Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

Early leaders in the Christian faith: Dorcas, Lydia, & Phoebe

Lydia-st-lydias-261x300A friend on Facebook reminded me that today was the commemoration of Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe. Who you  may ask? Let me tell you all about them:

Dorcas

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the [Christ] (Acts 9:37-42).

You almost miss Dorcas’ story. After all most of Acts 9 is taken up with Saul’s conversion (later to become the apostle Paul) to Christianity after leading the persecution against the early church. So after God literally threw Saul off his ass (sorry I just cannot resist that one), he went blind, was healed and started preaching, the focus of the story quietly changes to Dorcas. By the time we meet her, she has died. This is a great lost to her community because she took such good care of them. And she took very good care of those who were considered the least of these: widows. Woman without a husband had no social standing at this time. They were normally destitute women who were forced to beg or to become prostitutes to support themselves and their children. If a woman did not have family at this time, she was in a very precarious place. Dorcas made sure these women had clothes. Now when the story tells us that Dorcas made the clothes, it means a little bit more than she cut some material and sewed it. First she would have to spin the fiber into thread then weave it on her loom for the tunics and clothing she made. This was truly a labor of love on her part to make sure those in her community were at least dressed. She may have also weaved pieces for local merchants to sell in order to support herself (there is no mention of a husband). As long as a woman had a loom and access to wool or flax, she could make a living. Apparently not all the widows Dorcas knew had their own looms to make their own clothes or clothing to sell. Dorcas made sure they had the clothing they needed to survive.

Her illness and death was a big loss to the community, so they sent messengers to a nearby town because they heard Peter was there. Peter came, and the widows showed him the clothing Dorcas had made them. Peter responded to their grief. After sending everyone outside, he prayed and then said to her, “Tabitha get up.” She rose from the dead and was restored to her community. News spread. More people believed in God.

Lydia

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. [God] opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to [God], come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16:11-15).

Paul and his traveling companions arrived in Philippi. There was no synagogue for them to worship at, so they decided to go to the river on the Sabbath where there was a place of prayer. Lydia was at the river. She was “a worshiper of God,” and listened to Paul’s teachings. In fact, we are told God “opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” In the next verse she and her household were baptized, and she urged Paul and his travelers to stay in her house. Lydia was the first convert to Christianity in Europe.

Lydia was a businesswoman, “a dealer of purple cloth” from Thyatira. Purple dye was a symbol of power and honor in the ancient world, and it was the most expensive and sought after dye in the Roman world. Thyatira was the capitol of the industry and renowned for its purple dyes. One had to have plenty of capital to deal in purple dye and the making of purple garments for sale. Lydia was a career woman, rich, the head of her household, and Acts 16:40 implies that by the end of Paul’s stay in Philippi a new church was meeting in Lydia’s home. All of this could mean that Lydia was the overseer or pastor of the first church plant in Europe.

Phoebe

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the [Christ] as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well (Romans 16:1-2).

Paul highly commended and respected Phoebe. He called her a “sister,” “deacon,” and “benefactor” to the church at Cenchreae as well as a sister and benefactor to Paul.

The odd thing about diakonos or “deacon” being used to describe Phoebe is that it is the masculine form of the word used to describe a woman. It is the same word Paul uses when he calls Timothy and Titus “servants” or “deacons” (or pastors) of their respective churches. Another thing that makes this phrase odd is that Phoebe is called the “deacon of the church of Cenchreae.” This is the only place in the New Testament where diakonos is followed by a specific congregation. This is the only place linking a specific person’s ministry with a specific church. This seems to indicate that Phoebe served as a deacon in the church at Cenchreae.

Paul uses another word to describe Phoebe: prostatis. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. This word is normally translated so that it’s main meaning is not obvious. The normal translation is “helper” or someone who has helped. The basic and most obvious translation of the word from classical Greek is “patron” or “benefactor,” and women in this role, are well attested in the Greco-Roman world. In the Greco-Roman world wealthy women sponsored the arts, philosophers, writers, and politicians. They paid them and gave them the social standing they needed to succeed. Phoebe was a wealthy woman who served the church out of her means as the women in Luke 8 served Jesus out of theirs. For Paul to say that Phoebe was a benefactor to him meant that she had probably helped to support his missionary travels financially. It’s also very likely she was known in Rome, and she has the appropriate social status and clout to introduce Paul to the churches in Rome. Churches Paul had not had any dealings with, nor had he helped plant them.

Phoebe was a woman who had her own means, and served the church in a leadership role. Paul comes very close to commanding churches he had no hand in planting, and Christians, most of whom he had never met, to welcome her and provide anything she needed. She was not only a deacon and a benefactor in the church, but Paul himself had also benefited from her generous leadership.

Prayer: “Filled with your Holy Spirit, gracious God, your earliest disciples served you with the gifts each had been given: Lydia in business and stewardship, Dorcas in a life of charity and Phoebe as a deacon who served many. Inspire us today to build up your Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen” (from Satucket.com).

Pope Martha Anyone?

This is the second year I’ve taken part in a thing called Lent Madness. Two wonderful Episcopal priests came up with a bracket of saints each Lent for living saints to read about and vote on. The winner takes The Golden Halo. Today pits Martha of Bethany against Harriet Tubman. I thought it would be a good day to repost this article on Martha showing how important homemakers were to the Early Church. After you read it, head over to Lent Madness and vote for Martha!

 

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Vincenzo Campi

July 29 is the feast day of the sisters Martha and Mary. I’ve written on both sisters before here, here, here, and here. But the one thing I’ve never written on concerning the sisters is that Martha’s skills in the home were instrumental in the establishment of the church and giving the church a foothold in wider Greco-Roman society. Martha usually takes a lot of slack for her homemaking skills due to Luke 10:38-42:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (NRSV).

This is an important passage for women being disciples along with men, and Jesus treating his male and female disciples equally. But I’ve done lots of writing on that subject. It’s time to look at the busy homemakers of the The New Testament, the Marthas. The New Testament lists several women who hosted churches in their home:

  • Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12-17)
  • Lydia (Acts 16:11-15)
  • Priscilla (Romans 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19)
  • Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11)
  • Nympha (Colossians 4:15)
  • The Elect Lady of 2 John

In order for there to be enough room for the church to meet, the homes they met in were probably the homes of the richer members of the church. We see this with Lydia: she was a merchant, and had her own household with slaves. She was a rich businesswoman. In Luke 10 Martha is preparing a meal for Jesus and his 12 disciples. In order to accommodate this many people Martha, Mary, and Lazarus had to be rich. Martha was used to running a large house.

