Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

The Proverbs 31 Woman: Dame Wisdom in Action

The Proverbs 31 Woman: Dame Wisdom in Action
Proverbs 31:10-31

Ah, the Proverbs 31 woman, let me count the ways I hate thee. I grew up hearing about this woman every Mother’s Day. How she was a good and submissive wife who obeyed her husband and took care of her kids and was happy with her life in the home. If you come from a conservative or fundamentalist Christian background like I did, you know what I’m talking about. Every single Mother’s Day the male pastor brushes off this passage and preaches how a good Christian woman ought to act. She’s the best wife, mother, and homekeeper of them all. She eschews the public sector to take care of her home and family. She keeps her house clean, obeys her husband and submits to him. She is a wonderful mother, and gets the meals on the table on time. She’s SuperWifeMom.

By the time I hit my teens I was groaning and tuning the pastor out. By the time I hit my early 30s, I was single, not too sure if I wanted to get married, and I knew I didn’t want do the whole kids thing. I stopped going to church on Mother’s Day. If there was one Saturday I conveniently forgot to set my alarm clock and not make it to church, without feeling guilty about it, it was Mother’s Day.

Unfortunately for the conservative evangelical background I grew up with, it was beat into my head that every good Christian reads the Bible for herself. She sees what is there, so she won’t fall into error. This backfired where I am concerned. I did read my Bible. I wanted to know what it said, and how I should act. And I noticed something. I noticed that what I heard all those years about the Proverbs 31 woman was not all of the story. In fact most of what I heard wasn’t even in the story! This woman was not restricted to her home and family. I got to know an entirely different women when I read her story for myself.

This woman is a household manager, industrious, produces and sells textiles, brings in income for the family, oversees planting of a vineyard and uses her own money to set it up. She has servants she oversees, she gives to the poor, and her household is a small business that provides for her family, and her husband is praised for it. This is not the picture of the stay-at-home mother that is normally depicted in sermons. She works both inside and outside of her home.

I learned there is a big difference when the Bible talks about a wife and how we talk about a wife, particularly a housewife. Carole Fontaine said this about that difference:

In the Bible, the term wife encodes a set of productive and managerial tasks that, along with a woman’s reproductive role, were essential to the existence of the Israelite household. There is no equivalent understanding of “wife” as a social category in the modern West, where women’s household work does not usually contribute to the family economy and tends to be ignored, trivialized, minimized, or otherwise degraded. The often insulting idea of “just a wife and mother” would have had no meaning in the biblical world.

Or as Rabbi Rosenfeld said at the beginning of his lecture on Proverbs 31: “First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Women have ALWAYS worked outside the home, and EVERY mother is a ‘working mother!” Women’s work was necessary for the survival of the family, and she generated income for the family. Textiles—the spinning, weaving, and making of fabric goods–drove the ancient economy for 20,000 years. Women’s work was the backbone of the ancient economy and the ancient household. And I will love Deirdre McCloskey forever for pointing that out to me. So this woman was much more than the imaginary 50s housewife some segments of Christianity hold up as the good Christian wife. I’m not hating her as much.

Then I discovered something about her this week that I never knew, and I may just be darn close to falling in love with her. While reading up on this passage one of the writers pointed out that this poem is filled with military imagery. In fact the word translated as capable in “a capable wife who can find?” is hayil. When it’s used for a man it’s translated as “strong” or “mighty,” and it’s normally used in the context of war. It also means the power that is able to acquire strength through gaining money and raising an army. Right off the bat, we are told this is a strong woman who knows how to get things done.

Then verse 11 says: “[her husband] will lack no gain” or spoils or booty. The writer, Raymond Van Leeuwen notes that using this word here is strange because it “suggests the woman is like a warrior bringing home booty from her victories.”

In verse 16 she “considers a field and buys it.” Here the word “buy” may not the best translation of the Hebrew. Literally, she “takes” the field, and this word is normally used of an army taking a city or a region. It means to conquer and subdue a territory. This verse shows the woman looking at a wild field and figuring out how to tame it and subdue it into a vineyard. In the Judean highlands turning a plot of land into a vineyard took a massive amount of work. The soil was rocky, and all of the rocks had to be removed, then the land terraced, and the rocks built into a wall, so that the vineyard didn’t wash down the hillside at the first good rain. It also had to be terraced to make sure that enough water stayed in the vineyard so the vines could grow. Like a general this woman surveys her battlefield and plans her attack. Anyone who has ever gardened knows this is not an over-exaggeration.

