Patriarchy and Matriarchy
My story begins with Adam and Eve, the archetypal man and woman, in whom each of us is represented. From the most ancient times their thrilling confrontation has been dramatized in rites and ceremonies throughout the world, as part of a great creation-drama rehearsed at the new year to celebrate the establishment of divine authority on earth in the person of the king and his companion. There is a perfect unity between these two mortals; they are “one flesh.” The word rib expresses the ultimate in proximity, intimacy, and identity. When Jeremiah speaks of “keepers of my tsela (rib)” (Jeremiah 20:10), he means bosom friends, inseparable companions. Such things are to be taken figuratively, as in Moses 3:22 and Genesis 2:22, when we are told not that the woman was made out of the rib or from the rib, but that she was the rib, a powerful metaphor. So likewise “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), “and they shall cleave together as one flesh”—the condition is that of total identity. “Woman, because she was taken out of man” (Moses 3:23; italics added) is interesting because the word woman is here mysteriously an extension of man, a form peculiar to English; what the element wo– or wif– means or where it came from remains a mystery, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Equally mysterious is the idea of the man and woman as the apple of each other’s eye. Philological dictionaries tell us that it is a moot question whether the word apple began with the eye or the fruit. The Greek word is kora or korasion, meaning a little girl or little woman you see in the eye of the beloved; the Latin equivalent is pupilla, from pupa or little doll, from which we get our word pupil. What has diverted me to this is the high degree to which this concept developed in Egypt in the earliest times. The Eye of Re is his daughter, sister, and wife—he sees himself when he looks into her eye, and the other way around. It is the image in the eye that is the ideal, the wdjat, that which is whole and perfect. For “it is not good that man should be alone”; he is incomplete by himself—the man is not without the woman in the Lord. (See 1 Corinthians 11:11.)
The perfect and beautiful union of Adam and Eve excited the envy and jealousy of the Evil One, who made it his prime objective to break it up. He began by making both parties self-conscious and uncomfortable. “Ho, ho,” said he, “you are naked. You had better run and hide, or at least put something on. How do you think you look to your Father?” They had reason to be ashamed, because their nakedness betrayed their disobedience. They had eaten of the forbidden fruit. But Satan wanted to shock them with his pious show of prudish alarm—he had made them ashamed of being seen together, and that was one wedge driven between them.
His first step (or wedge) had been to get one of them to make an important decision without consulting the other. He approached Adam in the absence of Eve with a proposition to make him wise, and being turned down he sought out the woman to find her alone and thus undermine her resistance more easily. It is important that he was able to find them both alone, a point about which the old Jewish legends have a good deal to say. The tradition is that the two were often apart in the Garden engaged in separate tasks to which each was best fitted. In other words, being one flesh did not deprive either of them of individuality or separate interests and activities.
After Eve had eaten the fruit and Satan had won his round, the two were now drastically separated, for they were of different natures. But Eve, who in ancient lore is the one who outwits the serpent and trips him up with his own smartness, defeated this trick by a clever argument. First she asked Adam if he intended to keep all of God’s commandments. Of course he did! All of them? Naturally! And what, pray, was the first and foremost of those commandments? Was it not to multiply and replenish the earth, the universal commandment given to all God’s creatures? And how could they keep that commandment if they were separated? It had undeniable priority over the commandment not to eat the fruit. So Adam could only admit that she was right and go along: “I see that it must be so,” he said, but it was she who made him see it. This is much more than a smart way of winning her point, however. It is the clear declaration that man and woman were put on the earth to stay together and have a family—that is their first obligation and must supersede everything else.
Now a curse was placed on Eve, and it looked as if she would have to pay a high price for taking the initiative in the search for knowledge. To our surprise the identical curse was placed on Adam also. For Eve, God “will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.” (Genesis 3:16.) The key is the word for sorrow, atsav, meaning to labor, to toil, to sweat, to do something very hard. To multiply does not mean to add or increase but to repeat over and over again; the word in the Septuagint is plethynomai, as in the multiplying of words in the repetitious prayers of the ancients. Both the conception and the labor of Eve will be multiple; she will have many children. Then the Lord says to Adam, “In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life” (that is, the bread that his labor must bring forth from the earth). The identical word is used in both cases; the root meaning is to work hard at cutting or digging; both the man and the woman must sorrow and both must labor. (The Septuagint word is lype, meaning bodily or mental strain, discomfort, or affliction.) It means not to be sorry, but to have a hard time. If Eve must labor to bring forth, so too must Adam labor (Genesis 3:17; Moses 4:23) to quicken the earth so it shall bring forth. Both of them bring forth life with sweat and tears, and Adam is not the favored party. If his labor is not as severe as hers, it is more protracted. For Eve’s life will be spared long after her childbearing—”nevertheless thy life shall be spared”—while Adam’s toil must go on to the end of his days: “In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life!” Even retirement is no escape from that sorrow. The thing to notice is that Adam is not let off lightly as a privileged character; he is as bound to Mother Eve as she is to the law of her husband. And why not? If he was willing to follow her, he was also willing to suffer with her, for this affliction was imposed on Adam expressly “because thou hast hearkened unto . . . thy wife and, hast eaten of the fruit.”
