For many women, the Bible offers a lens through which to view ancient womanhood. There are stories of women with many different qualities and gifts, life experiences, and spiritual challenges. There are dark tales filled with despicable deeds of depravity and despair. But there are also inspiring stories of hope, healing, and dreams of a better tomorrow.
While the women of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) led lives severely restricted by a patriarchal culture, many of their situations (like that of Sarah and Rachel, who were barren for a long time) resonate with modern women who are experiencing infertility. Others (like the mother in the Second Book of Maccabees who lost her seven sons in one day because her beliefs differed from that of a “mad king”) deeply mourned the reversals in their lives; in a post-9/11 world, such senseless loss and the mourning that follows is something modern people can relate to. Ancient women who were marginalized because they became widows (like the women in the Book of Ruth), or suffered illness (such as the New Testament woman with the issue of blood, whose only hope was to touch the hem of Jesus' garment), or were overcome by demons of mental illness (such as the Slave Girl of Philippi or Mary Magdalene) have modern counterparts who are also suffering and desperate for understanding and help.
Much has been written about the fact that the Bible was written by men, and that the portrayals of women are therefore colored by a male point of view. Some have said that in biblical narrative, women pretty much fall into certain types of roles and paradigms that male scribes assigned them, so much so that the women lose their uniqueness because they and their roles border on cliché. I disagree.
It is true that the majority of women in the Bible lived lives limited to the domestic sphere, regulated by a patriarchal society. Yet, what I took away from my study of the Bible was that each woman was an individual. Although some women shared many things in common, each woman was unique, and many could not be labeled simply as a Jewish woman caring for home and family. There were women living a hard life in a nomadic tent culture, others raising families in small villages, and still others who thrived or suffered in cities. There were queens and prostitutes, warriors and judges, martyrs and deceivers, and devoted wives and mothers who sacrificed their own lives for others. Some were prophetesses. Where did the idea of female personification of wisdom come from, if not from the wise women of the Bible?
You will draw something unique from each of these women's stories, depending upon how you view the Bible. Some people believe the Bible to be literally the Word of God, while others believe it to be inspired, and still others hold a more critical view. But there is something universal in the experience of womanhood. I have attempted to reveal the information about each woman's story without editorializing or inserting my own interpretations and feelings. It is my hope that if there is something specific you are seeking, a secret or a key to unlock meaning in your own life, you will find it here.
May the richly diverse stories of these ancient women echo through time to bless and enrich your life in myriad ways.