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Source: (consider it) Thread: Female Valor in the Old Testament
LutheranChik
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I am enrolled in a MOOC class on the history of the Bible, taught by Dr. Jacob Wright of Emory University. Wright's thesis is that the Hebrew Bible is essentially a response to Israel and Judah's defeats and loss of statehood. He argues that one of the goals of the writers and redactors was to redefine the concept of " hero" in the wake of statist defeat/displacement, and in doing so makes everyday life, the domestic front, a place where heroes are made. This in turn allows for the possibility of women to become national heroes on a par with men and in a manner that wouldn't have been supported in the surrounding pagan cultures.

Even though I've read feminist theology for years, this was an " Aha" insight for me.

Any thoughts? Do you think Wright and his colleagues are on to something?

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Brenda Clough
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A good example might be Queen Esther. A member of the oppressed minority, by becoming a sex slave, manages to claw her way into a position of power.

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LutheranChik
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That was in fact one of his examples. And he also cited Queen Vashti who, while she was a Gentile and wasn't successful in her resistance, spoke truth to power. I've actually heard Christian fundamentaists criticize the queen for her insubordination and draw a negative parallel between her defiance and Esther's more charmingly feminine subversion. [Eyeroll] I think Wright would argue that the Queen Vashti story was put there to set the stage: " This guy's a depraved, capricious bastard."

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Moo

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I think Abigail's first encounter with David showed valor.

Moo

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Brenda Clough
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Sarah (wife of Abraham) is another. They start out in a really dysfunctional relationship (Look, leave me alone, I'll lend you my wife if you do).

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Kwesi
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quote:
Wright's thesis is that the Hebrew Bible is essentially a response to Israel and Judah's defeats and loss of statehood. He argues that one of the goals of the writers and redactors was to redefine the concept of " hero" in the wake of statist defeat/displacement, and in doing so makes everyday life, the domestic front, a place where heroes are made. This in turn allows for the possibility of women to become national heroes on a par with men and in a manner that wouldn't have been supported in the surrounding pagan cultures.
I'm not a biblical scholar, but I suspect that the proposition of Wright that "the Hebrew Bible is essentially a response to ....defeats and loss of statehood" is highly contestable, as his thesis regarding the unique possibility of females becoming heroes. My suspicion is that it's an attempt to read a feminism into the text that isn't really there. I would also like to know how knowledgeable he is of surrounding cultures and which of those cultures he includes in his analysis.
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LutheranChik
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Well, for one thing, Candler School of Theology at Emory isn't exactly Brother Billy Bob's Bible College and School of Hair Design...you can look up his CV if you want. His ideas are also echoed by scholars like Tamara Eskenazi.

But he never claims that the Hebrews Bible is " feminist." What he is saying is that the experience of being a defeated, outnumbered, beleaguered people pushed the Jewish community into a different understanding of heroism than the usual pagan model, and that that provided women with a means to be heroic in ways acknowledged by their community.That thesis reminds me of a Native American elder who once explained to an anthropologist that his tribe treated women, gender-divergent people, the handicapped and even the merely eccentric w with respect and equity because " Life is hard, and we can't afford to waste people."

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Kwesi
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Thanks for your response,LutheranChik. I have found the interview with Wright on Fox News regarding his central argument and read it with interest. Clearly there is much more to his argument than is printed there, but I suspect that the ‘essential’ purpose(s?) of the books of the OT are more various and complicated that seems to be suggested. For example, I don’t quite see how references to Judges supports the thesis of ‘defeat’ in that its central thrust is the conquest, displacement, if not genocide of tribes that inhabited the land when the tribes of Israel invaded. On the other hand, events surrounding the Babylonian exile clearly had an influence on later writings, though I suspect in a rather complicated ways than he seems to indicate. I’m not really sure what he’s trying to get at overall: where is his argument meant to lead us? What are we to get out of the fact that the OT writings have survived but those of other cultures in the Middle East have not? Is it, for example, meant to be evidence of divine purpose or historical accident, or what?

On the matter of space offered by defeat for heroines I’m somewhat suspicious, for while there were undoubtedly heroic female individuals there were very few of them and cannot be regarded as a social category sufficiently numerous to make Jewish culture particularly distinctive. Where, again, is his argument supposed to lead us?