And both their names mean the same thing. For one thing they are both called Adam: “And [he] called their name Adam” (Genesis 5:2; italics added). We are told in the book of Moses that Adam means “many,” a claim confirmed by recent studies of the Egyptian name of Atum, Tem, Adamu. The same applies to Eve, whose epithet is “the mother of all living.”
And what a woman! In the Eden story she holds her own as a lone woman in the midst of an all-male cast of no less than seven supermen and angels. Seven males to one lone woman! Interestingly enough, in the lost and fallen world that reverses the celestial order, the ratio is also reversed, when seven women cling to one righteous man. This calls for an explanation: God commanded his creatures to go into the world “two and two,” and yet we presently find the ancient patriarchs with huge families and many wives. What had happened? To anticipate our story, it so happened that when the first great apostasy took place in the days of Adam and Eve, the women, being wise after the nature of Mother Eve, were less prone to be taken in by the enticements of the Cainite world. For one thing they couldn’t—they were too busy having children to get into all that elaborate nonsensical mischief. Seven women could see the light when only one man could.
The numerical imbalance in the Garden is caused by the presence of all the male heavenly visitors on the scene. Why are all the angels male? Some very early Christian writings suggest an interesting explanation. In the earliest Christian poem, “The Pearl,” and in recently discovered Mandaean manuscripts (the Berlin Kephalia), the Christian comes to earth from his heavenly home, leaving his royal parents behind, for a period of testing upon the earth. Then, having overcome the dragon, he returns to the heavenly place, where he is given a rousing welcome. The first person to greet him on his return is his heavenly mother, who was the last one to embrace him as he left to go down to earth. “The first embrace is that which the Mother of Life gave to the First Man as he separated himself from her in order to come down to earth to his testing.” So we have a division of labor. The angels are male because they are missionaries, as the Church on the earth is essentially a missionary organization; the women are engaged in another, but equally important, task: preserving the establishment while the men are away. This relationship is pervasive in the tradition of the race—what the geographer Jean Bruhnes called “the wise force of the earth and the mad force of the sun.” It is beautifully expressed in an ode by Sappho:
The evening brings back all the things that the bright sun of morning has scattered You bring back the sheep, and the goat and the little boy back to his mother.
Odysseus must wander and have his adventures—it is his nature. But life would be nothing to him if he did not know all the time that he had his faithful Penelope waiting for him at home. She is no stick-in-the-mud, however, as things are just as exciting, dangerous, and demanding at home as on the road. (In fact, letters from home to missionary husbands are usually more exciting than their letters from the field.)
So who was the more important? Eve is the first on the scene, not Adam, who woke up only long enough to turn over to fall asleep again; and then when he really woke up he saw the woman standing there, ahead of him, waiting for him. What could he assume but that she had set it all up—she must be the mother of all living! In all that follows she takes the initiative, pursuing the search for ever greater light and knowledge while Adam cautiously holds back. Who was the wiser for that? The first daring step had to be taken, and if in her enthusiasm she let herself be tricked by the persuasive talk of a kindly “brother,” it was no fault of hers. Still it was an act of disobedience for which someone had to pay, and she accepted the responsibility. And had she been so foolish? It is she who perceives and points out to Adam that they have done the right thing after all. Sorrow, yes, but she is willing to pass through it for the sake of knowledge—knowledge of good and evil that will provide the test and the victory for working out their salvation as God intends. It is better this way than the old way; she is the progressive one. She had not led him astray, for God had specifically commanded her to stick to Adam no matter what: “The woman thou gavest me and commanded that she should stay with me: she gave me the fruit, and I did eat.” She takes the initiative, and he hearkens to her—”because thou hast hearkened to thy wife.” She led and he followed. Here Adam comes to her defense as well as his own; if she twisted his arm, she had no choice either. “Don’t you see?” he says to the Lord. “You commanded her to stay with me. What else could she do but take me along with her?”
Next it is the woman who sees through Satan’s disguise of clever hypocrisy, identifies him, and exposes him for what he is. She discovers the principle of opposites by which the world is governed and views it with high-spirited optimism: it is not wrong that there is opposition in everything, it is a constructive principle making it possible for people to be intelligently happy. It is better to know the score than not to know it. Finally, it is the “seed of the woman” that repels the serpent and embraces the gospel: she it is who first accepts the gospel of repentance. There is no patriarchy or matriarchy in the Garden; the two supervise each other. Adam is given no arbitary power; Eve is to heed him only insofar as he obeys their Father—and who decides that? She must keep check on him as much as he does on her. It is, if you will, a system of checks and balances in which each party is as distinct and independent in its sphere as are the departments of government under the Constitution—and just as dependent on each other.
The Dispensation of Adam ended as all great dispensations have ended—in a great apostasy. Adam and Eve brought up their children diligently in the gospel, but the adversary was not idle in his continued attempts to drive wedges between them. He had first to overcome the healthy revulsion, “the enmity,” between his followers and “the seed of the woman,” and he began with Cain, who went all the way with him “for the sake of getting gain.” “And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. And Satan came among them, saying: Believe it not. . . . And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish.” (Moses 5:12—13.) Even in the garden mankind were subject to temptation; but they were not evil by nature—they had to work at that. All have fallen, but how far we fall depends on us. From Cain and Lamech through the Watchers and Enoch to the mandatory cleansing of the Flood, the corruption spread and enveloped all the earth. Central to the drama was a never-ending tension and conflict between the matriarchal and patriarchal orders, both of which were perversions. Each has its peculiar brand of corruption.
