Today I read all of Paul’s epistles in the New Testament from start to finish, something I never did when I was a Christian. No, I haven’t “seen the error of my ways” and converted back to that religion. Rather this is part of my ongoing research into the life and death of Hypatia of Alexandria, the gifted astronomer and philosopher murdered in 415 CE by a mob of Christians in Alexandria. I am seeking for the roots of her murder. Why was she considered a threat to the Christian community and why did that community believe it was morally justifiable to murder her so viciously when Exodus 20:13 is so explicit on the matter?
My reading of the epistles is first and foremost looking for bias — a critical job for any historian. Who was Paul? What did he believe? What biases and bigotries did he possess? Here are my opening conclusions and impressions from reading the epistles as a whole:
This theme continues in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 when he writes regarding all people, “3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.”
Paul sees sexual pleasure as a perversion that keeps men (males) from holiness and living godly lives. Women, seducers that they are, must therefore be tightly controlled and silenced because they through their sexuality are Satan’s tools who will sabotage men at every turn.
This belief that women are seducers and Paul’s incessant missives to control women, to keep them away from places of influence and power, may be at the core of why church leaders in Alexandria were able to ignore Exodus 20:13 and command Hypatia’s murder.
It was not the first time the Bible was used to kill an innocent. It was not the last. But perhaps we can chart a different future, one where religion is no longer the excuse for the inexcusable. Perhaps then we shall have peace.