I was so honored to contribute to the anthology, "Called to Minister, Empowered to Serve" along with other female clergy and scholars whom I admire greatly. This book offers a biblical, historical, theological and ethical rationale for women in ministry in the voice of, from the perspective of and in the Spirit of women. Below you can read an excerpt from my chapter on Women in the Old Testament. "Called to Minister, Empowered to Serve" is now available in Kindle Edition at amazon.com
In the pages of the Hebrew Bible we find beautiful imagery and noble typography, contours of women who have gone before us and left their mark. In the material known to us today as the Old Testament, we read of women who were prophets, military leaders, priests, wise women and wisdom personified. However, to study the lives of these women is no easy task. The reality is, the stories, as we have them are not handed down to us from the voices of the women themselves, rather what we have is an image rich narrative developed from a covenantal history, drawn upon the map of patriarchy. The narratives then, are primarily concerned with the public lives of men who are or are in some way related to the patriarchs and are connected to the emergence of the monarchy. It must also be stated that the narratives are also recorded, copied, edited and compiled by men who live many centuries after those women and men whose stories they are trying to convey.
We must understand at the outset that the material we have existed first as oral tradition and communities were formed around story, many of these stories endured across the generations to be recorded during the compilation of the codices which are now considered canonical by persons of Jewish and Christian faith. To do these women any justice we must unearth information about their world, status, society and gender roles in ancient Israel. We are helped then to also consider archaeology and anthropological studies in concert with the Scriptures to gain a better picture of life in ancient Israel for women.
In the Hebrew Bible, we find the stories of a people and a society who traverse the land of the Ancient Near East for more than 1,200 years (Murphy, Cullen: 1993). Of the 1,426 persons named within the narrative of the Old Testament, 111 of these named persons are women. While this seems like a small number, the witness of the lives of these women is powerful and their presence in this male dominated text reveals a prominence held by certain women. Though a casual reading of the Old Testament might leave us with the impression that women were confined to the domain of the home and their sole contribution was procreation, a closer look demonstrates another dynamic altogether. Mayer Gruber points out that women served as judges (Judges 4.4-5), officiated funerals as clergy (Jer. 9.16-19; 2 Chron. 35.25), slaughtered animals in priestly and domestic rites, served as prophetesses and sages (2 Samuel 14; 20.16-22), both nursed children and read Scripture in public settings (Gruber, Mayer: 1999). Gruber has also rightly demonstrated that within the Hebrew Scriptures we have accounts of women as priestesses (Exodus 38.8; 1 Sam. 2.22), poets (Exodus 15.21; Judges 5.1-31; Proverbs 31.1-9), musicians (Ps. 68.26), “queens, midwives; wet-nurses; babysitters; business persons; scribes; cooks; bakers; producers of cosmetics (I Sam. 8.13 ) as well as innkeepers and prostitutes (Josh.2).”
While the scope of this study will not allow us to consider the 111 named women of the Hebrew Bible, we will take a representative group and trace their lives, their communal impact and their covenantal significance. We do this in effort to illuminate the reality that though the narrative of Hebrew Bible is primarily concerned with the lives of the patriarchs, there exists also a counter narrative that demonstrates the activity of God present and powerful in the lives of many women which reverberates through the nation of Israel for the good of the world. The group we will consider here is the women of the genealogy of Jesus offered in Matthew’s Gospel as each of these women emerge from the story of ancient Israel and the tradition of their contributions endure into the New Testament Canon and beyond. The narratives of these women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba offer us traditions of women who were significant in the life of ancient Israel if also representatives of life in a given place and time who simultaneously rise from the narrative to demonstrate women as agents of God’s covenantal and universal work.
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It is the season of last things. There are final papers, final presentations, final grades and gatherings; cake and cookies and the obligatory red punch of all ministry meaningful and otherwise, laughter and the blessed goodness of a long exhale.
I look across the chapel in the School of Theology, a holy place, an altar in my own pilgrimage, a place where I heard God and the place where I found my own voice, the place which is home now to our graduates stuffed into the hard wooden pews of the first four rows. Light pours in through the stain glassed windows and dances on the golden tassels and the deep scarlet, the bold, velvet fiber of theology.