The matriarchal cultures are sedentary (remember that the mother stays home either as Penelope or as the princess confined in the tower), that is, agricultural, chthonian, centering around the Earth Mother. The rites are mostly nocturnal, lunar, voluptuous, and licentious. The classic image is that of the great, rich, corrupt, age-old, and oppressive city Babylon, queen of the world, metropolis, fashion center, the super mall, the scarlet woman, the whore of all the earth, whose merchants and bankers are the oppressors of all people. Though the matriarchy makes for softness and decay, beneath the gentle or beguiling or glittering exterior is the fierce toughness, cunning, and ambition of Miss Piggy, Becky Sharp, or Scarlett O’Hara.
The patriarchal order lends itself to equally impressive abuses. It is nomadic. The hero is the wandering Odysseus or knight errant, the miles gloriosus, the pirate, condottière, the free enterpriser—not the farmer tied to wife and soil, but the hunter and soldier out for adventure, glory, and loot; not the city, but the golden horde, the feralis exercitus that sweeps down upon the soft and sedentary cultures of the coast and the river valley. Its gods are sky gods with the raging sun at their head. Its depradations are not by decay but by fire and sword. As predatory and greedy as the matriarchy, it cumulates its wealth not by unquestioned immemorial custom but by sacred and self-serving laws. The perennial routine calls for the patriarchal tribes of the mountains and the steppes to overrun the wealthy and corrupt cities of the plain only to be absorbed and corrupted by them in turn, so that what we end up with in the long run is the worst of both cultures.
In this great apostasy a new relationship of men and women is the keynote. Lamech got the same degree of Master Mahan as Cain did. These dire operations entail great secrecy, and Lamech’s wives “rebelled against him, and declared these things abroad, and had not compassion; wherefore Lamech was despised, and cast out, and came not among the sons of men, lest he should die. And thus the works of darkness began to prevail among all the sons of men.” (Moses 5:53—55; italics added.) Thus with infallible insight the book of Moses introduces us into the perennial year-drama, which in the past fifty years has become a central theme of comparative world religion and literature. We cannot pursue this fascinating subject here, 1 except to note that from now on the king in his ambition has to cope with equally ambitious females. Robert Graves takes us through all the primal myths of the Greeks, where this deadly rivalry is the name of the game. “In this archaic religious system,” he begins, “there were as yet neither gods nor priests, but only a universal goddess and her priestesses, woman being the dominant sex and man her frightened victim.”2 Not a healthy relationship; but matriarchy and patriarchy must always be mortal enemies. Why? Because of the last part of the word, the –archy. In Bailly’s dictionary, the first definition given for the word –arche is “beginning, specifically the origin of a quarrel or ‘a murder'”; the second definition is “command, power, authority,” which is what the quarrel is about. The suffix archy means always to be first in order, whether in time or eminence; the point is that there can only be one first. To be first is Satan’s first principle: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” Whatever the game, the object is to be Number One.
Why do we lay more emphasis on the patriarchal order than the matriarchy in our world today? That is unavoidable if we would maintain a balance between the two, for the matriarchal succession enjoys a great natural advantage that, where it prevails, renders the other all but helpless. There is rarely any doubt as to who a baby’s mother is, but paternity may always be challenged. In the end the only assurance we have of a true patriarchal succession is the word not of the father but of the mother, as the Egyptians well knew—Maat is the official approval of the mother, without which no dynasty could be secure. To assure a true patriarchal succession therefore requires something in the way of checks and controls on the women, a stricter moral code than that required by the matriarchy, which, as we have noted, tends to become lax and promiscuous with the passing of time. With close rules, safeguards, and vigilant surveillance it was only too easy for the patriarchs to become arrogant, dictatorial, self-righteous, and oppressive. The gospel sets absolute limitations beyond which patriarchal authority may not be exercised—the least hint of unkindness acts as a circuit-breaker. “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” (D&C 121:37.) Without that sacred restraint, patriarchal supremacy has ever tended to become abusive.
A wonderful insight into the archaic order in the bad days after the flood is found in the book of Ether:
Now Jared became exceedingly sorrowful because of the loss of the kingdom, for he had set his heart upon the kingdom and upon the glory of the world.
Now the daughter of Jared being exceedingly expert, . . . thought to devise a plan whereby she could redeem the kingdom. . . .
Now the daughter of Jared was exceedingly fair. And . . . she did talk with her father, and said unto him: Whereby hath my father so much sorrow? Hath he not read the record which our fathers brought across the great deep? . . . an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory?
And now, therefore, let my father send for Akish, . . . and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, . . . he will desire me to wife, . . . then shall ye say: I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king. [Here the younger king, at the instigation of the princess, a daughter of Jared, seeks the head of the old king, following the ancient practice.] . . .