Guardian, Military Commander, Queen

In the Greek philosopher, Socrates’ book Oeconomicus (Economics), we see the kind of power the matrona, matron of the house had. Socrates said these were the matron’s responsibilities:

Supervision of all comings and goings in the house, protection and distribution of supplies, supervision of weaving and food production, care of sick slaves, instruction slaves in household skills, rewarding and punishing slaves, in short independent management of an entire household (7.36-43). She is to be the guardian of its laws, like a military commander, a city councilor, or a queen… (A Woman’s Place*, 146).

The matron was not only responsible for everything that went on in her home and estate, she was also to set an example by working with her servants and slaves. Matrons spun wool and flax, wove, and prepared food. In Greek and Roman literature writers and poets pictured the ideal Roman matron as one who wove cloth and clothed her family with her own hands.

According to the literature of the time (reading between the male centric lines) the matron of the household operated independently of her husband, and the husband liked it that way. The matron was the queen of her domain.

“It is surprising how much responsibility is expected of wives: total management of household resources, personnel, and production–quite a different picture from the passive image of the wife in the New Testament household codes. This literature gives us insight into how wives and hence widows were perfectly used to being independent household managers and how men expected them be just that” (p. 152).

The household was a woman’s place. So what does that mean for the early church that met in these women’s spaces where women were expected to be the leaders and managers?

This is my body…

It means the members of the churches that met during the time of the New Testament would not have thought twice about women being leaders in their services. It would also not be unusual for a woman to preside over the love feast and communion during this time:

The host of the meal would have been the ordinary leader of any toasts that took place and, in Christian groups, of the special blessing and sharing of bread and cup with ritual words toward the end of the eating portion of the meal (p. 159).

As meals fell under the domain of the woman in the house, it would not be unusual for the matron of the house to preside over the meal. There are also women like Mary, Nympha, Lydia, and Chloe who are not linked with husbands, which meant they hosted the love feasts in their homes and presided over communion. A typical Roman meal also included discussions on philosophy, along with teaching. Most of the teaching and preaching that happened in the early church probably happened around the table while everyone was eating, and the matron of the household presided over it all making sure everything ran smoothly.

“Women were expected to independently manage their households, with or without a husband. Therefore, to step into a Christian house church was to step into women’s world” (p. 163).

What does all of this have to do with Martha?

Martha started it. Martha hosted the first church in her home. She provided shelter and food for Jesus and his disciples. Jesus taught in her home. Jesus ate in her home. Martha was the first hostess of the church.

There is one more thing about Martha that gets overlooked that we should look at. In John we meet Martha in chapter 11, and she is not happy. She had sent a message to Jesus that her brother Lazarus was sick, and asked him to come and heal him. Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead before he set off for Bethany where Martha lived. Martha met Jesus on the road and accused him of letting Lazarus die. But in her anger and grief, she still believed that Godde would do what Jesus asked. When Jesus asked her if she believed that Jesus was the resurrection and life her answer was:

Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. –John 11:27

In John Martha made the confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of Godde, not Peter. In John Martha’s confession is the rock the church is built on. So my question is this: Pope Martha anyone? In John Godde revealed to Martha what flesh and blood had not, and she is indeed blessed for proclaiming the faith that is the rock on which the church is built. Not only did Martha make that confession of faith, but her home became a meeting place for the early church. Not all apostles and “popes” traveled to tell about Jesus, some of them stayed put and offered the hospitality and protection of their homes for the beginning Christian movement.

The early church depended on homemakers, like Martha, to provide an organized, well-run home for them to meet in. It was the woman who made sure the meal was ready and presided over the meal and all that happened during the meal. Jesus may have discounted Martha’s worries over the meal. May be Martha did allow herself to be distracted by too many things. But the early church gives a different testimony about Martha, her duties, and her worries. Without women like Martha efficiently running large, rich households there would be no church.

*”Women Leaders of Households and Christian Assemblies” in A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity by Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald with Janet H. Tulloch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 144-163.

For more on the women in John, and their influence and leadership in the Early Church, see Did Early Christians Agree on Women Leaders?

W&S Cover 2Would you like to learn even more about the women in the Bible? Buy my new book What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down (Amazon, Wifp & Stock) and meet women like Martha who were business women, leaders, and prophets. You might be amazed when you find out what you didn’t learn in Sunday School.

Women's History Month: St Frances of Rome

Today is the feast day of one of the few married woman saints: Frances of Rome. I found it highly ironic and funny that this was today’s Epistle reading in The Book of Common Prayer:

Now about what you wrote: “It’s good for people not to touch each other.” But because of promiscuity, everyone should have their own spouse. Spouses should fulfill their duty to each other. Committed people don’t have authority over their own bodies, but their spouses do. Don’t deprive each other, except by mutual consent for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to [fasting and] prayer, and then come together again so the Satan won’t tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a precept. I actually wish that all people were like me. But everyone has their own gift from Godde; one has this and another has that.

I say to the single and widowed, it’s good for them if they remain like me. But if they don’t have self-control, they should marry, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:1-9, DFV)

Aah Paul, you old curmudgeon. The thing I hate the most about his allowance to marriage is that  he doesn’t even use his own Jewish tradition to defend marriage. He says, “Well, OK, if you’re going to screw anything with two legs then get married, but you really should be a curmudgeonly celibate single like me.” (Disclaimer: I was single for 36 years and loved it–thought for awhile I might not marry–now I am married. I LOVE being married. I’ve been happy on both sides of the fence.)

Here is what Paul’s defense of marriage should have looked like:

Aquila and Priscilla

Remember why our Godde created marriage in the first place. In the beginning…

Sophia-Yahweh said, “It is not good for the human to be alone. I will make it a power equal to it.”

Sophia-Yahweh caused the human to fall into a deep sleep. As the human slept, Godde took one of its ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Sophia-Yahweh made a woman from the rib which was taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of man.” Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh (Genesis 2:18, 21-24, adapted from the World English Bible).

So you see dear sisters and brothers in Corinth, it is fine if you want to stay single, but marriage is Godde-ordained as well. Godde made marriage because it was not good for the human to be alone. Now the communion does not have to be marriage–that’s why Jesus had disciples. It is not good for us to be alone, which is why we need both marriage and community. We can’t make it though this life alone. Both marriage and celibacy have their place in the world and in the community. Some will stay single like me. Most will marry like Peter and his wife (1 Corinthians 9:5), Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2), and Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). Both celibates and couples can serve Godde and bring Godde’s kingdom into the here and now by loving each other, loving the stranger, and showing the world around us that life can be different.

