Why now – why Women of the Bible?
Answer – the time is now!
As a mother whose children are grown up and living independent lives, it’s time to think about where and what next? It is nearly thirty years since I graduated with a History degree and the answer to the often unspoken question “what did you do with your degree” seems to require an answer. Life, children, work, living as a Catholic in 21st century Reading, UK, these are all what I did and do.
In March 2019, I participated in the “Called and Gifted” process organised by the Diocese of Portsmouth. Shortly afterwards I saw an opportunity to work with the Bible Society on a joint venture promoting the Catholic ethos of Scripture in readiness and alongside the Year of the God who Speaks. As part of this I had to do a presentation about how to engage Catholics with the Word of God. One thought that came to me was to focus on “Women of the Bible”. Our Emmaus Group often has fruitful discussions about the experiences of the Women we encounter when discussing the Sunday readings. My application was unsuccessful but the idea of looking at “Women of the Bible” stuck. Initially, I thought this would be an opportunity to gather those interested and together explore some Biblical women. However, as I contemplated the idea further I realised that a focus to produce something that would provide a structure to my thoughts would be a good idea. I therefore thought about compiling a “Blog” something I’ve never thought of venturing into before so this will be a Blog about the Women of the Bible launched in the Year of the God who Speaks.
There are 150+ named women; there are probably about another 150+ unnamed but mentioned individually or as a small group eg the wife and daughters of Lot. There are also others who are mentioned as a bigger group. How then to chose where to focus. I have acquired quite a few books recently – anything that includes in the title a selection of the following words: women; Old Testament; New Testament; Sarah; Esther or Mary has generally attracted me. I now have a couple of reference books such as “Women of the Bible – the life and times of Every Woman in the Bible” by Larry and Sue Richards which includes an alphabetical listing, as well as topic and scripture indices. However a reference guide is not what I had in mind.
With my history background,I have to start at the beginning – I can’t just pick out women randomly in time. Advent 2019 marks the start of Liturgical Year A in the Catholic Church and that is an invite to focus on the Gospel of Matthew. Our Parish recently invited Fr Denis McBride to talk about the Gospel of Matthew. His introduction to Matthew’s Gospel was to explore those women named in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus. These five are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. I also looked at the “Women in Jesus’ Family Tree” in Women of the Bible by Jean E Syswerda; which shows the names of those female ancestors of Joseph. I arrived at a plan to start with Sarah, continuing with Rebecca, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba (wife of David). Looking at these women will take the story of God’s plan for his people from Abraham to David. There are others who aren’t named above such as Miriam and Deborah the Judge who I shall also include. Of course there are still many generations from David until Jesus and there are many women, beginning with Mary, associated with the life of Jesus and the Early Church, so Bathsheba will not be the end, just a marker on the way through the Bible.
Just to conclude with one snippet which I discovered as I began my research. When Rebekah agrees to leave her family home to marry Isaac, Genesis tells us she left with her nurse. Many chapters later we learn that her name was Deborah (not to be confused with Deborah the Judge) and when she dies, Jacob, the son of Rebekah, mourns her. This means that she was probably with Rebekah helping her look after first her own children and then a presence in the lives of Rebekah’s grandchildren. To me, these seemingly-random comments, help to prove the truth of the narrative – a detail like naming an insignificant person such as a nursemaid/servant suggests that what is remembered is true because there is not necessarily value in remembering her name. As they say this “blew my mind” because it helped to bring the Bible alive, to hear of Deborah who accompanies her mistress through all her tribulations and on into the next generation and who is mourned (and her name remembered) when she dies.
I hope that, through looking at the Women of the Bible, starting with Sarah, we see how God speaks to both men and women.