Verse 17 has the most obvious military language: “she girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong” or in the good old King James Version, she “girded up her loins.” Men normally girded up their loins in the Bible for a heroic deed; a deed that involved fighting. Having a strong arm is another Biblical metaphor for being battle ready.

The end of the poem comes back to where we began with the word hayil. In verse 29 the woman’s husband tells her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Here hayil is translated as “done excellently.” The woman has done deeds of strength and power that again refer to warfare and gaining wealth. “Surpass them all” is another idiom for military activity–as in the army met the enemy and bested them.

So we see that this woman is not only pictured as a manager, entrepreneur, and merchant, she is also pictured as a military leader. There is nothing submissive or docile about this woman. She makes textiles, buys, sells, and fights for her family’s survival and good. And yes, she still sounds like SuperWoman. But there is a reason for that. Just as this woman is not the fictional housewife of the 50s, she is also not just a woman either.

I’ve always wondered why Proverbs 31 ended with this poem about this woman. So have others. It seems odd. And after all the focus on wisdom and gaining it, why does this book end with a woman going about her mundane daily activities? Part of the answer to this is how the Jewish sages defined wisdom. Wisdom was not just knowledge gained for knowledge’s sake. Wisdom was knowledge that was to be applied to everyday life. In the Bible God created the world and set boundaries and laws to govern what she created. Wisdom sought to define those boundaries and apply those laws to their daily lives. This woman is living wisdom.

But there is another reason why this book ends with a woman. It began with one. At the end of Proverbs 1 we are introduced to Dame Wisdom. We find out that Wisdom was with God when God created the heavens and earth. In fact, She was the master designer and architect of creation. She watched God bring order out of chaos. She rejoiced in creation, and calls out in the public square and city gates for men and women to follow her. She wants us to learn Her ways, so that She can give us good lives. She builds a house, prepares a feast, then goes out again to call everyone to come into Her house, eat Her feast, and learn Her ways. She continues to create and bring order to the world. After the tabernacle and temple are finished in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are huge feasts for all the people to celebrate. Wisdom does the same. She builds Her house then invites everyone over to celebrate. The last thing we hear about in Proverbs 9 is Dame Wisdom.

And the last thing we hear about in the book of Proverbs is the Wise Woman in the 31st chapter. The reason Proverbs ends with this woman is that it is showing us Dame Wisdom in action. This woman does everything Wisdom does in earlier chapters: she creates, brings order to chaos, feeds and clothes her family, and takes care of the poor. She doesn’t just live wisely, she is Wisdom Incarnate. These verses do not describe what the typical woman of that day is like. They are showing us Wisdom hard at work in the everyday world.

She shows us what we are called to do. Just like Dame Wisdom and the Wise Woman of Proverbs 31 we are called to live wisely in our everyday, mundane lives. We are called to learn what God wants, where our boundaries are and live by that everyday. For ancient Israel the boundary was there is only one God, YHWH, and YHWH alone will you worship and obey. For us as Christians our boundary is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is our boundary. Day by day we have to figure out how to live that love at home, at work, in the store, on the sidewalk, and at church. Within the boundary of that love, we are called to create, to order the chaos around us, to build God’s realm and to celebrate God’s reign here on earth. Or as Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it:

And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

Our call is to see God in our world and then live what we see. When we follow Wisdom and listen to Her, our eyes will be opened, and we will see the holy in everything. When we see the holy all around us then we will know how to live our own lives and show that holiness, God’s love, to others.

Originally posted on September 22, 2009.

Related Posts
Sermon Meanderings: The Proverbs 31 Woman
Proverbs 31: A “Capable” Wife, Huh?
Poem: In the Beginning Was

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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One of the Reasons Women Leave the Church: Podcast with Sandi Amorim

In August Adelle M. Banks reported on a study that showed church attendance among women is dropping along with women volunteers within church. I think my podcast with Sandi Amorim offers one of the reasons women are leaving the church: they are tired of hearing that women were created to help men and that women cannot hold any authority or leadership position in the church. They don’t hear about the strong, independent women in the Bible, and they never hear about the many religious and secular female leaders who populate the Bible. The church has told women for centuries it’s fine for us to do all the unpaid grunt work, but don’t dare cast your eyes to the pulpit or church boards.

We’re tired of it.

Sandi Amorim

(Disclaimer: Sandi is my business coach, and she is totally awesome!)

Sandi Amorim is the mastermind behind Deva Coaching: asking the right question at the right time. Here is how Sandi describes herself:

I’m an instigator willing to urge, provoke and incite you to SHINE.

Some have said ruthlessly compassionate. I say I’ll do whatever it takes to have you shine.

