In honor of #InternationalWomensDay, we’re dedicating this episode to highlighting some of the lesser-known women of the Bible. We’ll share a list of 16 of our favorite women who have been largely unheard of. We’ll explore the Second Temple period and the narrative text of Joseph and Asinith, as well as the prophet Miriam and her mentions in the Dead Sea Scrolls. We’ll also discuss the Apocrypha, a collection of texts that were removed from the Protestant Old Testament, and highlight the powerful stories of two women from that collection: Judith and Susanna. Let’s celebrate the voices of these women who have long been overlooked and forgotten in the Bible.
The 16 women are: Hagar, Vashti, Huldah, Women and the Nephilim, Batenosh, Emzara, Sarai, Aseneth, Miriam, Judith, Susanna, Anna, Woman at the Well, Woman who anoints Jesus, Salome, and Mary Magdalene.
Nate: Welcome to Almost Heretical today, in light of International Women’s Day, we wanted to do a whole episode highlighting women. This has been a really important topic for our show through the gender series we did a while back and then more recently, the woman series, all trying to change the trajectory of how the church, how Christianity, how people of faith are relating to the topic of women and their involvement in the church, leadership in the church, all these kind of things. Because for so long they’ve been kind of put on the sidelines and marginalized, and we want to do our part to change that.
Shelby: And International Women’s Day, as everyone probably knows, is kind of this up and coming holiday that none of us grew up with, and it’s kind of becoming popular. I saw flowers being marketed for International Women’s Day the other day in the store, and I was like, what? This is crazy. And one way that I’ve seen women celebrating International Women’s Day over the last few years is like on social media, they’ll highlight a number of women in their lives who are important, their mom, their close friends or sisters or daughters. And they’ll just share about these women who are important. And so with International Women’s Day, I was thinking about who are women who are important to me. And I couldn’t help but think of a bunch of these biblical names and figures. And I thought, what better way to honor these women in International Women’s Day than to emphasize their voices and their identities, especially ones who have been largely forgotten or misunderstood. So today we are just going to kind of blow through a list of 16 of my favorite women, the ones who are for the most part, unheard of, because maybe they’re not in the actual biblical text. Maybe they’re surrounding or they’re in parts of the Bible that are often misunderstood or overlooked. So essentially today I want to tell some untold stories and emphasize some unheard voices. So we are just going to breeze through these. I’m going to spew all the interesting facts and things that I love about these women, and you just tell me what you’re thinking as we go.
Nate: Awesome. And we did a little bit of this in the woman series, right? You highlighted some voices and some of those will resurface. Yeah. So let’s dive into this. Where do you want to start? Who’s the first forgotten woman that we want to highlight today?
Shelby: Well, I’m going to start with characters from the Old Testament that we’ve probably heard of before, but I just want to highlight their significance. The first one is going to be Hagar. I’ve always wished that Hagar was a more beautiful name, so I could name a child that at some point. But there’s no way I’m going to name someone Hagar. But the reason I think that she’s so remarkable because when she is out in the desert and is crying out to God, and she’s been abandoned, sent out by Abraham, and her mistress hates her, and she calls out to God, and God saves her. And she, in Genesis 16, verse 13, gives a name to the Lord. You are the God who sees. Which in Hebrew is Elroy. And I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of one of the titles I heard of for God in some of the songs we might have sang growing up or maybe on a banner in the church or something, was Elroy the God Who Sees. And the reason this is significant is because she’s the only woman in the whole Bible who gives a title to God, and she’s this Egyptian slave. And I think that’s really beautiful. Also, interesting note, hagar, as many of you know, her son Ishmael, becomes the leader of the Ishmaelite people, who are known to be the ancestors of the Muslim people. And there’s actually literature in Muslim scriptures about Hagar, and in their literature, she’s actually an Egyptian princess, not an Egyptian slave. So interesting how these female characters develop based on their importance.
Nate: Yeah, definitely.
Shelby: So that’s our first one. The second one is Vashti, who maybe isn’t the subject of a lot of Bible studies, but she is the yeah.
Nate: So this is the queen in the story of Esther, right. Okay.
Shelby: She’s barely in the story. Her role in the story is the king calls for her to come and show off her beauty, whatever that means, to all the men at this feast that he’s hosting. And she says, no. And then she’s just demoted as queen, gotten rid of. And then, Esther, the story begins to take place, and he looks for a new queen. And I just think we should portray Vashti as the hero that she is, who has some the level of self respect to say, I’m not going to do what you’re telling me to do, and has the autonomy and isn’t afraid of what literally the king will do to her. So go vashti.
Nate: Yeah, because it seems like Vashti is often completely forgotten about and unnecessary to the story of Esther. You could remove that.
Shelby: She’s probably not in the children’s version of the Bible, which, I mean, I’m not necessarily saying she should be because it’s a little sketchy situation.
Nate: Right. But definitely want to remember these people that we would champion today.
Shelby: Right. And speaking of championing today, to anyone out there who’s listening, if you’re like a writer or a novelist or a playwright or a filmmaker, and if you’re hearing some of these under told or untold stories, we need to develop and grow these by. And that’s going to be through the same process that ancient writers used, which is just reinterpretation and rewriting retelling stories. So feel free to be if someone stands out to you, some woman in this episode stands out to you, go and tell her story and find a way to tell her story or maybe it’s someone else.
