The Remarkable Women of The Bible
by Ken Adams (e-mail: KAdams@liberator.net) [Updated April 24th, 2005]
Throughout its pages, the Bible is consistent in its treatment of women. This is probably the kindest thing that can be said about God’s gender relations. He is consistent. From start to finish, the Bible is unwavering in its opinion of women as inferior and unworthy possessions.
The Bible seems to have had it in for women right from the start. It was man that was created in God’s image, whereas woman was an afterthought that was manufactured out of spare man parts. The Bible documents that the first woman in history made a pretty big mess of things. Eve messed things up for the whole human race by eating of the forbidden fruit. So, since that time, woman has been blamed for all sin, imperfection, sickness, and death. As a result of Eve’s action, all women born on the face of the earth have been cursed to feel pain during childbirth and be dominated by men.
“The Bible has a long and unvarying history of discrimination against women. Undoubtedly, no other book has done more to prevent gender equality.”
All of the above things happened before the end of the first three chapters of the Bible. And from that point on, things didn’t get any better.
In the notorious third chapter of Leviticus, the relative value of humans is placed in dollar terms. Humans that are dedicated to God are assigned a sacrifice value, measured in shekels. Not surprisingly, male humans are assigned a greater value, with a female being worth between 50% and 67% of a male’s value.
The book of Proverbs sums up the Bible’s view of women quite succinctly when it says: “A capable wife is a crown to her owner.” (Proverbs 12:4 NWT)
You might expect that things improved for women in the New Testament, but alas, any improvement was minor. Although they made some progress beyond the level of possessions, they were still treated as subordinates, and denied any privileges in the congregation. Many Christian churches today, including the biggest of them all, do not allow women clergy. The Apostle Paul’s viewpoint on the matter is summed up below:
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says.” - 1 Corinthians 14:33,34
Fundamentalist religions go even beyond this level. I grew up in a religion that allowed women the freedom to work as hard as they wanted, but would not grant any form of recognition or prestige to them. In fact, they took the following scripture quite literally:
“Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head -- it is the same as if her head were shaven.” - 1 Corinthians 11:4,5
In my particular religion, there was a rule that a woman could not say a prayer aloud in front of a baptized man. The baptized man must say the prayer. If the man was unable to say the prayer, or if the only present man was unbaptized, a woman could say the prayer, but only if she had a head covering.
This created an occasional problem. When the rule was made, hats for both men and women were very common, but over the years, fewer and fewer people wore hats. There were situations where a woman would need to say a prayer, but couldn’t find anything suitable to put on her head. I can still bring to mind an event from my childhood, where my mother, who was the equal of any man in religious matters, said a prayer for a small group with a paper napkin on her head. Pretty classy.
The Bible has a long and unvarying history of discrimination against women. Undoubtedly, no other book has done more to prevent gender equality. But, to be fair, the Bible didn’t actually invent sexual discrimination, it merely reflected it.
It is unfortunate that the Bible did not recognize the talents of the women in its pages, because some of them were truly remarkable. This chapter deals with some of the amazing women of the Bible.
The Old and the Beautiful
Sarah was a looker. There was no doubt about it. We know this for a fact, because on one occasion, Abraham and Sarah took a trip to Egypt, and on that trip, Abraham was so worried about Sarah’s beauty that he came up with a plan. He was afraid that the Egyptians would kill him so that they could take his wife. Here is the plan:
“When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sar'ai his wife, ‘I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.’ When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.” - Genesis 12:11-15
So, Sarah went along with the plan, and apparently lived as a wife of Pharaoh for a while. This story is plausible. There are beautiful women in the world, and Abraham would not be the first husband blown away by a new suitor. Unfortunately, Sarah was a little old for this kind of attention. Genesis 12:4 tells us that when this trip took place, Abraham was 75 years old. According to Genesis 17:17, Sarah was ten years younger than him. So, this temptress was 65 years old when she turned the head of Pharaoh. And don’t forget that Pharaoh had a harem full of young, beautiful, women.
But, it gets even better. Eight chapters later, it happens again - same story, same plan by Abraham:
“And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ And Abim'elech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.” - Genesis 20:2
Now, this is getting a little ridiculous. By this time, Sarah is 90 years old. Not only is she old, but no one has any illusions about her allure. These words were spoken prior to the fling with Abimelech:
“Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’" - Genesis 18:11,12
Apparently, she still had a fair bit of pleasure coming.
But, let’s bring this back to reality. The Pharaoh story, with Sarah at 65 years of age, was a little hard to swallow, but this is ridiculous.
On the other hand, maybe these early kings, with harems full of beautiful young girls, both had a kinky thing for old women. Could this be where we get the modern expression “Abimilech-bait”?