And Akish did administer unto them the oaths which were given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain. . . .
And they were kept up by the power of the devil . . . to help such as sought power to gain power, and to murder, and to plunder, and to . . . commit . . . whoredoms. (Ether 8:7—10, 13, 15—16; italics added.)
And . . . Jared was anointed king . . . and he gave unto Akish his daughter to wife.
[Akish is now next in line.] And . . . Akish sought the life of [Jared] . . . and [he] obtained the head of his father-in-law, as he sat upon his throne. . . .
And . . . Akish began to be jealous of his son [and so starved him to death in prison]. . . .
Now the people of Akish were desirous for gain, even as Akish was desirous for power; wherefore, the sons of Akish did offer them money. . . .
And there began to be a war between the sons of Akish and Akish . . . unto the destruction of nearly all the people of the kingdom. (Ether 9:4—5, 7, 11—12; italics added.)
And it all began with a woman: Dux femina facti.
According to the oldest mythologies, all the troubles of the race are but a perennial feud between the matriarchy and patriarchy; between men and women seeking power and gain at each other’s expense.
With infallible instinct Shakespeare takes us into a timeless world of elemental spirits where a fairy king and queen are found shamelessly bickering over a piece of property—a little slave. Proud Titania and jealous Oberon are playing a silly game of one-upmanship—silly, but with appalling results. All nature is blasted and blighted, and the only progeny of the squabbling pair is universal sterility, described in harrowing detail by the queen: “And this progeny of evil comes of us, we are its parent and original!” What dismal parenthood! And it all comes of ambition and greed, to which gods and goddesses as well as kings and queens are prone.
As a sampling of what goes on and on and on, take the Olympian creation myth: “At the beginning of all things Mother Earth emerged from chaos and bore her son Uranus as she slept”; the two of them united to beget a race of monsters as “earth and sky parted in deadly strife,” which, according to Graves, “must refer to the clash between the patriarchal and matriarchal principles.” The giant children revolted against their father, Uranus, who threw them into Tartarus; in revenge the mother persuaded their leader, Cronus, to murder his father; upon coming to the throne, Cronus in turn imprisoned his own sons and married his sister Rhea. Jealous of his children, he destroyed them to keep them from deposing him until their mother conspired with her son, Zeus, to dispatch Cronus exactly as he had his father, Uranus. Prometheus became chief advisor to Zeus, the new king, who chained him to a mountain for being “too philanthropic.” On the mountain Prometheus had a conversation with the girl Io, who was fleeing for her life; Zeus had brutally attacked her in his lust, and his jealous wife, Hera, to avenge herself on him, ordered that Io should be pursued forever by a gadfly. Prometheus prophesied to her, however, that Zeus, the supermacho tyrant, would fall in turn before a hero descended from Io herself. And so it goes, on and on. There must be a better way, and there is.
It was Abraham and Sarah who restored the state of our primal parents, she as well as he, for in the perfect balance they maintained, he is as dependent on her as she on him. With them were restored the covenants and promises of our first parents. The world did everything to force them apart, and if they had thought in terms of power and gain it would certainly have succeeded. What was it that kept them together? The patriarchal narratives bring a new and surprising element into world literature. In the most brutal of worlds they are unique as romantic love stories, in which the female lead enjoys a billing equal if not superior to that of the male, with her own name, genealogy, royalty, and fortune, and as much bargaining power as the man. True, all the marriage brokerage is carried on by families and dynasties, with ambitious parents and arrogant monarchs trying to spoil the love match, but God approves of the romance, and for once the dire attempts at substituting family and dynastic business interests for affection are frustrated. From Abraham and Sarah down through Isaac and Jacob and to Joseph and Asenath, that is the plot of the story.
Thus Pharaoh (Nimrod) feared Abraham’s power and priesthood (as predicted by Nimrod’s astrologers) and so first attempted to prevent Abraham’s birth by putting to death all the male infants born in the kingdom and then by imprisoning him as a child and finally by putting him on an altar from which he was delivered by an angel. Finally the proud monarch surrendered and conceded that the God of Abraham had all the power after all.
It was also a pharaoh who sought the hand of Sarah, the true princess, in order to raise up a royal progeny by her. Upon a royal bed identical in form with the altar of Abraham, she too prayed for deliverance and was rescued by an angel while the king was constrained to recognize Sarah’s true marriage and heritage, bestowing upon her regal insignia and a royal escort. At God’s command, Abraham humbled himself to ask Sarah as a favor to declare herself to be his sister, eligible to marry another and thus save his life. This is only part of the deference that Abraham had to make to his wife, and it left no place for his male pride. Sarah, on the other hand, with equal humility, went to Abraham confessing God’s hand in her childlessness and actually begging him to have children by another woman. Can one imagine a greater test of her pride? When both sides of the equation are reduced, the remainder on both sides is only a great love.
