Constructing a Reading Scenario to Understand the Gender Divided Mediterranean World
© Copyright, 2010, Dr. John J. Pilch.
Kypseli is a "traditional peasant" village on the Greek Island of Thera, known to tourists as Santorini. Geographically, this island is one of the southern Sporades and is included among the group known as the Cyclades. (Consult maps of Greece to locate the island in the Mediterranean precisely.)
This forty-minute film (University of San Francisco) asks the
"how do people structure daily life? how do people make sense out of
In the Mediterranean world both ancient and contemporary, people
daily life by dividing the world into:
Everything: space, objects, animal, time -- all things are divided by gender.clean polluted
The value of this film for Bible students is that except for the modern technology in the village (electricity, for instance), Abraham, Jesus, Paul and all the people who populate the pages of the Bible would be quite at home here. Life-styles and cultural values peculiar to Mediterranean peasants have remained unchanged here for thousands of years.
Since all language derives its meaning from culture, if one knows the culture one can more easily and correctly understand the meaning of the words and phrases one reads. Consider, for instance, the word "family."
In the United States, (1) a family consists of a self-selected mother and father; we marry partners we have personally selected and fallen in love with; (2) all children--boys and girls, younger and older, are equally valued and valuable; and (3) our families tend to be the isolated nuclear variety: a mother-father and their 2.4 children live alone in a home that ordinarily does not include other relatives, nor does the home even have to be close to relatives.
In the ancient and modern Mediterranean world, (1) a family consists of a mother and father in an "arranged" marriage (recall the line in the song "Do you love me?" from Fiddler on the Roof: "but my father and my mother said we'd learn to love each other"); (2) in Mediterranean families, boys have been and still are considered more important than girls, and the oldest boy is the most important of all the boys; (3) families tend to be large and quite extended -- read the commandments in Exodus 20:10// Deut 6:13 on who should keep the Sabbath; and Exodus 20:17// Deut 6:21 concerning the objects a "man" shall not "covet." Notice in these verses what the "extended family" includes; notice also the commandment is directed to adult males.
As you watch this film, pay careful attention to the attitudes and beliefs about men and women in this village. Notice the status and roles of men and women and the importance of gender, age, and social status. Perhaps viewers can make a list of items referring to men and other viewers a list pertaining to women. When the film is ended, the lists can be compared and discussed.
activity = domestic activity = farm and hunt
place in home = kitchen place in home = living room
place outside home = rarely in village square place outside home = village square
kitchen (place for women only) tavern (place for men only)
communal village ovens wine cave, stables
kitchen furnishings and milk-goat farm tools and burden-animals
women eat early men eat alone and separately
courtyard of home = morning courtyard of home = afternoon
no name-day celebration name-day celebration
Marriage not romantic; bride joins two
marriage purchases a son-in-law
to enhance social position
girls do chores, have no childhood young boys play, allowed to have childhood
What does contemporary life on the Greek island of Thera (Santorini) have to do with biblical times?
"Eating meals." Read Exod 12:2, 4, 24; 13:8; Gen 19.
Compare Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:12-17; Matt 14:15-28 (and Mark 8:1-10;
Matt 15:32-39). What does the film suggest about Matthew's concluding
(1) READ: John 4:1-42.
(2) READ: Jerome H. Neyrey, "What's Wrong With This Pictures? John 4, Cultural Stereotypes of Women, and Public and Private Space." Biblical Theology Bulletin 24 (1994) 77-91.
Finally, if you have time and interest, two of my articles
John J. Pilch, "A Window into the Biblical World: Naming the Nameless in the Bible," The Bible Today 44.5 (2006): 315-320.
Write a three page report on Prof. Neyrey's article. In this report make certain you
(1) briefly summarize the contents of the article;
and (2) offer a critical evaluation of it.
1. You will definitely want to review"Rhetorical Criticism" in the document "Interpretation of the Bible in the Church"
2. Don't interpret "public" and "private" space naively and simplistically. Remember space -- like time -- is a mental fiction. Legal discussions about this topic have figured prominently in recent (2009-2010) TIME magazine articles regarding Police and government activities.
3. Keep in mind that John's Gospel is dated as late as 100 A.D.
4. Read John Meier's pages carefully.
Soraya Altorki and Camillia Fawzy El-Solh, editors, Arab Women in the Field: Studying Your Own Society. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1988.
Lila Abu-Lughod, Writing Women's Worlds: Bedouin Stories. Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1993.
John H. Elliott, "The Evil Eye in the First Testament: The Ecology and Culture of a Pervasive Belief," pp. 147-159 in The Bible and the Politics of Exegesis, David Jobling et al. (Eds). Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1991.
Bruce J. Malina, Windows on the World of Jesus: Time Travel to Ancient Judea. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.
John J. Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus Sunday by Sunday: Cycle A (Matthew). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995. Cycle B: (Mark), 1996. Cycle C (Luke), 1997.
John J. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999.
Photo: National Geographic Magazine, October, 1987, pp. 450-451. Divided by sex and custom a family spend Thursday evening relaxing by the Red Sea.