In 1895, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a committee of other women published The Woman's Bible. In 1888, the Church of England published its Revised Version of the Bible, the first major revision in English since the Authorized Version of 1611, better known as the King James Bible. Dissatisfied with the translation and with the failure of the committee to consult with or include Biblical scholar Julia Smith, the "reviewing committee" published their comments on the Bible. Their intent was to highlight the small part of the Bible that focused on women, as well as to correct Biblical interpretation which they believed was biased unfairly against women.
The committee did not consist of trained Biblical scholars, but rather interested women who took both Biblical study and women's rights seriously. Their individual commentaries, usually a few paragraphs about a group of related verses, were published though they did not always agree with one another nor did they write with the same level of scholarship or writing skill. The commentary is less valuable as strictly academic Biblical scholarship, but far more valuable as it reflected the thought of many women (and men) of the time towards religion and the Bible.
It probably goes without saying that the book met with considerable criticism for its liberal view on the Bible.Here's one small excerpt from The Woman's Bible. [from: The Woman's Bible, 1895/1898, Chapter II: Comments on Genesis, pp. 20-21.]
As the account of the creation in the first chapter is in harmony with science, common sense, and the experience of mankind in natural laws, the inquiry naturally arises, why should there be two contradictory accounts in the same book, of the same event? It is fair to infer that the second version, which is found in some form in the different religions of all nations, is a mere allegory, symbolizing some mysterious conception of a highly imaginative editor.
The first account dignifies woman as an important factor in the creation, equal in power and glory with man. The second makes her a mere afterthought. The world in good running order without her. The only reason for her advent being the solitude of man.
There is something sublime in bringing order out of chaos; light out of darkness; giving each planet its place in the solar system; oceans and lands their limits; wholly inconsistent with a petty surgical operation, to find material for the mother of the, race. It is on this allegory that all the enemies of women rest, their battering rams, to prove her. inferiority. Accepting the view that man was prior in the creation, some Scriptural writers say that as the woman was of the man, therefore, her position should be one of subjection. Grant it, then as the historical fact is reversed in our day, and the man is now of the woman, shall his place be one of subjection?
The equal position declared in the first account must prove more satisfactory to both sexes; created alike in the image of God -The Heavenly Mother and Father.
Thus, the Old Testament, "in the beginning," proclaims the simultaneous creation of man and woman, the eternity and equality of sex; and the New Testament echoes back through the centuries the individual sovereignty of woman growing out of this natural fact. Paul, in speaking of equality as the very soul and essence of Christianity, said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." With this recognition of the feminine element in the Godhead in the Old Testament, and this declaration of the equality of the sexes in the New, we may well wonder at the contemptible status woman occupies in the Christian Church of to-day.
All the commentators and publicists writing on woman's position, go through an immense amount of fine-spun metaphysical speculations, to prove her subordination in harmony with the Creator's original design.
It is evident that some wily writer, seeing the perfect equality of man and woman in the first chapter, felt it important for the dignity and dominion of man to effect woman's subordination in some way. To do this a spirit of evil must be introduced, which at once proved itself stronger than the spirit of good, and man's supremacy was based on the downfall of all that had just been pronounced very good. This spirit of evil evidently existed before the supposed fall of man, hence woman was not the origin of sin as so often asserted.
E. C. S.