Again the apostasy. Recently scholars have compared Sarah with Helen of Troy, and the latter can show us as well as anyone how the romantic tradition of the patriarchs went sour. It begins with attempts at seduction—wanton perversion of the forbidden fruit. Queenly Hera offers Paris power and gain to get the golden apple from him while Aphrodite promises him the ultimate—sex and prestige, the world’s most beautiful woman for a wife; as for Athena, she is a freak, invented by the patriarchal interests to expedite their takeover of the matriarchal claims: she was not of woman born, but sprang in full masculine armor from the head (not the heart) of the All-Father Zeus—a very masculine damsel, indeed, who always votes with the male contingency; and of course she is ever-virgin and never a mother. Aphrodite got the award—the golden apple—and procured Paris his beautiful wife, who was already married to an obnoxious male chauvinist, who was a king and a serious business rival to her new husband (for the Achaeans and Trojans had long waged old war for the control of the rich grain trade that passed through the straits from Russia). It was Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon, head of the whole vast conglomerate, who led the expedition against Troy. The opening lines of the Iliad show this bully-boy insisting that the hero Achilles turn over to him the fair daughter of the priest Chyses, whom Achilles has won in battle. Agamemnon’s claim to the girl is very simple: he is the boss, and he wants her. To the girl’s father, who comes to ransom her, he bawls out: “No, I am not going to let her go! She’s going to get old and gray in my house, far from her home in the weaving department, and she’s going to bed with me whenever I feel like it. Now you get out of here; don’t bug me—if you want to leave in one piece!” That is the kind of a great leader Agamemnon is. Note here that Greek women were treated like captives because originally they were captives; when the warrior hordes overran the ancient people of the coast, they subjected their matriarchal society to perpetual suppression, though from time to time the smoldering fires broke out fiercely. It is not surprising that Agamemnon, to expedite his journey to Troy, sacrifices his young daughter Iphigenia to Poseidon. But this gave a moral pretext to his wife, Clytemnestra, as ambitious and unscrupulous as he, to connive with her lover in murdering her husband on the day of his return. For which the son, Orestes, murdered his mother and the king who ruled by her sufferance. While the avenging Furies pursued Orestes, the gods took a vote to decide whether his avenging of his father justified the killing of his mother. Not surprisingly, the vote split on party lines, every god voting to acquit the defendant and every goddess voting to convict him—another showdown between male and female. The tie was broken by the vote of Athena, invented for the express purpose, it is believed, of tipping the scales for the patriarchy. She also holds the balance between imperious Zeus and relentless Hera in their ceaseless feuding at the expense of poor Odysseus and Penelope. “Zeus and Hera bickered constantly. Vexed by his infidelities, she often humiliated him by her scheming ways. . . . He never fully trusted Hera. . . . She therefore resorted to ruthless intrigue.” (Iliad 1,53.)
In Egypt, Israel lived under a matriarchal monarchy from which they were delivered under Moses. Moses’ romantic career parallels that of Abraham to a remarkable degree. The tension between matriarchy and patriarchy begins with the Hebrew midwives refusing Pharaoh’s command to put to death all the male babies, an order which the Egyptians carry out with a will. Moses is rescued by his mother, placed in a reed float, and rescued and brought up in the rushes of the Delta swamp by two women, a nurse and a princess-mother (exactly like the infant Horus, protected and raised by Isis and Nephthys in the same swamp of Chemmis). Then Moses marries one of seven water-drawing maidens, who declares her independence and to whose father (not his own father, but his wife’s) the hero always defers. He balks at assuming the role of the pharaoh he has overcome in the sea—and indeed it was not he but Miriam who celebrated the victory over the waters and the rival king. When he turns Nile water into blood, he is performing an age-old rite reserved to the women of Egypt celebrating the founding of the nation by a woman who discovered the land. He leads the people to a place of twelve wells and seventy palms, the symbolic number reminding us that Sarah figures as a palm tree in Abraham’s dream in the Genesis Apocryphon, as Nausicaa does in Odysseus’ fantasy. When the tables are turned against the Egyptians, it is their male first born who perish—another blow at male succession. Surprisingly, it is not Moses but his wife Zipporah who circumcises their first born son and proceeds to rebuke her husband with stinging contempt. Plainly the attempt at patriarchal assertion met tough resistance. The people rejected Moses as their leader even after he had saved them (Exodus 16:2; 32:23) and plunged with a will into the licentious matriarchal rites led by the wives and daughters and their sons under their influence (there is no mention of husbands or brothers), who contributed their gold earrings to make the golden calf. That was Ka Mutef, “Bull of His Mother,” who represented to the Egyptians the youthful pharaoh’s submission to his mother. While they were singing and dancing in the best matriarchal tradition, Moses ordered the death of every male participating in the rites; they were to “slay every man his brother” if he caught him at the party. (This third liquidation of males was followed by a solemn rededication to the patriarchal order: “Consecrate yourselves . . . even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.” [Exodus 32:29; italics added.])
This apostasy had been one of the fastest yet: “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them,” said the Lord to Moses. (Exodus 32:8; italics added.) “My people have sold themselves for gold and silver.” That, along with total depravity, completes the picture and brings the world order back to normal.