Nate: And then we’ll have you on the show to talk about that thing that you made. Yeah.
Shelby: Write the book and then we’ll interview you.
Nate: Yeah, I can see it’s. Like vashti, right? Like the untold story.
Shelby: There might be some low budget film.
Nate: About that already, but yeah, maybe.
Shelby: Anyway, all right, third one who’s from the Old Testament that you may have heard of is Holda, the prophet Holda. She is mentioned in Second Kings and Second Chronicles, and she validates a scroll, essentially, that’s found in the Temple. She’s a temple prophet. That’s her title, which, when I think about people who work in the Temple, I never have pictured women in there. But she’s called a Temple prophet. And when they find a scroll that they are trying to determine whether it’s scriptural authoritative or not. She’s the one who gives the stamp of approval, essentially. So it’s not only obviously giving her a pretty large level of authority, it’s also the first kind of act of canon formation, which is kind of cool, actually. I’m going to read a passage from this book that I’ve used a lot. I’ll just totally recommend it as a resource for this episode. It’s called Women in Scripture, and it’s this huge index of every single woman who has mentioned in the Bible. The first section is named Women. The second section is unnamed women.
Nate: Wow, that’s a really thick book right there.
Shelby: It’s a very thick book. In this little entry about Holda, it says holda’s story is notable in the biblical tradition in that her prophetic words of judgment are centered on a written document. She authorizes what will become the core of Scripture for Judaism and Christianity. Her validation of a text thus stands as the first recognizable act in the long process of canon formation. Holda authenticates a document as being God’s word, thereby affording it the sanctity required for establishing a text as authoritative or canonical. I guess we did a whole series talking about how men wrote the Bible, put it all together, but it turns out this woman had a pretty significant part in determining. This text has the stamp of approval, and we will consider it Scripture. It’s pretty cool.
Nate: Yeah, at least one. One aspect or one component, one small part of Scripture was influenced by a woman.
Shelby: All right, so now I want to go and look at a text that we’ve mentioned before. I think in the Woman series. This is a significant text to me because it was the focus of my master’s program. It’s called the Genesis Apocryphon. It was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. We had no copy of it before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, but was probably written around two to 300 BC. And it’s a retelling of Genesis. So it features a lot of the same characters that we’ve seen before noah, Abraham, Sarah, those people. But it’s retelling the stories with a lot of embellishment. So the first woman or women this is more of a category than an actual character is the women and the Watchers. So this is a throwback all the way back to the beginning of Almost Heretical Again. And we’ve brought them up since then. But the Watchers were these creatures that were, like, in between heaven and earth, these sort of angelic beings in the very, very beginning chapters of Genesis who would come down and they mated with human women. That’s the verse in Genesis. All it really says is that the Watchers came and mated with human women and board giants. Then it moves on you’re like, what?
Nate: And there’s not this is like divine council, divine realm, all that kind of stuff. Michael Heiser’s work. Yeah. And then if you go back to that first series on Almost theoretical, we talk about that a bit.
Shelby: And what’s cool is, when you read that in Genesis, you get no information about the women that they mate with at all, positive or negative. But then, of course, you end up with traditions later on that are portraying these women as, like, temptresses who are seducing these angels down. But then it turns out that other traditions, including Genesis, Apocryphon, although it’s very fragmentary. So this is something that scholars are, like, piecing together. But there are traditions that portray these women as just victims who are essentially raped by these Watchers.
Shelby: And in those traditions, something that’s really interesting is that that story is often the story of the origin of sin. When we hear the origin of sin, we automatically think, garden ate the wrong apple. There is sin. That’s how it entered the world. But that actually wasn’t the only story. And the story of the Watchers was one of those origin stories for sin. And that when they mated with these women and they bore these giant children that those giants are the ones who brought evil and chaos into the world.
Nate: Which is why you see this is in that series, right? Which is why you see them later. It’s always like asking the king to take down the high places. The people that would take down the high places, right? Like the temples up in the what do they call the monuments or whatever in the high places. Or even the flood. Like, we talk about that in that first series. Like the flood needed to happen to.
Shelby: Wipe out the wipe out.
Nate: Exactly. So there’s just a different way to think about some of those things. It was fascinating.
Shelby: Right? And what I think is really significant about those two different stories and I may have mentioned this before is it’s just the mentality toward humanity in relationship to sin, like in the Garden story, the story of the Fall that we’re so familiar with, it’s our fault. Like, we are the ones who made the wrong choice. And specifically the woman. Like, Eve is the one who is blamed. Whereas in the story of the Watchers, if that’s the way that the lens by which you view sin, the women are the victims, the ones who it’s this other outside, non earthly presence that has brought this evil into the world. And I just think how interesting it would be if thousands of years of Christianity and Judaism had been more shaped by that story than by the other. Not just for women, but even for the way we view ourselves of like I guess the whole doctrine of original sin is kind of flipped on its head when you view it through the lens of a story where this is brought upon us unwillingly by people who never asked.
Nate: And we might have also just assumed that some of this was supposed to be figurative, right? If it was about giants and if.
Shelby: We assume a talking snake is literal, I don’t think we’re going to maybe.