I guess I'm not convinced he's on to something.

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LutheranChik
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I'm not quite sure I understand what it is you want Wright's thesis to be instead of what it is.

This is a general humanities class, not a class,in biblical apogetics or anything else. " How did the Bible come to be?" Is an interesting question for many people no matter their personal beliefs. "How did the Hebrew Bible become a widely studied, democratized collection of writings at a time and in a place when no other surrounding ctures had anything similar?" Is another good question.

I would also take issue with your argument that female heroes make up a statistically insignificant group in the Bible or in the Jewish community. Again, I think you miss Wright's point that in the post- Exilic world the definition of heroism within the Jewish community became a matter of private people acting in everyday ways thst nonetheless help the Jewish people survive ad a vulnerable group under foreign power. For every Esther story there are thousands of unnamed women who taught their children the Law and preserved their national identity. The heroic women who are mentioned in Scripture are there as role models, not some statistically correct representation of every Jewish woman who did something praiseworthy in service to the national identity.

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Gee D
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
A good example might be Queen Esther. A member of the oppressed minority, by becoming a sex slave, manages to claw her way into a position of power.

And of course Judith, who beheaded Holofernes.

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Moo

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And Jael.

Moo

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Mamacita

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And immediately before that was Deborah, judge and, arguably, military strategist. She ordered Barak to rally his troops and gave them direction against Sisera - who ultimately fled to Jael's tent, to his undoing.

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by LutheranChik:
Wright's thesis is that the Hebrew Bible is essentially a response to Israel and Judah's defeats and loss of statehood.

It might be worth considering a broadening out of the thesis (unless this is already part of it) to the history of Israel in its ancient near eastern context. So the biblical texts wouldn't just be a product of the Babylonian (or even the Assyrian) exile, but a product of engagement with aspects of the cosmological worldview that pervaded that context and of which Israel was a part.

I say this because some of the textual examples provided on the thread pre-date the exile(s) and are part of the early literary development of Israel. It could be that Israel (or at least the powerful strategists of the state/religion in Israel) pulled together the stories that demonstrated how God would work through the weak in society from time to time to undermine the authority of powers across the ancient near east. Israel was working out its unique status as part of the worldview, but finding itself able to confront the worldview - not always being an unconscious part of it.

The role of the weak applies to quite a few prophets as well; some were from positions of power, but not all. A common thread might be that the weak ("poor" in the literature?) are those with no formal voice in the ruling of the state/religion. God can speak and act through them.

Perhaps it is this aspect of the Jewish literature that Paul picked up on when he wrote:
quote:
1 Corinthians 1:26-28 [NIV]
"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are...


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Mamacita

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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:

A common thread might be that the weak ("poor" in the literature?) are those with no formal voice in the ruling of the state/religion. God can speak and act through them.

This thread came to mind during this morning's lectionary reading from
Exodus, in the story of the midwives Shiphrah and Puah. In her sermon, my rector referred to the midwives' valor as "a conspiracy of hope." And how remarkable that these women's names were preserved in the story.

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Jengie jon

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There is an interesting bit of Midrash (I hope I am using the term correctly) that associates those midwives with Moses' mother and Mirian.

Jengie

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Net Spinster
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Midrash I think is correct. Miriam gets a good chunk of extra stories.

For other women in Midrash look up Serah daughter of Asher. midrash info

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Gramps49
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Don't forget Ruth!
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Rossweisse

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I'm very partial to Deborah, the judge. And Jael does nice work, too.

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HCH
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An interesting moment (1 Kings 2) comes when Adonijah asks Bathsheba to ask Solomon to agree that Adonijah may have Abishag as his wife. She does so, which has predictable results (no more Adonijah). You can read this in two ways: either she is naive and stupid or she understands the power politics perfectly. I incline to the latter view.
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LutheranChik
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I think survival necessitated that women in the palace system understood how power worked. It's like being a slave...you have to understand Massah's system to advantage yourself or your children in it.

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Gramps49
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Little bit of a tangent here.

This last week I attended an ELCA synodical council meeting for the first time. Saturday morning several women were in the kitchen preparing coffee and cake. They were all talking about how Martha got a bad rap for asking for kitchen help. (Several men were also helping in the kitchen on Saturday.)