After Moses, the romantic David had his women-trouble, as we all know. Like Aaron, he danced in the manner of Pharaoh before the altar, and the queen, looking on, “despised him in her heart.” What need be said of Solomon and the ladies? That supermacho male chauvinist met his match in the Shulamite woman, who outwitted the all-wise Solomon and thoroughly humiliated him. A whole epic cycle revolves around Solomon’s Benedict-and-Beatrice, Petrucchio-and-Catherine game with the Queen of Sheba, who, as Bilqis (the name designates her as a ritual hierodule), matches wits with him for throne and empire, in which he cheats shamelessly but is beaten just the same.
Years ago I collected some hundred versions of the story. Beginning with the account of how Jacob took advantage of the helpless Tamara, who turned his sin against him and came out winner, I was struck to find a whole line of ancient queens doing the same sort of thing—and usually going under the same name. Thus when Cyprus, having conquered all the world but one country, that of the Amazon Massagtae, ignored the wise counsel of his advisor Croesus and invaded that land, its queen Tomyris trapped him at a banquet, where she cut off his head and sloshed it around in a bag of blood. I do not talk about such things for their sensationalism but for their extreme frequency in myth and history—they form a regular pattern, a constant groundwork for history. (In the long line of tragicomic Odi et amo [“I can’t live with you and I can’t live without you!”] confrontations, man and woman stage an endless tournament of dirty events with survival as the prize, in all of which there is something very wrong, however much we have come to relish it in novels and TV programs. Can this be the purpose of the marvelous providence that brings men and women together? If we must all live together in the eternities, it can never be in such a spirit.)
And so we find the celestial order of marriage resorted to again in the meridian of time. From the earliest writings both defending and attacking Christianity, it is clear that the relationship between the sexes was something very special with them. Outsiders were shocked and scandalized, for example, by the promiscuity implied in the Christian practice of calling each other brother and sister. A more-than-ordinary emphasis on family life is apparent in the warnings of First Clement to the leaders of the church that they are neglecting to pay sufficient attention to their own families and the bringing up of their children in the church. The more recent discoveries of early Christian documents allow us insights into the nature of the teaching that incurred the wrathful criticism of an immoral age that did not understand it at all. Thus we learn in the Gospel of Philip and the Apocalypse of Adam how Adam and Eve were united in celestial union before the creation of the world but, upon descending to the earth, became separated, with death entering into the scene. Christ came to earth, says the Gospel of Philip, “for the express purpose of bringing them together in eternal life. Thanks to him those who are united in the Bridal Chamber will never more be separated.” The ordinances here are symbolic, but the images are important models to be followed. Let us recall how often the Lord refers to himself as the Bridegroom. The symbols we have here are indeed meager compared with the perfect glory. The things we do in symbols merely hint at things as they are, “for there is glory above glory and power upon power. . . . The Holy of Holies and the Bridal Chamber, these are the ultimate. . . . Though sin still enslaves us, when the truth is revealed the perfect life will flow for everyone . . . that those who were separated may be united and fulfilled. . . . All who enter the Bridal Chamber may beget in the light—not after the manner of nocturnal mating. . . . Whoever becomes a Son of the Bridal Chamber will receive the light . . . and when he goes out of the world he shall already have received the true instruction through types and images.”
That early Christian ideas of marriage were far from the conventional ones is plain enough from the difficult solution to the problem arrived at in the fourth century, when the ceremonies of the church were widely accommodated to those of the world: “Was the church conquering the world,” asks the great Catholic historian Duchesne, “or was not the world rather conquering the church?” The solution was to accommodate a difficult concept of marriage with the practices of the world and to accept that ancient and established cop-out, celibacy. In the Christian literature of the early centuries, when Christianity was splitting up into many sects, each claiming to possess alone the gnosis, the secret teaching of the Lord to the apostles after his resurrection, one reads much of the tribulations of Sophia, who is equated with Zoa or Eve. Once long ago, she tried to become perfectly independent and go it alone. She was Wisdom, as her name signifies (the Hebrew Hokhma), who is almost a person in the scriptures, but not quite. If the woman is life she is also Wisdom. Well, Sophia thought that she, as the mother of all, could not only produce but govern the universe all by herself; the result was a ghastly abortion. Chastened and terrified, she was rescued by Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, who reached out his hand to her and took her back again, for he needed her too, and only when the two worked together in perfect accord could God’s purpose go forward in the universe. Jesus was born when Caesar Augustus was inaugurating the long line of emperors while his wife Livia was initiating the long and fateful line of imperial wives and mistresses. She poisoned right and left to get her son Tiberius on the throne, not because she loved him, but because that was the way of preserving and increasing her own power—and wealth. (Nobody knew better than the Romans that when the treasury was empty the emperor was finished.) Most of the Roman emperors were murdered by their successors, who in turn were murdered by their successors. Rome’s one original contribution to letters was a brilliant and perceptive line of satirists telling us all about life in the Roman world: the theme, of course, was money and sex.
From the confused jumble of traditions and beliefs of late antiquity (the heritage of very ancient times indeed), there emerged at the beginning of the Middle Ages such mysteries as the Round Table, in which we find rejuvenated the romantic ideal of the hero who is never ambitious for himself, and the lady pure and holy whom he serves. A more dramatic contrast to the reality of the times (as we see in the ten books of Gregory of Tours’ Frankish History) would be hard to imagine. What put a quietus to the Round Table was partly the stress and tension of perpetual dalliance under the code of chivalry—if Lynette snobbishly humiliated her knight, so Galahad prudishly denied his favors to the ladies—but mostly the failure was brought on by the jealousy and ambition (personified by the sinister Mordred) that poisoned the minds of true lovers.