Nate: It wouldn’t have helped much. Maybe it wouldn’t have helped much. Have you ever heard someone make the argument usually it’s like if it’s a pastor or a preacher or something like that, make the argument that the reason why women shouldn’t be or why Paul would then say, like, women can’t teach or be leaders in the church is because they were deceived first and because of the weak. They’re weak. They, you know, they give into temptation. That’s why they shouldn’t be leaders and stuff like that.
Nate: If we want to talk about giving into temptation, I think that the data would show that as far as leaders in the church go, whether you’re not pastor or not, just like any kind of leader in a church, male or female, that the number of issues that we have with male leaders falling into temptation and being and succumbing to that are much higher than although if you’re.
Shelby: Arguing with the people who believe that about women are more easily deceived or easily weak, then they’re also going to say women are the reason those leaders are falling because they’re the attempting.
Nate: Each story is about. Yeah, that’s true. Which is that’s the viral video that’s going around Twitter right now, which is so frustrating. We should do a whole utterly heretical about this.
Shelby: I don’t think I even know about that.
Nate: Yeah, I played it for you. I think they call him the flannel shirt pastor guy.
Shelby: Oh, yeah.
Nate: And his story about how this woman wanted to take him down in adultery. Anyways, it’s very demeaning towards women and it’s not great.
Shelby: Well, glad that’s not in the Bible. I mean, there’s plenty of other bad ones in there. But anyway, that wraps up what I wanted to say about the Watchers. The women and the Watchers and the rest of the women in Genesis pokerfon do have names, the ones that I want to mention, which is cool. The first is Batanosh. She’s the mother of Noah, so probably not even mentioned maybe mentioned as the wife of Lamek in Genesis, but not given a name in Genesis, but in Genesis Pacraphon, she’s called Batanosh, which means daughter of human, daughter of man because that was important to them, that she wasn’t descended from the watchers. And then there’s this crazy story of when Noah is born and he is glowing and he stands up and starts praising God. And so obviously that’s weird to them. And so Lamek thinks Batanosh slept with one of the watchers and that’s why Noah is clearly so otherworldly. And so then Bhatanosh has this long speech where she’s explaining to Lamek essentially her proof of why this is her child. So Bhatanosh is significant because she gains a name. She adds a story to the narrative of Noah and she has quite a bit of dialogue and it’s pushing back against the male figure, her husband, and she ends up being right. And then the next figure is Noah’s wife, who in Genesis Bachfon is named Mzara, which means the mother of children because, again, the story for them is very much about producing human non mixed offspring. And she doesn’t have a big role in the story, but she gains a name, which she doesn’t have in Genesis. So, again, just emphasizing that these women did exist. And there’s something powerful and we’ve talked about this in the women’s series there’s something powerful about naming an identity, because you will probably never read the Story of Noah again without thinking about oh, yeah. Then there’s also Noah’s mother and Noah’s wife who are talked about in other places. And just because they’re not here in the Bible doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. But you maybe never even noticed that they were absent until you’re told that at some point they were present.
Shelby: So just talking about these women, I think, is important.
Nate: Yeah. Maybe we should publish a link to the Genesis Apocryphon in the show notes.
Shelby: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of strange and weird and fragmentary, but that’d be pretty cool. Go check out the Dead Sea Scrolls. We’ll post a link to it. The last one is Sarah. Or Sarah, wife of Abraham. And again, this is a story we’ve told before, but the story where Abraham and Sarah go down to Egypt and she’s taken by Pharaoh and then God intervenes and Pharaoh gives her back. There’s two versions of it in Genesis one with Pharaoh and one with Abimelech, but essentially the same story, which when you read it as just reading straight through Genesis, you’re like, how could Abraham be this stupid to do it twice? But really, those are probably just different versions of the same story that have gotten compiled.
Shelby: But so there’s a retelling of it in Genesis apocrypha because it was a pretty problematic story for the Jews as they’re you know, Abraham is the father of the Jewish people and this very revered figure, and then he seems to do this really stupid thing and risk his wife. So there’s tons of stories in Jewish literature that try to kind of explain why he would do this and why he actually wasn’t in the wrong or why he was, but somehow God saved the situation. So in Genesis Apocryphon, Abraham is still portrayed really well. He has a whole dream before they go to Egypt about basically saying, this is what’s going to happen, and, Sarah, you’re going to save me. God has ordained this for you. And even so, he wakes Sarah up to tell her the dream, and Sarah still pushes back and says, no, I don’t want to go to Egypt because this is what’s going to happen. I’m going to be taken and taken advantage of and let’s not go. I mean, that’s my paraphrase, obviously. And then he forces her to go anyway in the story, and she hides herself for five years, according to Genesis Apocryphon. And then the story plays out essentially as usual. But why I think it’s significant to retell this story is because it emphasizes the fact that she does not have any dialogue, any we don’t have a clue of what she’s thinking. In the Genesis account, the one that we’ve grown up with, sarah’s literally just passed back and forth. She’s not even put in the title of the story like the one that the commentators put in. She’s a pawn, whereas in other Jewish literature, she’s seen as a figure who had an actual voice and didn’t will. So that’s the Genesis apocrypha and a couple of significant women from that.