Aries. Firstborn. Mediterranean by blood, leader by inclination. It’s a volatile mix but it seems to work.

I ask questions and listen to you in a way that lures you through the turbulent waters of life to a place where you can, once and for all, own who you really are.

That may mean loving you more than is comfortable or socially acceptable and kicking your ass when required.

This is my siren’s song to you. An appeal to step up and be who you were meant to be.

Sandi is a former Catholic who left the church as a young adult because she couldn’t ask questions. A lot of those questions had to do with women and where were they in Bible? And why couldn’t she be an altar girl (in the days before the Catholic Church allowed girls to do that)? Sandi is now looking to renew her relationship with Godde, and she is very interested in a Godde who created women to be equals with men, and a Godde who calls those women to lead, protect, and teach their people. Like Catherine Caine she noticed, when it comes to women in the Bible, they act. They did what needs to be done, regardless of society’s perceptions. She liked the women she met in the E-book, and you can hear her thoughts on a couple of them in the following excerpt:

Podcast: SandiAmorimFull.mp3

Like Sandi, do you think this is something that young girls need to hear about? Do they need to know these stories?

Find out what strong, intelligent and incredible women populate the pages of the Bible. Discover that women can be more than helpers and volunteers. They can be leaders too! Buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down.

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Paul Was Not an Evil Misogynist: Podcast with Mark Mattison

photo © 2007 Francois Bester | more info (via: Wylio)Earl

A lot of people blame Paul when part of the Christian Church claims that man is the head of the women and the head of the home , and, therefore, cannot hold leadership positions in the church. They say Paul said that:

Men are the head of women & the head of the home.
Paul told women to be quiet in church.
Paul told women they couldn’t teach men.

Too bad for them Paul didn’t say all these things. Paul’s words are interpreted to say these things, but that’s not what Paul actually said.

Earlier this year I posted on why the Apostle Paul was not the evil misogynist he’s cracked up to be. I looked at the verses in 1 Corinthians 11 that are normally used to keep women subordinated to men, and out of leadership positions, and showed that the passage can be translated to empower women instead of marginalize them. My friend, Mark Mattison, posted on the same subject at The Christian Godde Project over the weekend. In this podcast on Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down, we talked about Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church and why a few verses cannot be taken out of either letter to be what Godde meant for all time. Here are the verses we’ll be talking about this podcast:

Now I praise you, sisters and brothers, that you remember me in all things, and hold firm the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.

<You say:> ”But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christa, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christa is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonors her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, because he is the image and radiance of Godde, but the woman is the radiance of the man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man; for neither was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”

But the woman ought to have liberty over her head because after all she will judge the angels. The point is, neither is the woman independent of the man, nor the man independent of the woman, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, so a man also comes through a woman; but all things are from Godde. Judge for yourselves. “Is it appropriate that a woman pray to Godde unveiled?” Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her instead of a covering. But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither do Godde’s communities (1 Corinthians 11:2-6, DFV).

Mark Mattison

Mark is an independent scholar who was the founder and is still a contributor at The Paul Page, which keeps up with all the scholarship coming out on the Apostle Paul (no small task). Mark is also one of the founding members of The Christian Godde Project and the general editor of The Divine Feminine Version New Testament. Mark and his family live on the wrong side of Lake Michigan in Michigan (key words: lake effect snow) where they get a whole lot more snow than we do on the right side of  Lake Michigan in Chicago.

Podcast: MarkMatthison1Corinthians11.wav

Find out what Paul really said about women keeping silent and not teaching men when you buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. (Hint: Paul wasn’t talking about all women for all time. He was talking to very specific troublemakers in very specific congregations.)

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The third full length podcast with Sandi Amorin will be posted next Monday (10/3)!

Women, the Bible, Submission & Abuse: Podcast with Lainie Petersen

Lainie Petersen

Women Don’t Need No Education

In May Lainie Petersen and I talked about the danger of women being limited to submissive “help mates” in this podcast for What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. One of the many alarming things coming out of the Christian Patriarchy Movement is the belief that women do not need an education as they will be stay-at-home mothers. They don’t need to go to college as they will never work outside of the home. Lainie and I discussed how this movement is discouraging women from pursuing degrees in religion and theology.

Last month Lainie pointed her Facebook friends to a blogpost that showed the movement discouraging their daughters from going to college and one woman’s regret that she did not pursue more education:

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

Earlier this year I published a little E-book called What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. I interviewed four amazing people about the E-book to see what they thought about it.

Originally I bundled these podcasts with the book, but I’ve decided to make them available on the blog, free of charge. Why? Because of things I keep seeing like this blog post.