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Brenda Clough
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The moment you analyze any of the backstage support in the NT you see the women there. Who roasted the lamb and made the unleavened bread for the Last Supper? You can be they didn't order in carryout. Fishermen caught the fish that were divided at the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, but we know who baked the loaves.

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Moo

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I've always been impressed by Luke 8:1-3
quote:

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

It's interesting that these women had resources of their own.

Moo

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wild haggis
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I always think that it is a wonder that we have any female valor in the OT at all! Society was male dominated with the literature probably written by males. Women were treated as second class citizens by most of the OT Biblical societies.

Yet we do have brilliant role models. It is such a pity that over the years male preachers haven't always looked into the background and really analysed what was going on - focusing only on obedience of women and missing out the strength of these women in a male dominated society.

I wonder how many good women aren't mentioned? God obviously jolted these male writers to put something in about the role women played, even if if the men felt that they were the societal top dogs.

Esther showed great courage in an alien and repressive culture and saved her people. I wish we Christians gave her as much praise as the Jewish tradition does
Sarah went against the grain of old age and would not adhere to mores of aged society - aided and abetted by God. She had a good belly laugh at what was going on. More laughter in religion and church please, like Sarah. Don't trammel and stereotype us older women into bingo knitting and gosipping clubs that make tea and cakes at church with no academic and philosophical edge, just because we are over 60. How old were these women in the OT!!!!! Women of valor go on and on.
Naomi cared for her foreign born daughter in law. A great lesson in today's world where refugees are shunned.
Deborah a great judge - the first. It's taken us 20 centuries to equal her. Men don't learn do they?
It wasn't Eve that was the problem in the Garden of Eden, but Adam who was stupid enough not to use his own brain to obey God. It would appear that the serpent was male too!!! Men, follow their lower regions rather than brains so often! What would have happened had Adam thought it through and questioned what Eve was asking him to do? He could have refused to eat the fruit (it wasn't an apple anyway!) He didn't have the sense or moral courage to do so. Men aren't the top dogs they think they are.
What about Jael's daughter - rape was wrong and she knew it and did something about it in a society that seemed to accept it was OK. Yet today men still make excuses and women are blamed for men raping them.I'm not advocating we women bang tent pegs into men!!
Gosh I could go on about the brilliant women in the OT.

These were women in the Bible who stood up and spoke and acted for the right. I just don't understand why High Anglican, RCs (well many of them) and conservative evangelical Christianity uses the Bible to treat women as second class, when we have so many wonderful examples in the Bible of strong women who bucked the societal trends.

For me the NT story of Martha and Mary has more to do with Mary. Normally rabbis and their inner circle were male. Yet, here was Jesus saying - look it's OK for a woman to sit at the feet of a rabbi learning from him, rather than being a stereotypical woman in the kitchen. Jesus was actually, in my view, showing equal rights for women to be learners as much as men.

For me, women of valour in the OT show that, in spite of a male dominated society, God used women to change the way things were done. Such a pity that men don't listen - even today in churches.

So role on more women bishops, archbishops, popes and heads of theological colleges (Susan Durbar you were brilliant as Head of Westminster College, Cambridge). Let's have men looking after children and cooking and serving tea and releasing women to be women of valor.

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Chamois
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Originally posted by Moo:

quote:
I've always been impressed by Luke 8:1-3

quote:
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
It's interesting that these women had resources of their own.


The "woman of valor" (so rendered in the
Orthodox Jewish Bible ) in Proverbs 31 not only runs and finances her own business, she invests the profits in her own property portfolio (31 v7) and makes her investment decisions without consultation or reference to her husband.

It's certainly true that men wrote the Bible and have played the major part in formal interpretation of it. It's not so certain that women's roles were quite as restricted in OT times as men have made out.

The OT woman of valour in Proverbs 31 would be recognised in many cultures even today, for example the West African cultures where women are responsible for feeding the family.

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leo
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quote:
Originally posted by wild haggis:
These were women in the Bible who stood up and spoke and acted for the right. I just don't understand why High Anglican, RCs (well many of them) and conservative evangelical Christianity uses the Bible to treat women as second class, when we have so many wonderful examples in the Bible of

Who says they're 'second class'? That's explicitly against RC teaching.

Or do you equate being ordained as '1st class', in which case you have a faulty theology of holy orders?

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