Shelby: So I want to move into two women who come from other Second Temple period literature. So second Temple period, again, is that period kind of between the Old and New Testament writings, often referred to as the period of silence, although it really wasn’t actually silent. It’s just they didn’t end up in our canon, but things that are written kind of between 200 BC and 100 Ad. Roughly around there. And one of the texts that’s written around that time, it’s pretty interesting, is called Joseph and Asinuth. So it’s a narrative. I mean, essentially like someone writing a novel at that point. Like, this isn’t considered scripture by anybody, but it’s this story of Joseph going to Egypt and then Asinus, who is his wife, and if you remember, he’s given a wife who’s I believe the daughter of Potiphar or something like that, he’s given a wife in Egypt. And that ends up being kind of problematic for the Jews because as a very important figure, they don’t want him to have married an Egyptian. That’s kind of like that’s not good part of the story. So being the retellers that they are, they go the Jews go and try and find a way, like, how can we make this Egyptian wife as Jewish as possible? So it’s this whole story about Asinus. And if you read it and you can look it up. If you read it, it’s very poetic, almost medieval. Like, she’s this princess, and it talks about the jewels that she’s wearing, and it’s much more narrative than a lot of the scriptures we’re used to. It’s embellishing on her personality and her relationship to her parents. And when her father tells her that he’s going to give her in marriage to Joseph, she’s just so angry. And she’s like, how could you do that to me? Isn’t that the slave who came from Midian and didn’t he sleep with that woman? But anyway, she’s not thrilled about it, but then when she sees him, she’s like, oh, I so regret everything that I said. And it’s like this love story, basically. And I mean, it has definitely a religious spin, and she essentially repents of being Egyptian and is like, please, God, turn me into a Jew. I mean, it’s phrased differently, and God gives her that big blessing, kind of. So then she’s considered this perfect wife for Joseph. But I mean, it’s just cool that this is a story. Like, this is a woman, a character that people were reading about, children were hearing about. She was probably this kind of almost like a rapunzel. If you read the story, it’s very folklore and fairy tale feeling, and it’s just another figure that we’ve never really heard about, but she was actually known in the ancient world.
Nate: Wow, that’s fascinating.
Shelby: Okay, another one from second temple period is Miriam. Obviously, she’s also just known in the Old Testament. Miriam, sister of Moses, is how we would normally think of her. She is the first woman in the Old Testament to be given the title of a prophet, which is significant.
Nate: What was holda she’s just later on.
Shelby: But Miriam was first got you because she’s in Exodus. And then what’s really cool about Miriam is she’s actually mentioned quite a few times in Dead Sea Scrolls, which tells us that she had a tradition that was a lot bigger than what we see in the Old Testament. There were other literatures being written about her, and a lot of scholars have pieced together different editions of the texts and they’ve split apart things and tried to figure out which pieces of the Old Testament came first and which were written later and how are they edited. And in doing all of that, there’s a scholarly consensus that Miriam might not have actually been originally Moses sister. That kind of that attribution may have come later on, but that when the story was in its oldest form. Miriam might have been just a leader alongside Moses and Aaron, who also might not have been brothers.
Nate: Oh, interesting.
Shelby: There’s a number of stories in Exodus where you see Miriam being treated like an equal leader alongside Aaron and Moses. And it just might be that that wasn’t simply because she was Moses sister. Actually, she may have just been one of the leaders of Israel at that point. And then the last thing about Miriam that’s kind of cool, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s four q 546. If anybody out there is really trying to look into it. It’s very, very fragmentary, but it puts the word Miriam next to the Hebrew word raz. Or it’s actually Aramaic, but it’s the Raz miryam, which is raz is I did this whole project to my masters about this specific word in Aramaic, but it’s like a divine revelation or like these divine mysteries. And when it’s put with Miriam, it’s essentially like the divine mystery of Miriam. In the context, we can conclude that it’s being written that somehow she had some kind of prophetic ability. I mean, she’s obviously called a prophet in the Old Testament, but there was some kind of revelation in this piece of literature that was attributed to her. We don’t know what it is because it’s very fragmentary, but just continues to show that she was a bigger figure in Second Temple period than we probably think of her as today.
Nate: Yeah, I love this because these are just like the little hints of there being more there, right. And then your mind can just kind of wander. And that’s what we would hope someone would do with these different forms of art that you mentioned earlier in the episode. But your mind can kind of wander and just imagine who these people were. And potentially, these are just maybe some of these, like the one you mentioned previously about Joseph’s wife, right? That could just be a story. Who knows? But he had a wife, right?
Shelby: She was Egyptian. And how did that go down exactly.
Nate: And letting your mind kind of wander around these things and these people and just realizing they had impact and they influenced things, and we can only imagine because we don’t have a lot of information. But that’s what I love about these little hints that you’re giving us.