BECAUSE LIES LIKE THIS ARE ALIVE AND WELL IN OUR WORLD.

This is the reason I wrote Women Who Didn’t Shut Up and Sit Down–to show that Conservative and Fundamentalist Christianity is touting only one of the ways to interpret Scriptures. There are other ways (many other ways) to interpret what the Bible has to say about men, women, and marriage.

That’s why I’m releasing the podcasts, and that’s why you’re going to hear a whole lot about both the podcasts and the E-book in the next month or so. Because people are asking women politcians if they submit to their husbands. Because curriculum is coming out that teaches: “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.’” Because women are being told they don’t need an education and will never have to work outside of the home.

Godde made men and women as equals in all areas of life to stand by stand and show people what the image of Godde looks like: male and female working together to building Godde’s kingdom of love right here, right now.

Stop the lies. Learn the truth for yourselves. Then teach it to your children. Buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down Now. (Then you can listen to the brilliant podcast of Lainie Petersen.)

Buy NowLainie Petersen

Lainie Petersen is a very dear friend of mine. It’s not an exaggeration to say I would not have made it through my year of loss and new beginnings without her. Lainie is an ordained priest and bishop in the Independent Catholic Church. She holds an Masters of Divinity and a degree in Christian History from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary and a degree in library science from Dominican University. A few years ago Lainie decided she wanted to learn about tea and wound up discovering a new profession for herself: blogging about her tea drinking adventures at LainieSips.com where she is known as the Bishop and the Tea Lady.

In this podcast excerpt Lainie and I talk about why it is so important to bring the women of the Bible out of the shadows and show the range of roles these women acted in. Limiting women to the roles of submissive wife and mother and telling them to shut up and sit down leads to abuse–spiritual, physical, and sexual–along with slowly pushing women out of college and seminary Bible and theology classes. Lainie talks of recent incidents in which patriarchal male leaders have been let off on sexual abuse as well as the fundamentalist drive to remove women from academia.

Podcast: LainiePetersenFull.mp3

Here is a link to the book Lainie recommended: Ordaining Women: Culture and Conflict in Religious Organizations by Mark Chaves.

I was extremely glad that Lainie and I talked about these issues after reading this post from Grace at Are Women Human? Later that day another friend directed me to the Women’s Bible Programs at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. These issues are alive and well in evangelical and fundamentalist cultures in the U.S. I have written about the programs for seminary wives at places such as SBTS as well as introduced my readers to ordained female pastors and evangelists of the early 20th century in the Church of the Nazarene in this post.

Did you know there where evangelical, holiness, and pentecostal churches that ordained women as early as 1851 and continued ordaining women into the early 20th century? What do you think of the fundamentalist move to keep women out of college and seminary level Bible and theology classes?

Find out what strong, intelligent, and incredible women populate the pages of the Bible. See what Godde had in mind when she created women in her image. Buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down.

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The third full length podcast with Mark Mattison will be posted next Monday (9/26)!

Biblical Women Doing What Needs to Be Done: Podcast with Catherine Caine

Madame President, will you submit to your husband?

Earlier this year I published a little E-book called What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. I interviewed four amazing people about the E-book to see what they thought about it. I didn’t limit myself to Christians: two of my interviews were with women who aren’t Christians. Catherine Caine was one of those women.

Originally I bundled these podcasts with the book, but I’ve decided to make them available on the blog, free of charge. Why? Because of things I keep seeing. First there was the Republican presidential debate where Michelle Bachmann was asked if she would submit to her husband while president. I’m sure all of you saw the firestorm that created on both TV and the internet.

But it’s not a valid question because women are no longer the property of their husbands just like we in the Western world no longer own slaves. Just as the biblical commands to slaves are no longer applicable in today’s world, neither are the commands for women to submit to their husbands. The oldest man in the family is no longer the dictator of the entire family; therefore, the commands to the domain of his dictatorship no longer exists. It’s time for Christians to move on and refine their views of marriage to reflect the truth of marriage today: we choose who we marry and enter into marriage as two equals. Our marriages are no longer arranged by parents to get political and social power, where marriage was a power structure just as the Roman heirarchy was a power structure. There are no longer any Caesars making decrees for an entire empire, and in the Western World, there is no longer the family patriarch reigning from on high over the entire clan.

Tell me sweet little lies

The other reason I’m posting the podcasts this month is because of a horrible curriculum recently released by The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood*called “Rejoicing in God’s Good Design: A Study for Youth on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”*.

(*I’m not sending my people to these sites directly, plus I am not helping their SEO rankings. You want to see it for yourself, Google them. Ditto with Bachmann.)

