1. For Women’s History Month, I’ve been reading Phyllis Schlafly’s 1977 classic, The Power of the Positive Woman. After I finish that, I’ll read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Well, I got my copy of The Feminine Mystique today, and it’s over 300 pages, with small print on each page, and with language that’s more complicated than what Schlafly uses! So I decided to step up the pace on my Schlafly reading, so that I’ll be able to start and finish Friedan during this month.
In my Schlafly reading today, Mrs. Schlafly discusses all sorts of issues: the evils of abortion, secular humanism in schools, socialism, pornography, and Salvador Allende of Chile. (It was interesting to read her take on him, since I’ve mostly heard the anti-Pinochet side, which tends to portray Allende as a reformer who got overthrown by the brutal Chilean military, led by Pinochet. According to Mrs. Schlafly, by contrast, Allende’s policies created shortage in Chile, and some of his Communist henchmen were oppressive. She also discusses grass-roots opposition to Allende, and portrays his overthrow as peaceful. How true that is, I’m not entirely sure, for I know some people who fled from Chile during that time! And they weren’t Communists!) In terms of what she was for, she spoke in favor of prayer in public schools, teaching morality that is rooted in God’s law, phonics, the McGuffey readers, and America maintaining a strong national defense in order to protect Judeo-Christian civilization from the forces of Communist tyranny. (She wrote so many books on defense in the 1960’s-1970’s, so I’m not surprised that she mentions it in a book on feminism.)
It wasn’t always easy for me to get a handle on her. On page 152, she tells the stories of two heroic African-American women, who weren’t well-educated, yet prepared their children to succeed by teaching them phonics and morality. Then, on page 155, she makes a remark that would offend some people: The late mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, gave a good demonstration of leadership by coming to grips with the fact that violence in the movies and television is to the urban concentration of teenagers, minorities, and unemployed what a lighted cigarette is to a parched forest. Is there a problem with the concentration of minorities into urban areas? But, on page 162, she calls the Dred Scott case the worst Supreme Court case before Roe vs. Wade came along, so maybe she ultimately redeems herself in this book on the race issue!
She spends pages criticizing a proposal for federally-funded, universal day-care for mothers in all income brackets, decrying this attempt “to offer financial inducements to promote an exodus of mothers and babies from the home”, and affirming that “babies grow and develop better in a family with a mother’s loving care than in an institution” (161). On page 166, she doesn’t care for the idea of homemakers flooding into the job market to compete for jobs with men who earn money for their families, in a time of high unemployment. Yet, on page 175, one of the beliefs of the Positive Woman that she lists is that there should be a “right to equal opportunity in employment and education for all persons regardless of race, creed, sex, or national origin.”
And, although she expresses support for gender roles throughout her book, along with the responsibility of a husband to support his wife, she slightly strays from that on page 165. She criticizes affirmative action because it allows women to take jobs away from men supporting their families, but she supports the Congress authorizing “employers to give job preference in hiring and promotions and retentions during layoffs to the spouse designated as the ‘principal wage earner’ in each family.” She then states that, under this policy, “Each married couple could itself decide which spouse is to be designated as the principal wage earner…” So she’s open to the idea of the woman going out to work and the man staying home as the homemaker? That’s surprising, along with her support of some sort of hiring quota! I thought conservatives supported merit, and merit alone, as the factor to be considered by employers in their search for employees!
Mrs. Schlafly supports teaching morality in school, and, on that note, I want to turn to my reading of H.I. Marrou’s A History of Education in Antiquity. On page 169, Barrou talks about how Hellenistic educators often tried to force Homeric literature to teach wisdom in a rational form. Marrou then comments: This kind of well-meant bowdlerization is usually fatal: any tampering with great poetry for scholastic purposes inevitably results in mediocrity. I remember a school edition of Hamlet in which the earnest editor openly attempted to prove to his young readers that the real hero of the piece, the person whom Shakespeare intended to set before us as a model, was the virtuous, the moral, the successful Fortinbras!
Barrou seems to criticize looking for a hero in Hamlet in an attempt to create an artificial moral lesson (even though I have read that Fortinbras is like the anti-Hamlet, in that Fortinbras is decisive). That ties into my reading today of Louis Feldman’s Josephus’s Interpretation of the Bible. According to Feldman, Josephus tries to present various biblical characters as heroes, as well as seeks to demonstrate that the Hebrew Bible promotes the best of Greco-Roman values. Josephus commends the bloody Joab for honoring the dead. He praises Judaism’s disdain for Jewish intermarriage with foreigners, in order to show the Gentiles that Judaism believes in the Greco-Roman virtue of restraining one’s passions; yet, according to Feldman on page 138, Josephus conveniently ignores the biblical heroes who intermarry with foreigners without criticism from the biblical author. Josephus often omits references to Ruth being a Moabitess, for example. Does Josephus sweep under the rug the biblical teaching that King David descended from an intermarriage between a Jew and a Gentile? In his attempt to make the Bible teach a moral lesson, he deliberately downplays or ignores its messiness.
On page 151 of the Power of the Positive Woman, Mrs. Schlafly supports the classics. Yet I doubt that many of the classics are moralistic in a simplistic sense. They probably go into the complexities of human motivations, the good and the bad. I think that we can get moral lessons from all sorts of works, but the works don’t necessarily have to draw a solid line separating good characters from bad characters.
2. On pages 18-19 of A Law Book for the Diaspora, John Van Seters refers to scholars who doubt that the Covenant Code in Exodus depends on the cuneiform laws of the ancient Near East. This is a radical view! Rather, the scholars Van Seters presents assert that the ancient Near Eastern law-codes and the biblical Covenant Code are similar because they “went through the same social evolution in their development of law.” Moreover, Van Seters mentions the view that the Covenant Code arose from specific court cases, meaning that it wasn’t “the product of learned juristic writing…” A scholar Van Seters discusses, Boecker, maintains that “Any direct connection between cuneiform law and Israelite law is ruled out because of the great separation of the two cultures from each other, especially at such an early stage in Israelite teaching.” But I wonder to what extent Van Seters agrees with this, for Van Seters doesn’t believe that the Covenant Code emerged in an “early stage” of Israelite history (which seems to be the pre-monarchical times); rather, he dates the Covenant Code to the exilic period.
3. On page 35 of Song of Songs, Marvin Pope refers to Franz Delitzsch’s view that the Song of Songs is about Solomon falling in love with a Shulammite woman. That reminded me of how the Bible is not always what I expect it to be! When I first read the Song of Songs, I was expecting to see Solomon as an actual character, but he’s hardly ever mentioned! We’re not even told that the man of the story is Solomon. Then, when I started to follow the plot-line of the book, I was scratching my head a lot. This love-smitten man seems to be afraid. He runs off. He’s challenged by his beloved’s brothers. Would a person with power such as Solomon be like this? Whenever I approach the Bible, I often don’t find what I expect. That’s the adventure of it!