That’s what Paul should’ve said to the Corinthians.

Saint Frances is the perfect example of this vision of the Christian life and marriage. She lived what Paul should have said.

Saint Frances of Rome

Saint Frances ministering in her house and church

I am used to seeing medieval women saints as nuns. Either they are single or a widow. I was delighted a few years ago when I discovered a married woman saint who lived during the 14th century. March 9 is the feast day of St. Frances of Rome who was a Benedictine oblate. She was also married. An oblate is a lay person who is connected to a Benedictine community and observes The Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life at home and work. St. Frances founded a lay congregation of women called the Oblates of Mary; they were attached to the church of Santa Maria Nova in Rome. The order she founded is now known as the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome. In this period of Christianity there were nuns who chose God’s highest calling and wives who settled for marriage. Rarely have I read of a woman who was both a contemplative and wife. Not to mention a saint. And she didn’t settle. She obeyed Godde’s calling for her life right where she was in her marriage and home.

After her marriage, [Frances] continued an intense spiritual life of reading, prayer and visiting churches . . . she built a chapel in their palace, visited the sick, gave alms to the poor, and nursed patients in the hospital of Santo Spiritu. The tension she experienced in trying to combine intense devotions with the life of a wealthy Roman matron resulted in a breakdown. After a year of suffering, she was miraculously healed by a vision of St. Alexis.

From this crisis, Frances learned how to offer the three always interwoven threads of her life to God: first her family life, including her children, household duties, and role as wife. Second her civic life of healer, spiritual director, organizer of almsgiving and charity for the poor of Rome. Finally, her spiritual life with its liturgical and mystical experiences. Interweaving these three threads is characteristic of Benedictine spirituality: just as the Rule counsels the monk to take his brothers into account in every aspect of his life in the monastery, so Frances continuously responded to her family and her city. Like a monk who finds in the enclosure of the monastery not a prison, but a home, she created a sphere of inner freedom within the confines of this dense community.

. . . [After the death of her mother-in-law], the family unanimously chose Frances to run the household. . . She was seventeen. . . She was thus in charge of a large, wealthy Roman estate, supervising servants and overseeing kitchens, food purchases and harvests. Because of their political sympathies, the family figured prominently as a center for papal support in Rome, and she was in charge of the entertaining associated with their role in the drama of the divided papacy…

Frances longed attracted the attention of women who wanted to give their time, wealth, and energy to the sick and the poor. Now they approached her asking her to give institutional expression to their way of life. They were attracted to the Benedictine order. . . Characteristic of their freedom, the oblates could live either in community or in their homes. . . .The women who followed this path did so freely, unlike the medieval children entrusted as oblates who were unable to choose for themselves. However, like the child oblates, they brought with them monetary funds to build up the common good. (From Benedict in the World, Portraits of Monastic Oblates quoted in Benedictine Daily Prayer.)

You can find out more about from St. Frances at Catholic.org and Wikipedia.

Lord God, in Saint Frances you have given us a rare model of both married and religious life. Teach us to serve you with constancy so that we may be able to see and follow you in all circumstances of our daily existence. Amen.

 

Three Years Ago on ShawnaAtteberry.com: Phoebe

Three years ago on this site I wrote a post, which has become one of the most popular posts on this blog on Phoebe. Phoebe was a wealthy woman who was the pastor of a church in Cenecherae in Greece, and she was also a patron of the church. She gave money for mission work like Paul’s as well as helped her own and other churches with their expenses and problems they may be having with the Roman government. Paul entrusted her with the letter to the Romans and trusted her to make his case for their financial support of his mission to Spain.

Phoebe: Pastor & Patron

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well (Rom. 16:1-2)

Paul trusted Phoebe enough to entrust his letter to the Romans to her. She is a woman Paul highly commended and respected. She is a “sister,” “deacon,” and “benefactor” to the church at Cenchreae as well as a sister and benefactor to Paul.

Paul uses the word, diakonos to describe Phoebe. The odd thing about Paul using this word to describe Phoebe is that it is the masculine form used to describe a woman. The feminine form is diakona. Most versions translate diakonos as “servant” here, but when it used to describe men, it is translated as “deacon.” It is also paired with “of the church of Cenchreae” This is the only place in the New Testament where diakonos is followed by a specific congregation in a genitive construct: she was the deacon of the church in Cenchreae. This is the only place linking a specific person’s ministry with a specific church. This seems to indicate that Phoebe served as a deacon or pastor in the church at Cenchreae.

Paul uses another word to describe Phoebe: prostatis. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. It is also another word that is translated so that its main meaning is not obvious in the translation. The normal translation is “helper” or someone who has helped. In secular Greek sources, the basic and most obvious translation of the word is patron or benefactor, and women in this role, are well attested in the Roman world. Women who were benefactors in the Roman world supported the arts and temples, as well as philosophers and debaters. Phoebe was a wealthy woman who served the church out of her means as the women in Luke 8 served Jesus out of theirs.

Aida Besançon Spencer has also suggested that prostatis could be derived from the verb proistemi, which means to “to stand, place before or over,” or “to help by ruling” (Before the Curse, 115). The times the verb appears in the New Testament it has the meaning of ruling or governing (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thes. 5:12-13). In the Pastoral Epistles this word is used to describe bishops and deacons governing their households well. In other Greek sources, such as Josephus, the masculine form of the verb is used to describe rulers and leaders like Moses, Herod, and Agrippa (ibid). This word could mean that Phoebe was a ruler or another overseer in the church.

Phoebe was an independent woman who had her own means, and served the church in a leadership role. Paul comes very close to commanding churches he had no hand in planting, and Christians, most of whom had never met him, to welcome her and provide anything she needed because she was both a deacon and a benefactor/ruler in the church. She was not only the benefactor and leader in the church at Cencherae, but Paul himself had also benefited from her generous rule.

To find out more about the leadership roles women had in the Bible buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down.