Shakespeare has given us a classic study in sex and power in Macbeth. There is a beautiful relationship between the lord and his lady, until they both start reaching for power. The moral of the play is that the lust for power and gain inevitably destroys the true and proper nature of the sexes. It begins with the archaic matriarchy—dark, chthonian Hecate, no less—who sets three women (the witches) to trap and destroy the hero. But they are unnatural women: “You should be women,” says the hero’s companion when he sees them. But what can these bearded creatures be? Full of confidence, the hero brushes them aside, and yet he is fascinated by them—”Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear your favors or your hate.” Proudly independent, he has already taken the bait and is in the trap. Their prophecies get him all excited, and he writes to his wife, who reads his letter and sees right off that in order to promote themselves she and her husband will have to forget all about their natural roles as man and woman:
Yet do I fear thy nature. It is too full the milk of human kindness. . . .
For Macbeth was a kind man to begin with (the spark of his former self flashes through from time to time during the play), and the lady was known as a sweet and gentle woman. But now she must get down to business:
Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear, And chastise with the valor of my tongue, All that impedes thee from the golden round.
It is the crown they are after. Why settle for less? In view of such a prospect, all their former values are violently wrenched in a new direction as a messenger comes in and tells the lady that they are about to have a royal guest—the king is already in power:
Come you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here. . . . [She must be unsexed to follow her ambition.] Come to my woman’s breasts And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers.
Already milk again: that is the human side of them; both of them share the milk of human kindness—but they must get rid of it to get ahead. Next, flinching from the murder, Macbeth shows his old human self when he is stopped short by the thought of “pity, like a naked newborn babe.” But Lady Macbeth pushes him on by telling him to become a man. He doesn’t like that; a man is one thing, a monster is another: “I dare do all that may become a man. Who dares do more is none.”
You are wrong, she says; I am trying to make a man of you now. That means going all the way:
When durst do it, then you were a man, And to be more . . . would Be so much more the man.
Then she gets back to milk again, and says a terrible thing:
I have given suck, and know How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me. I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this.
Unsexed as a woman, unnatural as a mother—if that’s what it takes to get what she wants. And what does she want? Power. She wins the argument.
Bring forth men-children only, For thy undaunted mettle should compose Nothing but males. [She is too good to be a woman! Women are weak.]
But Lady Macbeth has her moment of weakness: “Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t.” The next words she cries out are, “My husband!” Later she takes him to task: “My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white.”
Macduff tells Lady Macbeth he cannot tell her what has happened:
O gentle lady . . . The repetition, in a woman’s ear, Would murder as it fell. [It should, but she is no longer a woman.]
In fact, someone describes the stormy night as “unnatural.” So the old matriarchs gave Macbeth the crown, but the whole thing is wrong.
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown And put a barren scepter in my grip.
(The words are significant, this sort of success is fruitless and barren.) Macbeth does have a conscience: “Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!” He does not want to involve her in any more murders: “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck” (an almost comical betrayal of how he wanted to think of her still). But at the banquet she is at him again: “Are you a man?” “Proper stuff!” “These flaws and starts . . . would well become a woman’s story at a winter’s fire, authorized by her grandam. Shame itself.” “What, quite unmanned in folly? Fie, for shame!”
The ultimate humiliation is now that he should be like a woman—a silly, superstitious woman, a feeble, helpless old woman.
To the ghost he says: “What man dare, I dare.” “Protest me the baby of the girl [this is as low as self-contempt can get].” “Why, so. Being gone, I am a man again.”
In his rage and frustration he orders the extermination of Macduff’s family:
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls That trace him in his line.
“He has no children,” is Macduff’s reaction when he hears the news. Lady Macduff says when the murderer approaches,
I remember now I am in this world, where to do harm is often laudable, to do good sometime accounted dangerous folly [an utter perversion of values]. Why, then, alas, do I put up that womanly defense?
The young and sensitive Malcolm has had more than he can take and raves:
Nay, had I power, I should Pour the sweet milk of concord into Hell, Uproar the universal peace, confound All unity on earth.
At this point Shakespeare introduces an important but often neglected interlude. To check his raving, Macduff replies to Malcolm that his father and mother were a “most sainted” royal pair.
Malcolm then says: “I am yet unknown to woman, never was forsworn, scarcely have coveted what was my own” (neither sex nor greed had spoiled him).
The doctor then introduces talk of Edward the Confessor, the reigning king of England: “At his touch, such sanctity hath heaven given his hand, [those with maladies] presently amend.”
Malcolm follows with this observation:
A most miraculous work in this good king. . . . to the succeeding royalty he leaves The healing benediction, With this strange virtue He hath the heavenly gift of prophecy, And sundry blessings hang about his throne That speak him full of grace.
This scene sets forth the conditions upon which power may be enjoyed without satanic corruption—only by those who are totally unworldly; for one in a position of power the only alternative to becoming devilish in this world is to be holy.