Hagar the Horrible
Sarah, the wife of Abraham, had an Egyptian slave girl named Hagar. When Sarah was unable to have children, she suggested that Abraham take Hagar to produce a child on her behalf. Abraham agreed, and a child, Ishmael, was born.
The Bible describes Hagar as a pretty much normal woman. But, if we look below the surface at one of the bible events, we find that she must have been extremely large and powerful. Notice how forcefully she handles her young son:
“So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, "Let me not look upon the death of the child." And as she sat over against him, the child lifted up his voice and wept.” - Genesis 21:14-16
Notice that Hagar carried her son on her shoulder. She also cast him under a bush, and then went away to let him die of exposure. This seems fairly plausible, providing Ishmael is a small child. How big was he? Well, let’s calculate.
To begin, we need to determine the age of Ishmael when the events of the story take place. Here are some references to help:
“Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish'mael to Abram.” - Genesis 16:16
“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” - Genesis 17:17 (speaking of the birth of Isaac)
“And the child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.” - Genesis 21:8
So, Ishmael was 14 years older than Isaac. When our story takes place, Isaac has just been weaned. The Bible does not say how old Isaac was at this time, but it was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of two years. This number couldn’t be out by more than a couple of years. So, Ishmael must now be around 16. This conclusion is backed by the reason for the events. Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away because Ishmael had been teasing Isaac. It would be difficult to taunt an infant, so the 16 year age for Ishmael would be on the low end of possible ages.
Now, let’s go back and rethink Hagar’s actions. First of all, she carried her 16 year old son on her shoulder. My son is 14. He is almost as tall as I am. I suspect that I am bigger and stronger than Hagar, but I wouldn’t consider carrying my son on my shoulder. The hernia would be secondary to the absurdity of the spectacle.
Then she cast him under a bush and left him to die. Why would he die? He would just get up and walk away. If anything, Hagar would probably die of exposure before he did.
But, since we know that the Bible is accurate and infallible in all its details, then we can only conclude that Hagar must have been built like Andre the Giant.
The Geriatric Beauty Queen
The book of Esther records the story of an ancient beauty pageant. The King of Assyria had become displeased with his wife and was looking for a successor. So, a contest was held to find the most pleasing young virgin in the empire.
“Then the King’s servants who attended him said, ’Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the Capital, under the custody of Hegai the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; let their ointments be given them. And let the maiden who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’” - Esther 2:2-4
It’s clear that he was looking for someone young and exceptionally beautiful. As a king with a harem, he could be pretty choosy. The call went out specifically for young virgins.
A Jewish girl, named Esther, turned out to be the most pleasing girl in the empire. She was chosen by the king, and was installed as his queen. The story goes on to tell about the events of the day, and how the Jews were saved from genocide by the actions of courageous Queen Esther.
The problem with this story is that the time and age numbers do not add up. To begin, let’s place the story in history:
“In those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his throne in Susa the Capital, in the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his princes and servants.” - Esther 1:2,3
The third year of the reign of king Ahasuerus was 484 B.C. Now, let’s get the age of Esther, calculated through her uncle and step father, Mordecai.
“Now there was a Jew in Susa the capital whose name was Mor'decai, the son of Ja'ir, son of Shim'e-i, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconi'ah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnez'zar king of Babylon had carried away. He had brought up Hadas'sah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother; the maiden was beautiful and lovely, and when her father and her mother died, Mor'decai adopted her as his own daughter.” - Esther 2:5-7
So, Mordecai had been one of the captives taken to Babylon in the year 597 B.C. If he was a newborn baby when this happened, he could not be less than 113 years old when this story took place. Likely, he would be even older than this. Esther was his cousin.
What is the maximum age difference between two cousins? Well, my father is the youngest of nine children, and I am his youngest child. I have a cousin who is thirty years older than me. This is much higher than average. If we use the extreme low figure for the age of Mordecai when he was taken to Babylon (113), and the extreme high figure for the age difference between Mordecai and Esther (50), we come to the minimum possible age for Esther at the time of this story - 63. Using more realistic numbers, she was probably between 85 and 100 years of age.
Now, let’s visualize this beauty pageant. The most beautiful young virgin maidens come before the king. In those days, they liked their women young, so most of the girls would probably be in the range of 16 to 21 years old. Standing in the middle of the group is 85 year old Esther... I suspect that whoever put her in the lineup got beheaded at that point. But, amazingly, she was the one who was picked.
She must have been one hot old lady. I hope my wife looks that good when she’s 85.
PBS: Women in Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries Religious Tolerance: The Status of Women in The Bible No Beliefs: The Dark Bible: Women's Inferior Status Freedom From Religion Foundation: Why Women Need Freedom From Religion