Women of the Bible - How They Can Inspire Us Today by Eva Etzioni-Halevy
By profession, I am a sociologist, but in recent years I have been writing been writing light, entertaining and romantic novels about women in the Bible (Old Testament), the most recent of which is THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH. I am proud to be writing about heroines from this book, the basis of the heritage, which Christian Jews and Moslem share. Also, the biblical stories have long held a special attraction even for people with no religious orientation at all.
But wait a moment: is not the Bible a bit outdated these days?
A while ago, I participated in a symposium on women of the Bible at which a lady asked: Why should we, women of the 21 st century, be interested in biblical women, who are so different from us? They were consumed mainly with getting married and bearing sons, while we have so many more options and ambitions in our lives.
However, this challenging question is based on a misconception. While the women of the Bible lived thousands of years ago, in essence we are still similar to them in our hopes, desires and anxieties.
The Dramatic Loves of Biblical Women
Contrary to their image they were NOT concerned solely with marriage and bearing sons. They had the most dramatic and traumatic lives. Their traumas had to do also with love, jealousy, rejection by the men in their lives, and the loss of loved ones. They craved for a whole variety of things, including success and power, and had a great many issues on their agendas.
In this sense they are particularly close to us today, an era in which we celebrate diversity, and each woman realizing herself in her own way. Hence listening to their voices is not only intriguing but may have an empowering effect on us.
As an example let us consider the prophetess, judge and national leader Deborah, the heroine of my latest novel THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH.
The Scripture (JUDGES 4-5) tells the most amazingly dramatic story about her. Let us cast our mind back some three thousand years. Israel was in deep trouble as it had to face acts of terrorism and threats of destruction from the neighboring Canaanites, a much superior military power.
Leader Deborah summoned warrior Barak, who lived in another part of the country to appear before her and charged him with the task of launching a strike against the Canaanites.
Here is where the dramatic part comes in. In response to her command, he said to her (and I quote): "If you go with me, I will go, and if you don't go with me I will not go."
Three thousand years ago, a woman in the battlefield? Deborah must have asked herself: why did he want her there? Moreover, as the Bible tells us, she went with him not only to the battlefield, but to his hometown as well. What prompted her to do so, although she was a married woman and a mother, and there is nothing to indicate that husband Lapidoth accompanied her?
Surely she must have worried about what her husband would have to say to this strange excursion? In fact, what would ANY husband say if his wife went off to distant part with another man, leaving him to do the baby-sitting.
It is reasonable to assume that this caused severe marital difficulties between them. How did those difficulties lead her to relate to Barak? And what transpired between her and the young warrior when they were alone together with no husband in sight? Did Deborah and her husband manage to overcome their marital problems, or did they split up?
I found these traumatic aspects of Deborah's life-story most compelling and they prompted me to write my novel in which I use my imagination and identification to answer these questions.
The Strength of Biblical Women
Another feature of biblical women that may inspire us today is their strength. Although they lived in a male dominated society in which they were downtrodden, most of them were strong women. They did not merely sit around, meekly accepting fate. Instead, they took destiny into their own hands and shaped it to do their bidding.
For instance, amazingly, Tamar from the book of GENESIS struggled to become a single mother and achieved her goal.
Ruth the Moabite (RUTH) was adamant to migrate and settle in an alien country, and although she encountered a great many difficulties, was successful in the end.
Most prominently, Deborah (JUDGES) managed to "break the glass ceiling" over three thousand years ago and became a religious and national leader, and a chief justice, all wrapped in one.
Most impressively, Queen Vashti (ESTHER) stood up for her rights and refused to have her bodily charms exploited by her husband's cronies. And there are many other examples as well.
Does all this have any meaning for us today? I think it does, and that women of the Bible can serve as shining role models for us.
What we can learn from them is that women are strong and capable. That, no matter what the obstacles, we women can draw on our feminine strength to achieve what we aspire to, without giving up our femininity.
Deborah, for one, may serve as a role model to any contemporary woman who has career ambitions in her life. Not every woman wants to become a leader. But by looking at what Deborah was able to achieve, every woman can say to herself: No matter what the field in which I want to realize my potential, no matter what is right for me, I can do it. If she could do it then, when conditions were so harsh, I can do it now.
The Sexuality of Biblical Women
Last but not least, what is remarkable about biblical women is that several for them were sexual personalities: not merely sex objects, but sex initiators.
Leah (GENESIS) goes out to meet Jacob when he comes back from work and says to him: "You will come to me…" And he lay with her that night.
Tamar (GENESIS) initiates sex with her father-in-law Judah.
Ruth (RUTH), at her mother-in-law's instigation, goes out into the fields at night and lies down at the feet of Boaz, thereby seducing him.
Bathsheba (II SAMUEL) displays her charms to King David by bathing on the roof of her house and so leads him to commit adultery with her.
The beloved of the SONG OF SONGS calls on her lover to make love with her, and a lot more in this vein.
The sexuality of biblical women, too, is very inspiring for us today, an age in which women's liberation also means sexual liberation. It is empowering to know that the repressive Puritanism that prevailed in Western culture for so long did not stem from our original Judeo-Christian tradition. That thousands of years ago, women were not ashamed of their sexuality, so there is no reason why we should be.
In my biblical novels, and also in THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH, I celebrate the women's dramatic lives, their strength and their sexuality. I wrote their stories in a manner that is faithful to the Scripture, but makes for light, entertaining reading. They can be enjoyed not merely by Bible lovers but also, no less, by people who have never held a Bible in their hands.