Why I Keep Harping on Biblical Women, Equality, & Women Working

Rev. Laura Grimes officiating Mass

There’s a reason why I keep harping on the subjects I do. There’s a reason I’m writing a book called Career Women of the Bible. And there’s a reason I wrote the E-book, Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. There is a reason why I keep blogging about women in the Bible who were:

  • Religious leaders
  • Secular leaders
  • Business women
  • Merchants
  • Entrepenuers

It’s because I keep reading things like this:

I believed the “Beautiful Girlhood” spiel. I did it everything the “right way”. I stayed at home, I submitted to my father, I skipped college, I prepared to be my husband’s helpmeet, and I regret it. I had years of my life go by where I was little more than an indentured servant to my parents. My husband and I were forced into thousands of dollars of debt working for an abusive employer that we could have thumbed our nose at if I had been able to get a job. While I was without the commitments of marriage and children, I could have easily gained an education that could have served me and my husband well in early marriage. All those years living as a quiet submissive housekeeper, I could have been discovering interests, and developing as a person.

Why I Wish I Had Gone to College by Young Mom

It’s because I keep reading about lies like this on the Are Women Really Human? blog:

YOUNG LADIES MUST PREPARE TO BE HOMEMAKERS…Prepare to Marry Young If God’s Will; Don’t accept cultural norms and practices…Don’t Assume College or Career:

  1. Be aware of serving the cultural idol of education and career.
  2. Be willing to lay aside the pursuit of higher education if marriage comes early.
  3. Be willing to lay aside a career when married.
  4. Think of a non-paying (but very rewarding and important) “career” in the home related to your husband and children.
  5. If unmarried, consider a “feminine” vocation or job that will benefit family later.

Detwiler further divides reasons married women work outside the home into “necessary” reasons and “wordly” reasons. The only “necessary” reasons are a husband’s unemployment or disability, or to save up money or pay off debts. The clear implication is that any woman who works outside of the home when her husband is also employed is sinning if her work is not indispensable to family finances. Meanwhile, worldly reasons for a woman to work outside of the home include:

6) Identity and fulfillment primarily in work outside the home. Not content with obscurity of being a wife, mother and homemaker… [my emphasis] 8 ) Husband and wife may think she can work outside home with little or no harm to the marriage and family. 9) Realization by a woman that it may be easier to work outside the home than in the home as a wife, mother and homemaker.

There’s an obvious disdain here for women and especially mothers who have outside employment. Detwiler clearly implies that such women are lazy, self-absorbed, and unwise parents. He clearly associates a woman working outside the home with “harm” to her marriage and family. He states that there is “lack of biblical support” for women to work full-time outside of the home.

It’s because The Council for the so-called “Biblical” Manhood and Womanhood just released a curriculum for kids and teens with this warped view of the creation stories in Genesis:

While God created men to be generally oriented toward work, God created women to be generally oriented towards relationships of helpfulness and companionship.

This is God’s good design.

A design for male headship — leading, protecting, and providing for the woman.

A design for female submission — submitting to and helping the man; a companion-helper ‘fit for him.’

Some will be doubtful … even upset by this teaching of God’s good design for men and women.

Yes I am upset about this. But not because it’s Godde’s good design. I’m upset because it’s one big, fat lie. If you want to see a drastically different way to interpret these same verses read this: Does It Really Mean Helpmate?

So yes, I keep harping on Women, the Bible, and Equality.

Women’s & Men’s Work

Of course what these people fail to tell you is that not only is there a “lack of biblical support” for women outside of the home, there is also a lack of support for men working outside of the home in the Bible. That’s because EVERYONE worked at home during biblical times. In ancient agrarian societies the home was a self-sufficient farm where everyone worked to make sure the family had shelter, clothing, and food. Few people left the home to “go to work.” The same was true for merchants at that time. If you lived in a town or city and sold merchandise, you lived above or next to your business, and the whole family worked in that business. The only people who worked away from home were traders and soldiers. That’s it. Everyone else worked at home.

The biblical model of family was not destroyed when women started working outside of the home. The biblical model of family was broken when men started working outside of the home at the beginning of the Industrial Age.

Not only did women work to financially support their families: women’s work drove ancient economy. Women’s work–spinning and weaving–making textiles to trade fueled the ancient economy, so different tribes could trade for precious metals and exotic foods. In Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, Elizabeth Wayland Barber shows the monetary value of women’s work for their families. She also shows the power and autonomy women had as textile makers and traders in the Middle East. Women have always worked to financially provide for their families. They’ve also made, bought and traded. It’s nothing new. What is new is this ridiculous modern idea that man goes to work, leaving his family behind for the better part of the day, then comes back home with money. That’s new. Not women working. (For an excellent overview of the work women did do in the Bible to support their families and bring in money see Sunzanne McCarthy’s “Women’s Orientation to Work” blog series, starting here.)

This is a totally foreign concept to most people although it describes well over 90% of our history. (History did not begin with the Industrial Age, the Victorian Era, or 1950s suburbia.)

What the Bible Really Says

photo © 2006 Dale Gillard | more info (via: Wylio)Women working in the Bible, bringing home the bacon, and being leaders is also a foreign concept to most people. Again and again I heard from readers who were amazed at what women did in the Bible after reading Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. They were amazed to find women judges, military leaders, and women who wouldn’t take no for an answer from Moses, Jesus, or Godde. They were amazed to find a woman negotiating with a general on behalf of her city, and most of them were flabbergasted that Tamar was praised for disguising herself as a prostitute to insure she would have children for her husband’s family through her father-in-law.

They were amazed to find out that the quiet and submissive woman the women in the Bible were supposed to be is nothing but a caricature. It’s what men who have interpreted the Bible for centuries want women to be. It’s not what Godde created women to be.

And that’s why I keep doing what I do.

The time for lies is over.

That’s not what the Bible says.

It never has been. It never will be.

Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down Podcasts

Want to hear about what four of my readers said about the women they met in the Bible in Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down? Here is what we talked about in these four 30 minute podcasts:

Mark Mattison and I talk about how passages in 1 Corinthians are interpreted to keep women silent in church and submissive to their husbands. We talked about the many different ways these verses can be interpreted that make women equal with their husbands and equals in church, preaching and praying in their congregations. How many people know about these different interpretations? Not many.

Catherine Caine and I talk about how the traditional Christian views affect people who aren’t Christians. Catherine is a secular humanist in Australia, and she talks about how the traditional view of women can influence business as usual on an unconscious level. She also loved how earthy and action-oriented the women in the Bible were. She loved how they made decisions and did what needed to be done without any drama or hand-wringing.

Sandi Amorin talks about her experience growing up in the Catholic Church and how her questions about “Where are all the women in the Bible?” went unanswered. Sandi was amazed that she had never heard about most of these women in church. Sadly that’s not unusual. Women in the Bible who go against the “traditional” view of women are ignored and marginalized. We don’t hear their stories because they were anything but submissive and quiet.