Suzanne McCarthy and J. K. Gayle brought this curriculum to my attention at the end of August.

Here a couple of quotes from the curriculum itself:

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

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. (Via J. K.)

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?

Suzanne did a wonderful job showing the lie of “a man’s orientation is to work and a woman’s orientation is to helping” in her brilliant series, A Women’s Orientation to Work ( Parts 2, 3, and 4).

Yes, I released this book a few months ago with hype and marketing. And now I’m going to hype it and market it some more.

BECAUSE OF LIES LIKE THIS THAT ARE ALIVE AND WELL IN OUR WORLD.

This is the reason I wrote Women Who Didn’t Shut Up and Sit Down–to show that Conservative and Fundamentalist Christianity is touting only one of the ways to interpret Scriptures. There are other ways (many other ways) to interpret what the Bible has to say about men, women, and marriage.

That’s why I’m releasing the podcasts, and that’s why you’re going to hear a whole lot about both the podcasts and the E-book in the next month or so. Because people are asking women politcians if they submit to their husbands (would a male politician be asked if he loved his wife the way Christ loved the church in a debate?).

I’m doing this because the so-called “Biblical” Council of Manhood and Womanhood are releasing curriculum that is lying to our children and teens about their relationships with each other. Sunday School teachers and youth leaders: if you want to show your kids actual Biblical relationships, buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up and Sit Down. You only need to buy the E-book once then you can print off as many copies as you need. Make sure your kids hear a different way to interpret what the Bible says: give them a way to defend themselves and present another view when they’re told that Godde made women to be submissive helpers.

Godde made men and women as equals in all areas of life to stand by stand and show people what the image of Godde looks like: male and female working together to building Godde’s kingdom of love right here, right now.

Stop the lies. Learn the truth for yourselves. Then teach it to your children. Buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down Now. (Then you can listen to the brilliant podcast of Catherine Caine.)

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Catherine Caine

Catherine Caine is a Magnificence Amplifier. What is that you might wonder. I’ll let her tell you:

Catherine Caine

I help people uncover and amplify their absolutely best work – the work that brings the most profound impact into their lives and the lives of everyone around them. It doesn’t matter what the work IS – the world is still a better place every time there’s another person working to stretch the limits of their potential and create work that matters profoundly to them and to their bestest people.

I do that in three ways:

I translate and filter the jumble of thoughts ping-ponging around in your mind so you can identify and articulate your best work. There are no one-size-fits-all answers – it’s impossible to strive for splendiferous amazing work until you know what splendiferous looks like to you. (And feels like, smells like, tastes like…)

I light the path for you to discover the permission to strive for that amazing work. (Note that I don’t give you permission, I help you find your own permission. I’m not a permission idol: it’s much smarter for you to have your strength in your pocket.)

And I turn the dial up to 11, with effective, brand-consistent, conventional and unconventional, feel-good-in-the-morning, damn fun marketing strategy that focuses on identifying the people who would love the living hell out of your best work, and rocking their worlds until they adore you and can’t wait to buy what you’re selling.

You will find Catherine at Cash and Joy where she helps people like me figure out how to get the word out about our products and services. But that’s not Catherine’s real superpower. Her real superpower is storytelling. She doesn’t give you dried and worn-out facts and datum, she tells stories that help you connect the dots in your own business and make you think about how to go about marketing yourself. She’s one of the most brilliant storytellers I’ve come across online, and even if you don’t need any marketing advice, you should go read her stories.

Catherine is a secular humanist who lives in Australia. Why am I interviewing a secular humanist for an E-book about the women of the Bible? Because traditional belief about women and their place in the world, does not effect only women in the church. For years Western Christian Europe and the USA conquered and colonized most of the world and evangelized along the way. This means the beliefs that women should be subordinate to men and stay at home have traveled all around the world disguised as what the Bible says. The mistranslations and misinterpretations I cover in the book, along with the marginalization of the women in the Bible, effect women whether they’re Christians or not. Many fundamentalist Christians believe women joining the work force and wanting to be ordained and leaders in the church, is killing society as we know it. Feminism is the reason for higher divorce rates and the downfall of the family in the USA according to some fundamentalist camps. There are Christian men in the workforce who tell their female co-workers they shouldn’t be there. I want these women to have a safe place to come and find resources to help them deal with the Christian patriarchy wherever they might encounter it. I want this website to be a resource for both Christian women and non-Christian women. That’s why I interviewed Catherine.

Podcast: CatherineCaineFull.mp3

 

Find out what strong, intelligent, and incredible women populate the pages of the Bible. See what Godde had in mind when she created women in her image. Buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down.

