truths", like how ancient Europe was supposedly some granola-eating free-love Earth mama-lovin hippie commune (yes Z. Budapest, DJ Conway et al. my finger is aimed *right at you*).
Tangents aside, this book is critical not only to understanding the origins of Judeo-Christian misogyny, but is also quite helpful in understanding the views espoused by the modern Religious Reich as represented by Robertson, Falwell, Dobson, etc. I highly recommend it, especially to women with fundimentalist backgrounds similar to myself. It was an intergral part of my own healing process.
on February 27, 2007
A better title of this book would read: "Before the Bible, God was a Woman." While I have a slight problem with this authors title of her work matching up her actual subject matter, never have I read anything so well describing the problems I have always had with the Judeo-Christian Bible.
While there were undisputed Indo-European invasions into southern lands for thousands of years, their influence on the conquered peoples' religions is not as easy to determine. Indeed, how can we really know how thought changed between 6000-4000 years ago in the ancient Middle and Near East? Marilyn Stone certainly has her very plausible theories about the consequences of these invasions. While this part of the book is enlightening it isn't as blistering a critique as later in the book. At least the Goddess, and women in general, retained some status and legal rights in cultures around Israeli occupied Canaan.
Once Ms Stone sets her sights on the biblical account of creation and of the subjugation of Canaan, she doesn't hold back. The amount of barbarous acts that the Bible documents against the native Canaanites is amazing. Read Joshua and Kings I and II if you don't believe Ms Stone. Why did this genocide take place? For the simple reason that the native people didn't believe in the "real" God. I felt no man-bashing, as some other reviewers read in her book. I only took away religious extremism at its worst, and women and the Goddess were the victims of this "young upstart" religion of only about 3000 years old called Judaism. This isn't Ms Stone making these numbers up, many biblical scholars believe the Pentateuch was only written between 1200 to 1000 BC.
The absolutely most interesting part of Ms Stones work was the deconstruction of the Genesis creation story. She cites not only how each and every event was carefully constructed to denounce the Goddess religion, and make its practitioners sin against God by every major rite of the old religion, but to also condemn women for all of history afterward to be men's "helpers."
If you ever wondered what bothered you about Patriarchial religion, this book captures the epitome of monotheisms' dark side.