Lainie Petersen and I talk about how the lie that Godde made women to be quiet and submissive leads to the abuses we see throughout the church today: domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and the reality that churches are much more likely to blame female and children victims than to hold male abusers accountable for their actions. The consequences of this horrible theology are brutal, and no one in the church likes to talk about it, much less do anything about it.

Stop listening to the lies

Most of all: don’t believe the lies anymore.

  • Women were made in the image of Godde.
  • Godde calls women to be both religious and secular leaders.
  • Godly women have always worked and financially supported their families.
  • In the Bible women not only worked–they had careers too.

Don’t listen to lies. Buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down and learn what Godde and the Bible really say about women by clicking the button below.
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The Vegas Vacation Update

Hello all! The Hubby and I are in Las Vegas on vacation. We’re hear for the Magic LIVE conference. The Hubby is attending most of the seminars and classes. I’m attending the performances, but I don’t want to know how anything is done, because I want it to be magic. Needless to say I’m staying far away from anything that might ruin my fantasy.

I have found a perfect spot by the pool to work and swim. And I do actually work! I spend 30 minutes writing then go swim for awhile. Write 30 more minutes, then more swimming. To be honest, it’s amazing how productive you can be that way! I wrote 3 pages in an hour of work yesterday, poolside with a pina colada (I ordered a mojito but the bar was out of fresh mint. To be honest: the mojito has a pretty tall order to fill to be a better poolside drink than the pina colada).

If you stay at the Orleans, you have to go to the Courtyard Cafe and order the strawberries and cream. It’s divine and makes the perfect breakfast.

Last night we went to this incredible magic performance. It was a magic show for the blind! We were all blindfolded and led into the parlor. The magic was done by touch and listening. It was fabulous. And to hold objects in your hands then have the magic happen when nothing has left your hand, and you’ve just followed instructions is just mind-blowing. Tonight is more close-up magic plus the Magic Museum. It’s so much fun.

I do have an announcement to make. The 12th Century B.C.E. Career Woman was featured in September’s Biblical Studies Carnival, hosted at Exploring Our Matrix, the blog of Dr. James McGrath. My post is under the Textbooks and Literature section. I haven’t had time to read who else was chosen for the Carnival, and I doubt I’ll make it over this week. If you see anything there you’d think I’d like, let me know in the comments.

I hope everyone is having a good week, and I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures:

The Hubby and I at Sunday night's opening festivities

We have a lovely view of The Strip from a room

Women, Godde & Jesus as Help & Helpmate

Two days ago J. K. Gayle wrote a fabulous post, “Jesus: ‘The Help’ and the “Helpmeet.” In this post J. K. makes some great observations, but the the reason I think it’s absolutely brilliant is because he forces the horrible theology of the complentarians to its logical conclusion. If women were created subordinate and submissive to be men’s helpers, then that means Godde and Jesus become subordinate and submissive to humans when they help us. Because the same words used to describe Godde and Jesus as “helpers” is the word used to describe the female as a “helpmate” (helper) to the male in Genesis 2. Then Suzanne responded with her own thoughtful insights in “Jesus Is My Helpmeet.” I had never thought to extend my arguments past the Old Testament into the New Testament using both the New Testaments quotes of Genesis in Greek along with the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. Now I am. I’m totally going to be stealing some J. K. and Suzanne’s material and make it my own.

Until then here is some of the work I’ve done on the Hebrew phrase that gets mistranslated as “helpmate.”

Does it Really Mean “Helpmate”?

I had just started working on my thesis in seminary. Tired of being asked if I was going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife, I decided to write a biblical theology of single women in ministry, showing that Godde’s calling for a woman was not dependent on her marital state. My thesis advisor, Dr. Joseph Coleson (professor of Old Testament Studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary), looked at my outline and thesis proposal and told me that I needed to add a chapter addressing the Creation Story in Genesis 1:1–2:25. He thought that I needed to deal with the second creation account found in Gen. 2:5-25, where woman is created to be an ezer cenegdo to the man. If the Hebrew phrase simply meant, “helper” then could a woman hold a leadership position in the church, let alone a single woman? But if that isn’t what ezer cenegdo meant, then that would open up the vistas I needed to write and successfully defend my thesis. Defend, not in front of the professors at seminary, but to defend against those who say woman was created to be a wife and mother, and only a helpmate for her husband. Dr. Coleson said the translators who translated our Bibles into English know that “helpmate” is a gross mistranslation of the Hebrew phrase, and he did not see how they could look themselves in the mirror day-to-day keeping that misintepretation in the Bible. It is the only time I saw him angry. So what does this little Hebrew phrase mean?

Ezer Cenegdo

Ezer is used 20 times in the Old Testament: seventeen times to describe Godde and three times to describe a military ally or aide. “Help” or”helper” is an adequate translation, but English has different nuances than the Hebrew does. In English “helper” implies someone who is learning, or under a person in authority. In the Hebrew “help” comes from one who has the power to give help–it refers to someone in a superior position. That is why Godde can help Israel: Godde has the power to do so. Godde helps Israel because they do not have the power to help themselves.

There is another possible definition for ezer: “power” or “strength.” Both words are from the same Hebrew root and the nouns would be identical. We see this when ezer is translated as either “helper” or “power/strength” in the name of the the Judean king, Uzziah. Uzziah means “Godde is my strength.” The other spelling of his name, Azariah, means “Godde is my help.” There are also poetic passages where “power” or “strength” are the only logical translations of ezer. It is clear that in some passages the root for ezer is “helper,” and in others it is the root for “power.”

Cenegdo is two prepositions: together their literal meaning is “facing.” ke is the first preposition, and it means “like” or “corresponding to.” Negdo means to stand in someone’s presence. Paired with ke it means to be in the presence of an equal. Together these two prepositions show the relationship between two people: it means they are standing or sitting facing each other, which shows they are equals. Ezer cenegdo does not mean–or even imply to mean–that one who is subordinate or inferior in creation or in function. Woman was created to be a power equal to man; an autonomous being that God created so that the man would have someone like him, and equal to him, to share his life with.

The man acknowledged this when he saw the woman. In the second poetic passage in the Bible he proclaimed: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”! He knew at last an ezer cenegdo had been brought to him. His speech reinforces the woman as his equal. Unlike the animals she corresponds to him–she is like him; there is mutuality, unity and solidarity. The man recognized what Godde had done by calling her woman and saying she came from man. The narrator then stated, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This seems odd saying considering that in all Near Eastern cultures it was the woman who left her family to live with her husband and his family. Again we see that one is not above the other. Flying in the face of patriarchal culture, the mandate for marriage is one where the man leaves his family and clings to his wife.