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The So-called "Biblical" Marry a Strong-ER Christian Man Myth

I regularly do searches on Twitter to see what people are talking about within the world of Christiandom, especially when it comes to women. Some form of this tweet pops up on a regular basis:

If u r a strong Christian woman, marry a strong-ER Christian man or you’ll be frustrated. (I take no responsibility for the horrible grammar.)

I have a confession to make:

Hello, my name is Shawna (Everyone: Hello Shawna!) I am a strong  Christian woman who did NOT marry a strong-ER Christian man. I married the man that I am a power equal to.

Everyone: Huh?

I married the man that I am a power equal to, which happens to be the literal translation of the phrase in Genesis 2 that is normally mistranslated as “helpmate.” In Genesis 2:18 Godde says, “I will make him an help meet for him.” And yes readers that is the good ole King James Version because the KJV is the only translation to translate ezer cenegdo correctly. Notice it does not say helpmate. It says help meet. In Old English meet means equal. Godde will make the human a help equal to him. Woman was created to be an equal. Normally when ezer (help) is used it refers to Godde. Someone or the entire nation of Israel is calling on God to come and help them. Help is not a term of subordination, not if the same word is used to describe Godde. Ezer has another meaning: power. Both help and power come from the same root in Hebrew. So ezer can be translated as either help or power: the reason you can help someone is because you have to power to do so. The second  part of the phrase, cenegdo means to stand face-to-face, or stand as equals. The literal translation of ezer cenegdo is a help/power equal to. Woman was created to be a help/power equal to man.

This totally changed my view of what I was looking for in a husband. Actually it didn’t change it. I just hadn’t had the words to describe what I wanted before. I always planned on marrying an equal; an equal who respected me and wholly supported me in what Godde called me to do. Now I knew who I was looking for: I was looking for the man that I was a power equal to. And I knew he’d be quite a man. I’m one heck of a force of nature to be reckoned with. It turns out the power I am equal to was right under my nose: one of my best friends. After eight years of being friends, we married, and he is the power that I am equal to. I am very happy that I did not marry someone stronger than me spiritually. I married someone who was equal with me spiritually. As far as I’m concerned that’s the only way to go.

I’m not the only one to think so. Priscialla and Aquila thought that too. Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together, and most of the time Priscilla’s name comes first in Acts and in Paul’s letters. This was unheard of that time. Wives’ names NEVER came before their husbands’ names at that time, in that culture. As far as Priscilla and Aquila, Paul, and Luke were concerned, Priscilla was not the property of Aquila, she was his ezer cenegdo, his equal. Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos together, they made tents together, and they pastored home churches together. Priscilla was the power equal to Aquila. Considering they planted churches in at least 3 cities across the Roman Empire (including Rome), I’d say that being equals worked out pretty well for them.

In other words, you as a Christian woman, will not be frustrated if you do not marry a man who is spiritually stronger than you. That’s not who you are suppossed to marry. You’re supposed to marry the man that you are a power equal to. Or anyway that’s what Genesis says and that’s what Priscilla and Aquila lived out. I’m pretty happy with the arrangement myself.

Related Posts:

Does It Really Mean “Helpmate”?
Career Women of the Bible: Teachers, Elders and Co-workers

(On Twitter I’m @shawnaatteberry.)

Proverbs 31: A "Capable" Wife, Huh?

Yesterday in Sermon Meanderings: The Proverbs 31 Woman, I told you that I discovered something about this woman earlier this week, I had never known. While doing research for my sermon this Sunday, I was looking at The New Interpreter’s Bible, and I discovered that there is a ton of military imagery in the poem! I’m not talking about a reference or two here. I mean there is military imagery used throughout this poem to describe this woman. I grew up hearing that this woman was two things: obedient and submissive (two traits that are not even in these verses). But all of the military images through this passage shows that she was a strong and decisive woman.

The first military image is the the first word used to describe her, “capable”: “A capable wife, who can find?” The Hebrew word, hayil, is used to describe men as “strong,” “mighty,” and “with competence and vigor,” especially in warfare. At it’s very root it means power; a power that is able to acquire strength through gaining money and/or raising an army. Right off the bat, we are told this is a strong woman who knows how to get things done.

The second military image is found in verse 11: “[her husband] will lack no gain.” The literal meaning of gain is spoils from war or booty. In the NIB, Raymond C. Van Leeuwen notes that using this word in this passage is strange: it “suggests the woman is like a warrior bringing home booty from her victories.” She goes out and fights for what her family needs. She makes sure her family has everything they need to survive.

