Tal Ilan: Jesus – A Champion of Women’s Rights?

Tal Ilan, “Gender,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, second edition, edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 612:

The only New Testament law that touches on women relates to divorce, and Jesus is certainly not depicted here as a champion of women’s rights. According to Mark and Luke, and once according to Matthew, Jesus forbids divorce under any circumstances (Mt 19.3-9; Mk 10.2-12; Lk 16.18). Elsewhere in Matthew (5.31), Jesus allows divorce only in cases of porneia, sexual transgression, meaning a wife’s sexual infidelity to her husband (but not vice versa). This legislation on divorce, even with Matthew’s reservations, may appear to be fairer than the law that permits only the husband to initiate divorce, which may have been the Pharisaic norm, as reflected in the Mishnah in the name of the House of Hillel and Rabbi Akiva (m. Git. 9.10; the House of Shemmai’s approach is identical to the one voiced by Matthew. However, outlawing divorce does not in reality improve the situation of women. It does not make for happier marriages, for in an unhappy marriage, a woman might prefer to be divorced by her husband rather than to stay with the man who makes her unhappy. Neither the Pharisees nor Jesus were thinking about the plight of unhappy women; both are instead disputing a practice of that time, of Jewish women divorcing their husbands….

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