Shelby: Well, thanks. All right. Well, that kind of moves us through the Old Testament, except for the Apocrypha. So we’ve talked about these women from the Apocrypha a couple of times, judith and Susannah. And then there’s one more that I want to emphasize. But first, for anyone who hasn’t heard, I’ll summarize as briefly as I can, these two incredibly significant women. So the Apocrypha, if that’s not a familiar term, is a collection of texts that Martin Luther essentially removed from the Old Testament. So now it is no longer in the Protestant Bibles. It is present in the Catholic Bibles. What that means is that these texts were part of the Christian Bible without question for essentially 1500 years and have still been part of the Bible for the large, the majority, I think, of Christians to this day. So if you’re a Protestant who’s never read any of these texts, you’re in the minority of Christians. Historically, we all are. So these are significant characters. They’ve been part of Christian literature the entire time, just as much as Ruth, Esther, any of them. So the first one is Judith, and it’s a story of this incredibly independent woman who she’s a widow. When the story opens, she’s the most beautiful woman, and she’s in a city in Israel that’s suddenly surrounded by the enemy. Israel always has an enemy, and nobody knows what to do. And Judith says, let me just take this into my own hands. And they’re like, no. And she just goes for it anyway. She just literally tells all the elders of the city what she’s going to do. She walks out alone to the enemy camp, goes in. They’re all shocked. And of course, she’s so beautiful. And she essentially seduces the king or the commander of the camp. And then as soon as he takes her back to his tent before anything happens, and they’re very clear about that, because at that point, they don’t want anything to be misunderstood. But before anything can happen, she whips out a sword and cuts his head off, puts his head in a bag, walks back to her town, and they all celebrate the victory, hold up his head on a stick, and then they run away. Enemy runs away. And then my favorite part of the end of the story, all of the men of the town are just infatuated with her, and they all want to marry her, and she says no to them all and lives happily ever after.
Nate: Yeah, I remember this one from the woman series. So if you haven’t listened to that series, go back, check that out, because there’s a lot of stuff like that that we get to that you probably haven’t heard before in that series.
Shelby: Yeah. So Judith is just one of my favorite women of the Bible now, and I don’t think I felt like I could say that before because she wasn’t in the Bible. For me, growing up in the Bible that I still have tucked away in my nightstand, she’s not in there. There is no book of Judith in the Bibles that us Protestants grew up with, but she is in the Bible. So when we start talking about the women of the Bible, let’s start including her and using her as an example of women who really do what needs to be done in the moment for for what they care about and aren’t defined by their male relatives and counterparts. The second woman from the Apocrypha that I want to mention is Susannah, another incredibly powerful story. She doesn’t have her own book, but she’s actually an additional chapter on the Book of Daniel. So Martin Luther didn’t remove the entire Book of Daniel, but two chapters on the end he felt were not original, so he removed them. So one of those chapters is about this woman named Susannah who is essentially assaulted by elders of Israel, and she cries out for help. And then when people come, the. Elders accuse her and say that she was the one assaulting them. That makes so much sense. And then when she’s brought before the court and she’s going to be condemned, probably executed, and then God speaks. She cries out to God for help, and God speaks to Daniel. Daniel is then given wisdom. He splits up the two elders and interviews them individually to prove that their stories don’t line up. And so then she’s proven innocent. And that’s the story. And I know we’ve talked about it in other episodes, but in a me too era, we don’t have any other stories in our Bible that are so clearly the woman being first off assaulted by the religious leaders and then falsely represented by them, and then God coming to her rescue through his prophet.
Nate: If we just had one, all the pastors that preached through the Bible all the way through, we’re not going to leave any verse out. Right. They’d have to preach that. And we would have heard that or.
Shelby: They get to preach that.
Shelby: I mean yeah. How different things could be if we used that story and talked about the implications of it.
Nate: And for all those who want to unify all the different things in the Bible and come up with a biblical even though we are saying that’s not what the Bible is, it’s this collection of texts. And there is no biblical view on women and biblical view on women, but they would still have to try to synthesize stories like that into their view. And probably the view would be less bad. It wouldn’t be as bad as it is today, right?
Shelby: Yeah. So the last woman from the Apocrypha, someone we haven’t mentioned before, she comes from the Book of Tobit and she’s not, I mean, not as epic to me as Susannah and Judith are, but her name is Anna and she is the wife of Tobit, who’s the main character. If you’re looking for something to do in your spare time, you can go read the Book of Tobit. It’s a strange, weird story, but probably not going to change your life. But it’s got some interesting things. So Tobit is this older Israelite man, and the thing I want to bring up about Anna, his wife, is she’s just kind of this interesting character. And since probably very few people listening to this episode have even heard of her, I just wanted to read this little passage from Tobit that yeah, do. It shows so much personality for her. So basically Tobit has problems with his eyes. I think it literally said that he went to take a nap somewhere and like, sparrows pooped in his eye and it caused him like an infection and then he eventually went blind. I think that’s what chapter one says. So now we’re in chapter two, and this is first person from perspective of Tobit. He says, at that time, my wife Anna used to earn money by working in her rooms for payment, spinning wool and weaving cloth. When she delivered what she had made to those who had ordered the work, they would pay her. So this is because he’s blind and can’t work, so she’s the breadwinner of the family, which is interesting. On the 7th day of the month, she completed a particular job of weaving and delivered it to her employers. They not only paid her the agreed upon wages in full, but also gave her a young goat for a meal. When the goat entered my house, it began to bleed. I called to my wife and asked, where did you get this goat? Perhaps it was stolen. Return it to its owners. We have no right to eat anything stolen. But she reassured me it was given to me as a bonus in addition to my wages. However, I did not believe her, and I insisted that she return it to its owners. I became very angry over this. She replied, Where is your alms giving? Where are your good deeds? Everyone can now see the kind of person you really are. Context of this being the first chapter was like painting how wonderful of a man Tobit is.