The next martial image is in verse 16: “She considers a field and buys it.” The word “buy” may not be such a good translation of the Hebrew word. Literally, she “takes” the field, and this word is normally used of an army taking a city or a region. The verb means to conquer and subdue a territory. This verse shows the woman looking at a wild field and figuring out how to tame it and subdue it into a vineyard. In the Judean highlands turning a plot of land into a vineyard took a massive amount of work. The soil is rocky, and all of the rocks have to be removed, then the land terraced, and the rocks built into a wall, so that the vineyard doesn’t wash down the hillside at the first good rain. It also had to be terraced to make sure that enough water stayed on the land so the vines could grow. Like a general she surveys her battlefield and plans her attack. Anyone who has ever gardened knows this is not an over-exaggeration.

In the very next verse our Valiant Woman “girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong” or in the good old King James Version, she “girded up her loins” (one of my all time favorite KJVisms). Men normally gird up their loins in the Bible for a heroic deed, normally a deed that involves fighting. Having a strong arm is another Biblical metaphor for being battle ready. Van Leeuwen has this to say: “‘She puts her hands to’ is an idiom that has military connotations of mastery, thus reinforcing the heroic character of the woman’s activities.”

The end of the poem comes back to where we began with the word hayil. Here it describes the woman’s actions when her husband compares her to other women: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Here hayil is translated as “done excellently.” The Valiant Woman has done deeds of strength and power that again refer to warfare and gaining wealth. “Surpass them all” is another “idiom that often refers to military activity.”

Van Leeuwen concludes that this a heroic hymn that cast this woman in her daily life as a warrior who fights and brings the best to her family. He wraps up the Reflections part of this passage with this observation:

The use of masculine images in praise of a woman (vv. 17, 25) must be considered in the light of the poem’s masculine audience. If ancient Israel admired the man of war (even Yahweh in Exodus 15:1-3) who defended God’s people from their enemies, and if Israelite males, like men throughout history, were sinfully prone to demean women as the “the weaker sex,” the praise of woman here is designed to alter errant male perceptions of women. The heroic terms of strength usually applied to men are here given to a woman so her splendor and wisdom may be seen by all.

Again we see in looking at the women of the Bible that gender roles just were not that set in stone as some people want them to be. Very masculine imagery is used to describe the woman’s life as a wife and a mother. And being a wife and mother is not contained to the home. The woman goes out and gets a plot of land in shape to plant a vineyard. She plants the vineyard with “the fruit of her own hand,” her own money. She also goes out and sells what she and her serving girls make to the local merchants, bringing in income for the family. She is a wife, mother, entrepeneur and business woman. And all of these roles are described with masculine and military imagery. I guess it just goes to show what I’ve been saying for the last few years: feminine and masculine gender roles are just not set in stone for all time in the Bible. We cannot go back to “biblical” manhood and womanhood because there is no such thing.

Related Post
Sermon Meanderings: The Proverbs 31 Woman

Sermon: Dame Wisdom in Action
Poem: In the Beginning Was

This post is based on “Proverbs” by Raymond C. Leeuwen in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5, pp. 260-4.

There are no affliate links in this post.

Biblical Women Who Didn't Submit: Sarah

Bedouin Meets Europe by Piotr Pastusiak.

Bedouin Meets Europe by Piotr Pastusiak.

It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you (1 Peter 3:4-5).

I have one question about these verses: Who is this Sarah Peter is speaking of? Because this is not the Sarah I have encountered in the Old Testament. Here are some viginettes of the Sarah we find in Genesis:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.

He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her (Genesis 16:1-6).

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:9-13).

Now Sarah also did obey Abraham when he wanted her to say she was his sister, so Abraham would not be killed by Pharaoh or Abimelech. Sarah obeyed and in both cases was taken into both rulers’ harems. But we don’t see Sarah submitting in all ways to Abraham as complementarians would have wives to submit blindly to their husbands today. It was her idea to give Hagar to Abraham as his concubine, so they could have children.  When Hagar started looking at Sarah with contempt, it was Sarah who blamed Abraham, who returned Hagar to being Sarah’s slave instead of his concubine.

It was Sarah who told Abraham that Ishmael would not inherit with her son, Isaac, and to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Godde sides with Sarah on this and tells Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Godde will honor the covenant to both women: their sons shall become nations, but Sophia-Yahweh’s covenant would go through Isaac.

1 Peter would have us believe that Sarah was always submissive. But she wasn’t. Genesis gives a very different picture of this brave, strong woman who left all she knew to follow Sophia-Yahweh and find the land Godde had promised to her and Abraham’s descendants. She told Abraham what she thought, and she made decisions that affected God’s covenant for millenia to come. Sarah was not always a nice person, and she was definitely wrong in the ways she dealt with familial problems, but she was not a submissive wallflower who blindly followed her husband.