In the beginning men and women were both created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and they were created to be equals. They were both given the commands to be fruitful and to rule over the earth (Gen. 1:28-30). The woman was not created to be a subordinate helper to her husband. She was created as an autonomous being; she was a complete human being, just as the man was. Her existence was not dependent on him as his existence was not dependent on her: their existence depended on Godde alone who created them both.

This leads next to the assumption that since woman was made because it was “not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and the first marriage covenant comes after man’s declaration of woman being “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23), that a woman’s primary purpose is marriage and that should be her primary goal in life as well. Even though woman was created to alleviate the man’s loneliness and provide him an ezer cenegdo, men are not raised to believe that marriage should be their primary purpose and goal in life. For men their main purpose is a career. How are single women with a call to ministry to react to the attitude that they are just “playing ministry” until Mr. Right comes along? What are married women with a vocation outside of the home or a call to lead in church to do? After all isn’t Genesis 2 clear that marriage is the God-ordained, and therefore, the “natural” state to be in, and that is what woman was created for?

What Is Our Highest Calling?

Many women have been counseled to put off their dreams of continuing their education or pursuing a time-consuming career because what happens when they meet their “perfect husband” who will be “Godde’s perfect plan” for them? If the women are more educated or make more money how will their potential spouses feel? Women have been told “you are called to be a wife first,” based on Genesis 2. Whether or not they want to marry is irrelevant–they will, that is Godde’s plan for every woman. Is this what Genesis 2 says?

Could the comment that it is not good for man to be alone simply be an admission that human beings are meant to live in community? Scanzoni and Hardesty note that marriage isn’t the only relationship possible where human beings are concerned. No one person is self-sufficient–we are dependent on Godde and on each other. Human beings were created to have relationships with Godde and with one another. We are designed to be in community, and no one person can be whole and complete apart from communion with Godde and one another.

Certainly marriage is a part of Godde’s design, and marriage is to be the ultimate expression of love, fidelity, and sexuality, but it is just one of many relationships. As Christians we must remember that marriage is not the supreme relationship: the supreme relationship of any believer’s life is with Godde; our relationship with Godde is what makes us whole and complete.

Although I began this with Genesis, I would like to end with what the New Testament has to say about women and ministry. Christians believe that Jesus Christ came to redeem all people–both men and women–and now “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). We also believe “in [Christ] you have been made complete” (Col. 2:10, NASB). The doctrine of salvation through Christ means that any hierarchical structure that is a result of the Fall is now done away with (For more on what the Fall meant for women, see The Fall and Women). All of us have equal standing before God. Our relationship with God through Christ is what completes us and makes us whole. All women, including single women, do have a place in the church because God created us, redeemed us, and made us to be complete and whole persons in Christ.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled all the believers gathered in the Upper Room–both men and women–and they went out to the streets proclaiming everything they saw in the last few weeks. It is reasonable to believe that the women who were at the foot of the Cross were in the upper room as well (It is worth noting that only the women could give eye witness account to both the burial and resurrection of Jesus). In the Synoptic Gospels, those women are all identified by their sons, not their husbands. This leads me to believe that they were widowed; they were single. It is possible single women proclaimed the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ on the day that 3,000 were saved. When the Holy Spirit came, she came to all: men, women, married, single, old, and young alike, which Peter affirmed in his sermon. All that Godde required of those believers was obedience: they stayed in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came, and then they all went out and proclaimed what Godde had done. Whether one is married or single, male or female, is irrelevant in the Kingdom of Godde. All that is required is obedience to the call and the will of Godde.

Edited to add: This is how I see men and women created in Godde’s image with the woman being the power equal to man working out in the New Testament, the Church, and in marriage: Made in the Image of Godde: Female.

Sources:

Shawna Renee Bound, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Biblical Theology of Single Women in Ministry, unpublished thesis, (© by Shawna Renee Bound 2002), “Helpmate or Power Equal to Him?” 11-22.

Joseph Coleson, Ezer Cenegdo: A Power Like Him, Facing Him as Equal (Grantham, PA: Wesleyan/Holiness Women Clergy), 1996.

Loren Cunningham and David Joel Hamilton, Why Not Women : A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and LeadershipTen Lies the Church Tells Women, How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House), 2000.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy A. Hardesty, All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for TodayGod and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press), 1978.

All biblical translations are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

Does It Really Mean”Helpmate”? was originally posted on May 25, 2007.

5 Years Ago on ShawnaAtteberry.com: The 12th Centry B.C.E. Career Woman

I started this blog five years ago (where has the time went?). This was the post that kicked off what become Career Women of the Bible. It was originally posted in August 2006.

Deborah: Words, Women and War', Nathan Moscowitz. )For information about the detailed use of symbols in this intricate painting, go to http://www.nahumhalevi.com/Deborah.html.)

The 12th Century B.C.E. Career Woman

In my imagination I see her under her palm tree, sitting and listening to the people who came to her for justice and peace. Her head nodding as she listens. In my mind’s eye I see her standing, veil blowing in the wind, eyes flashing, as she commands Barak to gather his men and fight Sisera at Yahweh’s command. I also see her resolutely lead Israel’s armies into battle, her chin set, her eyes never wavering from their forward stare. After the battle I see her dancing around the fire, tambourine in hand, singing of the victory in what would become one of the oldest songs recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. But I also see her in her home, feeding her family, singing stories to her children, going to bed with her husband. Deborah: the first career woman mentioned in the Bible. She is judge, prophet, military leader, and worship leader. But she is also wife, mother, sister, and daughter. It’s no wonder that those who advocate that the “bibilical” place for women is in the home and not the workforce, skip right over Deborah and her story.

During the time of the Judges, Deborah arose as a judge and prophet to lead the people of Israel against an enemy that had cruelly oppressed them for 20 years: King Jabin of Canaan and his general Sisera. Judges 5 is one of the oldest texts of the Bible believed to have been composed as early as the late twelfth century B.C.E. It predates Judges 4 by several centuries. It is Deborah’s song of victory over the forces of Jabin and Sisera, which climaxed in Sisera’s death.