Shelby: And then here’s his wife just being like, how dare you? Everyone thinks you’re this great person, but this is who you won’t even believe your own wife and you’re getting angry at me.
Nate: I love it.
Shelby: So just bring that up just to add to the cast of characters in the story of Scripture. And then we have this very opinionated wife of Tobit, who is probably tired from a long day of work while her husband sits at home. And that’s just the beginning of the story that kind of wraps up the Old Testament side of things, and then we get to transition into the New Testament side of things, which I could not be more excited about. The first one that I want to talk about is the woman at the well. And I think we’ve probably talked about this on other episodes as well, but this is a story that I wanted to it’s been told many times. So you might be wondering, why are we bringing this up? I’ve definitely heard many sermons about the woman at the well, but that’s actually the problem that I want to address, because in all the sermons that I ever heard growing up, I was only really told the story a certain way, and I’ve become aware that it likely wasn’t told that way. So as a refresher, Jesus and his disciples are outside of a Samaritan village, and the disciples go into the village. Jesus is there by the well, and the Samaritan woman comes out at a mid afternoon. I mean, I’m curious what you’re remembering about how this story was taught to you. Because for me it was she’s, this shameful woman who only comes out by herself because she’s sinful and nobody else. She doesn’t want to be around anyone else because later on she tells Jesus that or Jesus the man that you’re.
Nate: With now is not your husband with.
Shelby: Five husbands and the man you have now is not your husband.
Nate: Kind of like she’s been found out, she’s been exposed. And we did this in the Woman series, right?
Shelby: Yeah. And so the quick reinterpretation of this, essentially and it comes from a book called The Land of Blue Burqas, if you’re interested. It’s a story of Christian missionary who spent years in Afghanistan. And it’s her story of when she just read read this passage to these women in Afghanistan. Their interpretation was so quickly, so different from what the missionary had grown up with. And to them, they knew that this woman was completely powerless in her situation and that the fact that she’d been married to five men meant that she’d just been essentially passed along. And now that she’d been with five men, she was absolutely worthless. And that’s why the man that she was now with was not her husband, was because he didn’t even need to marry her at this point. No one was going to marry her. She was just that worthless and not of any choice of her own. She’s, like these Afghani women knew like someone in her context isn’t going around saying, all right, I’m done with you. Okay, let’s divorce. Okay, you divorce. That’s not how their culture worked. So they knew this woman has nothing and thinks of herself as nothing. And that’s why her question is immediately, how can I worship God because I can’t go to the temple? And it’s not because she’s like, I’m so sinful. It’s just because she has been told by everyone that she’s absolutely worthless. That adds to the beauty for me of the whole story, because that’s why Jesus is talking to her, to show her that she does have worth. So, yeah, I wanted to bring her up just to emphasize different ways, remember her as well.
Nate: I like it.
Shelby: And speaking of a woman who will always be remembered, we couldn’t do this episode without talking about the woman who anoints Jesus, because we’re supposed to talk.
Nate: About her every time.
Shelby: About her every time. And this is a far undertold story in both of our opinions. We talk about this in way more in depth in the Woman series, but essentially the story we’re familiar with. Well, if you go with the earliest versions, which is Mark, the earliest version of the story would be in Mark, this unnamed woman comes and anoints Jesus on the head. There’s no tears, there’s no wiping of the feet, there’s no sinful woman, there’s no weeping and apologizing and whoever’s forgiven. These are all later interpretations of the story. But the original story says woman comes anoints Jesus on the head. The disciples are mad about how she’s used this perfume, and Jesus says what she’s done is beautiful thing wherever the Gospel is preached, what she has done will be told in memory of her. And we’ve talked about how that has not been the case. The Gospel that we’ve told generally does not require this story.
Nate: And you’ve talked about on the women’s series how she starts to slowly turn into something else and then eventually kind of disappear, right?
Shelby: Yeah. By the end, the story morphs into a sinful. Woman comes and pours ointment on Jesus feet and wipes it with her hair, and that’s it. And the significance of the move from the head to the feet is probably the most significant change because the anointing on the head like this story was the basically this isn’t a word, but the Messiah of Jesus. Like, this is the moment in Mark where Jesus becomes the Messiah. Messiah literally means anointed one, and he has not been anointed at all. This is the story where he becomes anointed, which is why he can be the Messiah and that’s why it’s central to the Gospel. And then there’s something significant about the fact that it’s a woman, an unnamed woman who is the one who understands who Jesus is and what he’s doing, and he needs to be anointed and she takes it upon herself to do it. No wonder the disciples were indignant, right?
Nate: You wonder why none of them did it. Yeah, they had time.