Related Posts

Biblical Women Who Didn’t Submit: Abigail
Woman of the Week: Sarah

Me, Working at Home, and the Bible

Girls in Cairo weaving

Girls in Cairo weaving

Since I struck out for the freelance life almost three years ago, I’ve wondered if I’m actually working. I work from home, I stay in my PJs to all hours of the afternoon, and I don’t make a lot of money. When people ask me what I do, and I say, “I’m a writer,” I wonder if that’s a “real job.” After all you actually have to take showers and work a specific amount of hours to have a “real job” right? Not to mention you get a regular pay check at a “real job.”

I’ve also been at odds with myself over housework. Because I’m the one who’s home a lot, I do most of the housework. It’s nice to break up sitting around on the computer with doing a load of laundry or picking stuff up. And who hasn’t put off writing a blog post to clean out the fridge? (OK, My Hubby wishes I did this.) I used to find all sorts of house stuff to do when I was in school too. It’s amazing what needs to be cleaned right now when you need to parse Greek verbs or write a soul-bearing blog post.

Then something happened last year. Something devastating: I actually wanted to to do housework, and figure out how to be a decent homekeeper. This feminist-who-did-not-want-to-be-an-absolute-clean-freak-like-her-mother freaked out. You can reading about my freaking out here.

And through all of this it never hit me what a total hypocrite I was. You see I’m writing this book called Career Women of the Bible. In the Bible most of the work was done at home, and women did a substantial amount of the work for the family to survive including house repairs, all the food preparation, making sure the children didn’t wander off into wadis or be trampled by sheep or goats, and they spun thread and wove all the textiles the family and the household needed. In fact women’s work–textiles–drove the ancient economy. Women wove and their men traveled and sold the textiles. They sent back the money from the textiles to their wives, and the wives spent it how they saw fit.*

So here I am being this big advocate that yes women worked and had actual careers in the Bible, and most of that work was done at home. In fact, most men worked from home because work and home hadn’t been divided by the Industrial Revolution yet. Even if you lived in a town or city, your shop or business was run out of your home. Home, work, and family were interwoven.

I realized what a disconnect I was having a couple of weeks ago when I read What Does “Workers at Home” Really Mean? I was cheering what Sandra was saying when it hit me. I was not practicing what I preach. All the women in the Bible I applaud, preach about, teach about, and storytell about worked from their homes. Their weaving drove ancient economy, and they were in charge of the family’s largest resource: food. The women apportioned the food and made it last from one harvest to the next.

The matriarchs were in charge of small moving businesses, and their weaving probably helped the family buy the thing they needed while roaming around Canaan and Egypt. Not to mention their weaving literally sheltered the family: they wove the goat’s hair in thread and wove the panels for the tent. (Women’s work was also setting up the tents and tearing them down.) Rahab was a prostitute yes, but she also ran an inn (most likely in her own home), and there is flax on her roof for weaving. The Proverbs 31 woman has girls who weave for her, and she sells the textiles. She also buys and sells property. Priscilla and Aquila made tents, and Lydia did travel for her business: she was a merchant of the purple cloth that only royalty could buy.

In addition, the early church met in people’s homes. We know Priscilla and Aquila had churches meet in at least in three of their homes spread over Asia and in Rome. The first church in Europe met in Lydia’s home. Homes were the hubs of hospitality and grace. Homes are where the first Christians heard of God’s love and grace, ate together, and celebrated the Eucharist together.

And I didn’t think “real work” could happen in my home. I was wondering if I was really working and could honestly say I work just because I don’t go to an office and keep certain hours. I am a working woman in my home just like all the women of the Bible. Like them I am also a homekeeper. I am in charge of one of the things that cost us the most money: food. I shop and provide our meals. I love it. I love to cook, and I love to feed people. Nothing shows love like cooking. I also want my home to be a place to live in, be comfortable in, have people over, and not look like a couple of tornadoes go through it a week. So I pick up, do laundry, sweep, and mop, so that I don’t have to do a manic clean-out just to have somone over for dinner. For some reason I think Sarah, Deborah, Martha, and Priscilla would approve.

*For an extensive record of women and the textile industry read Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times. In fact, this is must read to really understand how intertwined the home and business were in the ancient world. “Cloth for the Caravans” is the chapter that deals with women weavers sending their wares out on caravans for trading. The letters between the husbands and wives they recovered are great!

(There are affliate links in this post.)