In “Awake! Awake! Utter a Song!” Susan Ackerman shows how Hebrew parallelism is used to show that Deborah and Yahweh work together to win this victory. Verses 1-2 set the tone, ”the people are waiting for Yahweh, they are ready to obey what he says. Deborah calls to the kings and princes to listen to her song for Yahweh has spoken to her. In verses 3-4 Deborah sings of Yahweh’s coming. Yahweh comes from Seir and Edom; from the place where God met Israel at Sinai and made a covenant with them. God is shown as marching north to fight for and defend the people. It is a cosmic event: the earth trembles, the heavens and clouds pour water, the mountains quake when Yahweh comes.

Verses 6-7 then show us what is happening on earth: people cannot travel safely and caravans stopped until Deborah arose as “a mother in Israel,” then the people, even peasants, prospered on the plunder that was taken. This poetic feature shows that this is a holy war–God is coming to fight for his people, and it doesn’t take place on the cosmic level alone–it takes place on the earth to deliver his people. The song also shows that Deborah is Yahweh’s counterpart on earth; she is the one God is speaking through and working through to accomplish God’s purposes on earth.

A Mother in Israel

In verse 7 Deborah is referred to as “a mother in Israel.” Judges 5 does not mention Deborah being married, so it is unlikely we are to take this phrase to literally mean that Deborah had children. The only other place “mother in Israel” is used is 2 Samuel 20:19 to describe the city of Abel of Beth-maacah where Sheba hides after he has instigated a rebellion against King David. When Joab besieges the city a wise woman appears at the wall wanting to know why he is attacking a city that is “a mother in Israel.” Abel is a city that is known for its wisdom in settling matters between conflicting parties. In the past it had been said, “Let them inquire at Abel” (2 Sam. 20:18). Abel was renown for its ability to resolve conflicts. It is a peaceful city, faithful in Israel, which could be a reference to its support of David. The wise woman also calls Abel “the heritage of the Lord” (v. 22). Earlier in 1 Samuel when the mother of Tekoa pleads her case to David she calls her son “the heritage of the Lord” (14:16). The heritage of Yahweh is something that Yahweh has given to his people whether it be children or land, and it is viewed as worth fighting for. “A mother in Israel” is a city that is renown for its wisdom and negotiating skills. It is able to bring about resolutions that protect the heritage of Yahweh.

By extension the wise woman herself is “a mother in Israel.” She shows all of the characteristics of her city: wisdom, negotiating skills, and she is a leader. She wants to protect her city, which is the heritage of Yahweh, and she will have a man killed in order to secure the well-being of her city. This is seen in the fact that Joab speaks to her and doesn’t demand to see someone else. This woman is the elder, and in all likelihood, the military commander of Abel, and that is why Joab negotiates with her: she is his equal.

For Judges 5 to call Deborah “a mother in Israel” is to show that she was known for her wisdom and ability to negotiate peace. It also shows her passionate commitment to bring peace to Israel and well-being to the heritage of Yahweh. She will insure that her people have peace and can prosper, and so she is willing to go to war with Jabin and Sisera at the command of Yahweh to accomplish this goal. She is “the perfect human counterpart of Yahweh, who as ‘the God of Israel’ likewise displays a passionate commitment to the Israelite community” (Ackerman, 43). In the past Yahweh has fought for his people and delivered them out of slavery and oppression, and Deborah boldly announces that he is about to act to free Israel again, and Deborah will obey all he commands of her to see his will done.

Military Leader

The next place we see the cosmic/earth and divine/human intersection is in verse 12: “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song!” Normally the cry to “awake” is cried out by the people to God. They are calling for him to awake and come to their aid. This pattern is seen in both the Psalms and the Prophets. Here we see that it is Deborah who is called to “awake.” This call can come to Deborah because she is Yahweh’s human representative on earth.

In Judges 5 Deborah’s marital status is never mentioned. She is also clearly the military leader with Barak as her second-in-command. This is seen in the following ways: first her name is mentioned more often. Second Barak’s name never appears independent of Deborah’s, and her name is always first. The text also says that the oppression happening in Israel did not stop until Deborah arose in Israel; Barak is not mentioned. The verb arose also implies that it was Deborah who arose to lead Israel’s troops against Sisera and his army.

This changes in Judges 4. Chapter 4 is part of the Deuteronomistic history, which was written and complied during Josiah’s reign in the seventh century B.C.E. Deborah is now identified as a prophet and judge. She is the only female judge in the Hebrew Scriptures, and one of the few named female prophets (Miriam, Huldah, and Noadiah are the other three). She is also married: she is the wife of Lappidoth.

Her role as military leader has been considerably minimized. Yahweh’s role in the battle and the defeat is also curtailed. In chapter 5 Yahweh marched north to Israel causing cosmic upheavel in order to free his people. The only mention of Yahweh’s participation in chapter 4 is in verse 15 where Yahweh throws Sisera’s troops into a panic so that Barak and his men can come and win. Barak now leads the troops although he would not go into battle unless Deborah accompanied him. His reticence to believe that Yahweh was speaking through Deborah would cost him the glory of killing Sisera himself: that honor would go to a woman.

During the premonarchic period before the monarchy and the cult were institutionalized in Jerusalem, a woman could be portrayed as a military leader leading troops into battle to execute Yahweh’s holy war on earth. Due to the mythic nature of the poem, Israel could look beyond gendered roles for women to accept a female military leader. This has changed in the seventh century. Both the monarchy and the temple cult are set in place and acceptable gender roles are established. A female military leader is unacceptable. Therefore Deborah fades into the background and Barak takes the lead. Barak also takes the glory in the rest of the canon (1 Samuel 12:11; Hebrews 11:32). In the lists of judges who are commended, Barak is always mentioned; Deborah is forgotten.

There have also been efforts to insure that Deborah is portrayed as a ‘good, little wife.” This is seen in the tag that she is the wife of Lappidoth. This is also seen in commentators who have tried to marry her off to Barak to explain why they go into battle together. The text does not support a marriage between the two. And Lappidoth does not seem to play a part in Deborah’s calling as a leader. According to the text he didn’t even have anything to say about his wife going off to war. He could have been one of the warriors who went into battle, but apparently he supported his wife’s ministry, and had no trouble with Deborah being a judge over Israel and a prophet.

Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, mother not only to her own children, but to Isreal; prophet, judge, and leader, shows us that women juggling their callings as wife, mother, and leader have existed from the beginning. She is also shows us that family and career can be juggled successfully.

Sources

Susan Ackerman, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel (New York: Doubleday, 1998), “Awake! Awake! Utter a Song!” 27-88.