Shelby: No, I don’t know. Okay, we have two more women left in our New Testament related breeze through. The first is Solomon, which is a name that you may have heard. She’s mentioned in Mark as being at both the crucifixion and at the tomb. So pretty significant as particularly two places the disciples were not. And what’s interesting about her is there’s several women who are mentioned as following Jesus. I mean, it talks about just generic women following Jesus, but also names a few. Mary Magdalene, obviously, Mary, the mother of Joseph or something like that, and a couple others. But Solomon is the only one who that’s the entire way she’s referred to she’s not given a husband, she’s not identified by town. Like Mary Magdalene literally means Mary of Magdala. So that’s her town. And then usually women are introduced by so and so, wife of so and so or mother of so and so, but she’s not. She’s just purely called Solomon, which is interesting. And what I want to bring up about her here, this is in a New Testament, but New Testament related literature kind of stepping outside of the New Testament but same time frame is she’s referenced in the Gospel of Thomas, which is a gnostic text that I find fascinating. If that starts to freak you out, it’s okay. I’m not saying that it’s somehow the inspired word of God and we’ve missed it all along, but I do find it incredibly interesting largely because it’s a very early document, like maybe as early as Mark or Matthew that are just these core documents of Christianity in the early church. And what’s interesting about the Gospel of Thomas is it’s not a narrative the way the other gospels are. It doesn’t start with Jesus birth and baptism and then all the way through the Passion crucifixion, resurrection. It’s just a collection of his teachings. Essentially just Jesus said this, Jesus said this, every once in a while disciple asked this and then Jesus said this. So it’s just his teachings, which if you think about it, would probably have been the most popular way of talking about Jesus in an oral culture. Immediately following Jesus presence, they’re talking about his teachings. So saying Jesus said this, Jesus said this, that probably would have been the way that they would have passed on these stories. I mean, people in oral cultures are very good at memorizing things and having devices by which to remember stories. But this is just a very basic format so that makes me feel like it’s pretty old. Some of the teachings are strange, some of them I genuinely don’t like and others are exactly what we already have. I mean it has the parable of the sower and the seed. It has he who has ears, let him hear. Probably somewhere like 50% of the text is found word for word in Matthew, Mark and Luke. And then the other 50% is just stuff we’ve never heard before. Within this text, Solomon is mentioned. It’s verse 61. It’s just kind of one big chunk and she just asks a question. So Solomon said, who are you, man? And it’s a little fragmentary after that. And then Jesus replies to her with an answer and then a little bit after that it’s fragmentary. So we can’t tell exactly who said it, but likely with Solomon again replies, I am your disciple. And Jesus responds to that. The Gospel Thomas is broken up into these kind of little chunks. Usually it’s just Jesus, but then sometimes it’s a dialogue with a person. And so in this case it’s Solomon, which I think is just significant to say that this figure that we don’t really talk about was pretty significant in that there’s other literature being written where she is one of the primary people with Jesus. The only people who are mentioned in the Gospel of Thomas are Jesus and his disciples and Solomon and Mary Magdalene. Those are significant people. And so I wonder what’s the story here? And I’ve never really stopped. If we just think about embellishing these people in our minds kind of like you were saying earlier solomon was a real person this woman who was probably with Jesus just as much as the other disciples and a bit more, considering she was also at the crucifixion and at the tomb and she’s just kind of fallen to the wayside. Like how much do we talk about Peter, James, John and Matthew and Thomas and all of these disciples? But do we really talk about someone like Solomon, another woman. And the last but not least, and if you’ve been listening to the show long, you know this is probably one of my favorite women in the whole Bible is Mary Magdalene. And she’s obviously mentioned in that she’s not unknown. But if you know the story of Mary Magdalene at all, you know that she’s been wildly misunderstood for most of Christian history. She’s been attributed with this story of being a prostitute because she’s often associated with the story of the sinful woman who comes in and anoints Jesus on the feet. That story doesn’t actually name Mary Magdalene. It’s this association that was made in, I think, the fourth century or something by some bishop, and it just stuck. But that’s not actually Mary Magdalene. Essentially 2000 years of seeing her as a prostitute when she wasn’t. So that’s the first part. But what’s really interesting to me about Mary Magdalene is how she’s clearly portrayed as the most significant female follower of Jesus. She’s at the cross, at the tomb in multiple accounts, including a really elaborate version in John, and then she disappears for the rest of the New Testament. She’s not in Acts, she’s not in any of the letters of Paul. And I wondered why. What’s interesting is that she doesn’t disappear in other literature outside of our new Testament. So speaking of the gospel of Thomas, we were just talking about how Solomon is in there. Mary Magdalene also appears there once. She’s just asking Jesus a question, kind of like the passage we saw with Solomon. And then actually the very last verse of the gospel of Thomas, verse 114 says simon Peter said to Jesus, let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life. Dramatic Peter. And then Jesus answers her. Not honestly. Not not my favorite response. I’d like to assume that Jesus didn’t actually say anything like this. Essentially says that I’ll turn her into a male because that’s better or something. So I don’t like that at all. What which again, I want to emphasize that I did not come into this saying we’ve found the missing words of Jesus. We don’t have to believe that Jesus said all these things, but there were Christian traditions that did believe Jesus said these things. But what I think is interesting here why I bring up this passage, this verse, is because it portrays this conflict between Simon Peter and Mary, which it’s not hard to imagine if Mary Magdalene was potentially a leader figure. And Simon Peter, I mean, if we know anything about him from reading the gospels, he was a pretty strong headed kind of zealot figure and there might have been some conflict there. So that’s interesting. But then it gets even more so when you dig into the gospel of Mary Magdalene, which is a very unknown text because we have very few copies of it, and it wasn’t really known until quite recently in the last century. But this is a text where Mary is the main focus. Scholars think it was probably written in the first or second century. So again, pretty early Mary’s. It takes place after Jesus resurrection, but before his ascension is when it starts. And so Jesus is kind of giving his final instructions to the disciples and Mary and then he ascends. And then all the disciples are like, oh great, what do we do now? He’s gone. And they turn to Mary and they ask her, what did the Savior tell you that he didn’t tell us? And then most of the book is her kind of relating. Like, these are the things that Jesus told me. And sadly, most of that is lost just in the fragments. But what’s not lost is the very end, the very end of the book. And I’m sure I’ve read this in the woman series, but essentially Mary finishes what she has to say and the disciples all have different things to say about it. Andrew says, I don’t believe you. I don’t believe that the Savior actually said these things to you.