In the same scene, when Macduff learns the news, Malcolm says, “Dispute it like a man.”
I shall do so, But must also feel it as a man.
For the Macbeths, on the other hand, to be a man was to have no feelings. What does the lady care about such things?
Fie, my lord! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can our power to account?
Get enough power and you can forget about things like feelings and conscience—what can anybody do to you?
As it turns out, Macbeth’s undoing is his contempt of women; the witches, “lying like truth,” have told him to do whatever he pleases “since none of woman born can harm Macbeth.” What’s humanity to him? And he keeps harping on that: no mere woman’s sons can get the best of him!
What’s the boy Malcolm? Was he not born of woman? What’s he That was not born of woman? Such a one . . . Am I to fear, or none. But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn, Brandished by man that’s of a woman born.
So everything collapses when it is plain that the sisters have played him a rare trick:
Accursed be the tongue that tells me so, For it hath cowed my better part of man!
In the last scene the new king calls for punishing “the cruel ministers of this dead butcher and his fiendlike Queen.” A woman unsexed as she was can no longer be called human.
With the rise of commercialism at the end of the Middle Ages came a feeling of liberation—a romantic release for love, and a free field for acquisition. The relationship of the sexes became both romantic and calculating.
From Shakespeare’s and Moliere’s comedies down to Agatha Christie, there is nothing wrong with the beloved’s expectations of ten thousand dollars a year. Gilbert and Sullivan got away with exposing the deep and pious Victorian situation by making great fun of its absurdity: “I’d laugh my pride to scorn in union holy,” says the fair maid, perfectly willing to forget rank and wealth and marry a poor sailor for love alone—on one condition: “Were he more highly born, or I more lowly.” For inevitably it was not true love that triumphed, as sentimental audiences made themselves think, but the ten thousand a year.
Actually the situation had not changed for thousands of years. The standard plot of modern comedy was that of the New Comedy, which Plautus and Terence got from Menander, where the obstacle to true love is overcome not by sacrifice, but by the manipulation of a clever servant who gulls a rich old man or woman, or, even more delightfully, by the discovery of a token that proves after many years that the poor youth or maiden was nobly born after all and is the heir to a handsome fortune: so now they can get married because they are both rich!
And so we come down to the present-day sitcom (where we can laugh freely at everything but the money) and the heavy prime-time show (crime, of course, with single-minded dedication to really big money heavily spiced with the super status symbol: plenty of expensive sex).
One of my daughters has a little book with these words on the cover: “The College Survival Kit: Fifty-One Proven Strategies for Success in Today’s Competitive College World. Survive and succeed—Don’t take chances with your college career.” Survival, success, competitive, career—the dictionary defines strategy as “deception practiced on an enemy.” The word is well chosen. No deception is too shameful to use against an enemy, and whatever the game, your competitor—even the reluctant customer—is the enemy. What a seedbed of mischief this is! The result of this philosophy in terms of human values has recently been the subject of numerous studies. One of the pioneer studies was S. Whyte’s Organization Man, which told us how the company man would never think of wooing or marrying anyone not approved of by his superiors. So much for true love.
A recent summary of many of these investigations is Michael Maccoby’s The Gamesman. The section called “The Head and the Heart” is relevant to our discussion: “A corporate president remarked that if he thought of one word to describe his experience with managers over a period of thirty-five years, that word would be fear.” (There is the cloven hoof again!) “Why are corporate managers fearful?” Mr. Maccoby asks, and he discovers that if the corporate individual could penetrate to the causes of this paralyzing fear and anxiety, he would find careerism. (Can we improve on Satan’s formula as a definition for that? Careerism is the determination to reign in hell rather than serve in heaven.) “From the moment a person starts treating his life as a career, worry is his constant companion. . . . Careerism results not only in constant anxiety, but also in an underdeveloped heart. . . . The careerist constantly betrays himself, since he must ignore idealistic, compassionate, and courageous impulses that might jeopardize his career.”
“Perfect love casts out all fear,” said the Lord, but who wants that if it jeopardizes one’s career? Satan’s promise to split Adam and Eve was accomplished when God declared, “My people have sold themselves for gold and silver.”
The few scattered case studies introduced here are merely straws—but they show where the fatal wind is ever blowing. Thinking back, what was Satan’s express purpose in inaugurating a rule of blood and horror, power and gain on this earth? It was to breach that wall of enmity that protected “the seed of the woman” from his direct attack. Only the covenants of Adam and Abraham and the church of God can overcome it. Though nothing is to be gained by men and women in fighting for the whip handle, that disgraceful tussle will continue until God cuts it short in righteousness.
So one must choose between patriarchy and matriarchy until the Zion of God is truly established upon the earth. It is that old Devil’s dilemma, in which we are asked to take sides with Gog or Magog as his means of decoying us away from our true dedication to that celestial order established in the beginning.
* “Patriarchy and Matriarchy” was first delivered on February 1, 1980, to the annual women’s conference at Brigham Young University.
1. Nibley, Hugh, The Roman Games as the Survival of an Archaic Year-Cult (Berkeley: University of California, 1939).
2. Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1955) 1:28.