Shawna Renee Bound, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Biblical Theology of Single Women in Ministry, unpublished thesis, (© by Shawna Renee Bound 2002), “Judge and Prophets,” 23-34.

E. John Hamlin, Judges: At Risk in the Promised Land (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990).

The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), “Judges,” 133-5.

All biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

Career Women of the Bible Sneak Peak: Mary Magdalene

J. K. Gayle at Aristotle’s Feminist Subject and I are trading links about The Samaritan Woman and now Mary Magdalene. He was a wonderful round-up of quotes, articles, and books on Mary Magdalene in today’s post, “Reviving Mary Magdalene: Emergency Rescue Work.” Today’s post and yesterday’s post, “The Actually Good Samaritan, A Woman” along with my post yesterday discuss how the Church (for millennia) demonized both The Samaritan Woman and Mary Magdalene as prostitutes. Just because The Samaritan Woman had five husbands and now lived with a man, who was not her husband, does not make her a whore (being a multiple widow and Levirate marriage are two of the options). Just because Mary Magdalene is first mentioned in Luke after the anointing of the sinful woman does not make her a prostitute (it doesn’t make the sinful woman one either in Luke 7. Luke says “sinful”–not prostitute, another male assumption: why else would a woman be called “sinful”? Like she couldn’t have been beating her kids).

I decided today would be a good day to re-post the sneak peak I gave my readers last year of Mary Magdalene from my book, Career Woman of the Bible. This was originally posted on August 18, 2010. (Don’t forget to go read all the good stuff J. K. has gathered on these two women!)

The Apostle to the Apostles: Mary Magdalene

Mary counted up the money her servant brought her from Magdala from her business there. She exported dried and salted fish to the rest of Israel as well as the Gentile areas around the Sea of Galilee. The last couple of months had been good for the business. Mary was glad because they were running low on funds Jesus needed for his itinerant ministry. The money seemed to go faster and faster; she began to wonder about Judas carrying the money bag for the group. Mary started to follow Jesus a few months ago after he healed her from seven demons. They plagued her since her husband died. She had been able to function and keep them at bay for a long time and succeeded in taking over her husband’s business. It hadn’t been that hard: after all she helped her husband with the business after they were married. But there had been a learning curve, especially dealing with the merchants who shipped her fish. She smiled. She was one of the best hagglers in Magdala now.

All of that changed when she met Jesus. By that time, she was on the verge of going mad. She fought and fought the voices, but they won. All she heard was what they told her: her husband’s death was her fault, she’d bankrupt the business, why was she still alive? She didn’t deserve to live. Look at how everyone looks at you. She became a hermit. Her faithful servant kept the business running and lied for her. He told people who asked she was traveling, spending some time in Jerusalem and Alexandria. She hadn’t left her house for months when she heard Jesus was in town. Sitting by her window, where she could hear news, but not be seen, she heard of the exorcisms. This prophet cast demons out of people. For the first time in a year she felt a twinge of hope. May be it didn’t have to be this way. One day people crowded outside her house and talked about Jesus. He must be near by. Mary made a decision. She put on her widow’s weeds and covered her face with her veil. Steeling herself and taking a deep breath, she slipped out of the door into the crowd then she started pushing her way through the crowd in the direction everyone walked in. Slipping between people and ducking under arms, she finally made it to the front of the crowd. When she felt like she had a shred of courage, she looked up. Jesus was looking straight at her.

Suddenly the voices went crazy in her head: No not him! He’s the Son of the Godde! He’ll cast us into the abyss! Run you whore run! Mary grabbed her head and screamed. Words came flying out of her mouth but she didn’t know what she was saying. She heard a quiet voice, quiet but full of authority. She never heard such authority before. She stood straight up, and everything was quiet. Not just the crowds. Her head was quiet, the voices gone. She wasn’t mad anymore. Looking into the eyes of the man who freed her, she knew who he was. In front of her stood the Messiah himself. The Redeemer of Israel. She fell to the ground and said, “My lord.” Gentle hands raised her up and he said, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

That had been a year ago. Mary knew that wherever he went, she would follow. She ran home, and her servant was ecstatic to see her back to her normal self. After she told him what happened, she put him in charge of the business, packed a bag and followed Jesus.

The Woman Who Began the Canonization of Scripture: Huldah

Photo by Arnie/PhotoXpress

Did you know that the first person to declare written words as Scripture was a woman?

Her name was Huldah, and she was a prophet in Jerusalem during the reign of King Josiah. Her story is found in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34. During Josiah’s reign he tried to bring the people of Judah back to the worship of Yahweh, the one true Godde. He had idols thrown out of the temple then he authorized repairs to the temple. During the renovations a scroll was found and brought to the high priest and king. Neither one knew if it was Godde’s word. Josiah ordered the high priest to take the scroll to a prophet. Although there were noteworthy male prophets in Jerusalem at the time–Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Nahum–Josiah sent the high priest to inquire of a female prophet, Huldah. Huldah verified the scroll was the word of Godde, and that it’s prophecies would happen. The scroll said that if Israel did not worship only Yahweh as Godde, they would lose their land and be sent into exile. Death and destruction would be the result of their disobedience. Huldah verified the Jewish people had passed the point of no return: both Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. But Josiah would be spared war and exile since his heart was grieved over the sin of his people. Huldah’s prophecy did happen within 35 years of this event. After Josiah heard her words, he stepped up his reforms and led the people in celebrating the first Passover that included all of the people since before the time of the judges (2 Kings 23:22).

Huldah was the first person to declare written words to be the word of Godde–Scripture. She was the first whose “words of judgment are centered on a written document as no others have been before her” (Claudia V. Camp, “1 and 2 Kings” in Women’s Bible Commentary, 115). She was the first to authenticate Scripture. Manuscripts had accumulated for years, if not centuries, but for the first time a prophet proclaimed the written word to be Godde’s word, and this prophet was a woman–the last female prophet before Judah falls to the Babylonians. Huldah started the process that would eventually give us canonized Scripture.

Efforts to marginalize Huldah’s leadership role claim her authority came from her husband. Huldah was married to Shallum who was the “keeper of the wardrobe” (2 Kings 22:14)–a royal position. But when the high priest and his entourage came to her home, they did not ask for her husband. According to Scripture these men were not embarrassed asking a woman about Godde’s will for their country. The high priest did not have an issue with a woman prophet. In fact, her gender was irrelevant in the text as was her marital status. Huldah was a religious leader in Jerusalem at that time, and the high priest had no problem going to her to confirm Godde’s word.