Nate: A man not believing a woman. Sorry.
Shelby: And then Peter or Mary weeps here, this is verse five of chapter nine says mary wept and said to Peter, my brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart or that I am lying about the Savior? Levi then answers and says to Peter, peter, you’ve always been hot tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well and that is why he loved her more than us. Rather, let us be ashamed and put on the perfect human and separate as he commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or law beyond what the Savior has said. And then when they heard this, they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach. It’s funny, it’s like seeing a deleted scene from a movie you’re really familiar with or something to hear these characters interacting like, oh, Peter, Andrew, Levi, I know these guys, right, but so this is another account, another early Christian story that’s being written where Peter rejects Mary. And I mean, in this version, Levi kind of creates peace and they go forth and proclaim and to preach. But that’s the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Mary Magdalene that are portraying Peter and Mary in conflict and also portraying Mary as having a different interpretation of what the gospel was really all about. Like she’s relaying the teachings that Jesus had taught her.
Nate: So we’re potentially preaching the one that Peter yeah, we are. And then the one that Mary is like, here’s a different one. And they’re like, that can’t be it. And that’s the one we don’t have. Yeah, that’s rough. Is it buried somewhere in the dirt? Come on, someone go dig it up.
Shelby: Find that. I totally recommend the film Mary Magdalene with Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara came out a couple of years ago, and it’s based on both the Gospels and this text that I just read to you. This scene is at the end of the movie, and it’s just really powerful to consider what it portrays, this relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene that very well. And this is, again, one of these just propaganda things that has kind of ruined Mary Magdalene in many ways is usually when they’re portrayed together, it’s like, oh, she’s this temptress or something. Or like, are they married? Or it just becomes this it’s always becomes sexual when you put the woman in there because that’s the only thing we can think about. But the portrayal in this film is really cool of just that maybe she was someone that he could trust because maybe she wasn’t vying for power the way that the other men were.
Shelby: So today we’ve talked about hagar vashti. Holda the women in the watchers batsano. Shamzara. Sarai. Asanath. Miriam, Judith, Susannah, Anna the woman at the well. The woman who anoints jesus, Solomon and Mary Magdalene. And for this International Women’s Day women’s, this time of remembering women who are significant, I hope that we can emphasize the voices of women who have long not been heard. And we’ve talked about how the Bible is there’s no way to correct the imbalance of the Bible. There’s a vast majority of male characters. The whole thing is written by men.
Nate: Be the same as, like, trying to go back and change the history of patriarchy or something like that. It’s almost the same challenge, right?
Nate: Impossible, right?
Shelby: We can’t get back what we don’t have, but we can grow it somewhat. We can look at the gaps that are in the Bible, and some of these gaps have been filled by other literature that was written around the time. Stuff that we’ve just never heard of. And then other gaps. Women whose stories were never told, we do get to tell. We can create those stories today. Maybe that sounds strange. We’re making them up, but I think it’s valuable to even if we have to essentially create them out of our imagination, we’re still acknowledging that these women existed and we don’t want to forget them.
Nate: Yeah, I love that. I love a whole episode devoted to remembering the things that people that have been forgotten and overlooked and marginalized and listening to these stories and letting them inspire us to stop forgetting. And I just want to come back to something because you mentioned even if we have to kind of come up with stuff out of thin air, I mean, think about the hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of stuff we’ve come up with based on just a few things that Jesus said or the disciple Paul said. So we have no problem coming up with and imagining what these things could possibly mean and trying to convert them into 21st century right and have it speak to all the things that are happening in the world today. We have no problem doing that. I mean, think about the hours that have been talked about, the Book of Revelation. We create a lot of things out.
Shelby: Of an entire series. Book series.
Nate: Yeah, exactly. And I’m not saying it’s completely out of thin air as trying to create Mary’s gospel would be, but there’s not a whole lot to go on and we don’t have any problem doing that. So I think there’s a lot of space to write these things. And this art we talked about, create it. There’s probably never been a better time than right now for this. And just the amount of people that are deconstructing and changing and open to hearing new things like open to hearing your art and your interpretations and your new things you create in void. I want to read Mary’s gospel. I want to read people writing what that could have been, what that may be. I think that it’s just powerful and so is having a whole episode where we remember these forgotten people. And yeah, on this International Women’s Day, whenever you’re listening to this, maybe you’re listening to this on a future International Women’s Day, but we always want to do that work of rediscovering and championing women in the Bible and today.
Shelby: Thanks for remembering and celebrating these women with us.
Nate: We’ll catch you next time.