Comments, In Focus, Needle's Eye

‘You shall not commit adultery’… an old command in a new context?

In the 1950s, Joy Davidman (b. 1915), wrote Smoke on the Mountain, about the Ten Commandments. In this work, she presented a feminist interpretation of the command that ‘You shall not commit adultery’.


Nigel Pocock


Miss Davidman showed that this command should be understood against a background of women as property.

For example, the adjacent command ‘not to covet’ lists amongst otherwise exclusively property items, the ‘neighbour’s wife’.

This is the reason for the disciples’ ‘shock-horror’ reaction, when Jesus says that marriage is for life. Women are of equal value to the man, not mere chattel, to be disposed of whenever an inconvenience arises.

In the west, we have a ‘freedom’ driven by money and fantasy. Erotic desire is no doubt good (the Swiss writer and doctor, Paul Tournier, said that ‘God made a made a man to desire a woman, and woman to desire to be desired’), but extremely destructive if subject to human greed about a sexuality that is based not on ‘giving’, but on ‘getting’.

If women think that access to a culture of ‘equally selfish behaviour’ has brought them (collectively) health and healing, the answer has to be an emphatic “No!”—it has brought instead trafficking and sex slavery, whether in brothels or in the form of ‘adult’ media.

As always it is usually the most deprived and damaged who are the most vulnerable. If such women are good-looking…, a double whammy.

A powerful example of this is in the life of Josephine Baker (1906-75)—a stunningly beautiful, creative and talented dancer, singer and actress – but also disadvantaged by education, racism, and family dysfunction – with disastrous outcomes.

How, other than a desperate looking for love, can we explain her five marriages, numerous affairs with both men and women?

And thence look backwards at such things as her almost certainly inadequate parenting, the inheritance of the racism in attitudes shaped by the experience of African-American slavery?

Pro-social people survive trauma best, and together with an evidently extrovert and risk-taking personality, Josephine succeeded in both of the things that made her famous (on stage and during the war), but which contributed to her instability and lack of love in stable intimate relationships.

When there is a desperate sense of need, coupled with a ‘me first’ society, then it becomes very difficult to develop a ‘giving’ (rather than ‘getting’) that grows out of a self-love that is secure and unthreatened.

Coco Chanel

If Paul Tournier is right, that women naturally ‘desire to be desired’, then this can only be nurtured and protected where there is a life-long marriage of equals, with no (dishonest) ‘if’ clause on either side.

This is what the command ‘not to commit adultery’ is designed for – a positive affirmation of a committed and unselfish love of a man for a woman, and a woman for a man – not merely an open-ended mating which treats the woman as chattel, and encourages.

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