What was life like for the women of the Old Testament?
You are asking a very broad question, so I am afraid I will have
to give a somewhat vague answer. The reason this is a hard question to
answer is that the Old Testament covers a time span (not including the
first eleven chapters of Genesis which are hard to date) from about 1850
BC to around 450 BC. This is about fourteen centuries. Imagine how
differently women are treated today than one thousand four hundred years
ago! Also making this hard to answer is the fact that parts of the Old
Testament occur in Mesopotamia, parts in Egypt, and parts in Palestine.
These were very different cultures with dramatically different treatment
Having said all this, it is worth noting that the Bible itself is
without a doubt the most accurate and reliable book of ancient history we
have available to us. In other words the best way to answer how women
were treated in the Near East at this time is to read the Bible. It is
loaded with information about how women were treated. Let me supply at
least a few generalizations. It would be fair to say that women were not
treated as equals with men in these ancient societies. Unfortunately,
this charge would even hold true for the Hebrews. A famous common saying
of Jewish men back then was, “Thank God for not making me a Samaritan or a
woman.” When Jesus stopped to talk to the woman at the well in John
chapter four he was breaking one of the basic traditions of the Jews,
which is that men were not allowed to speak to women in public. This, of
course, is a New Testament rather than an Old Testament example, but it is
safe to assume that the treatment of women in general was not a lot better
at earlier times. Despite some differences in cultures and times, in the
ancient Near East, one can generalize that women were expected to work in
the home or in the fields. Men held all or virtually all the positions of
honor and power. Women’s lives were very hard because they obviously did
not have access to any of our modern conveniences.
Although “Christian” cultures were very slow to change, one can
easily trace almost all the advances which have opened the way for women
in Western culture to have occurred in societies which were significantly
impacted by Bible-oriented Christianity. Jesus treated women with a level
of respect which was almost completely unknown in his time. Those who
follow the heart of Jesus do the same.
To summarize, if I were a woman, I definitely would not want to
trade places with another woman who lived in Old Testament times.