Just as we read history and do not fault Martin Luther for not having sent a text message about his theological issues nor blame George Washington for not phoning ahead before crossing the Delaware, we have no right to blame any biblical woman for not doing what we might have done with our cultural background. She lived in another world, a world I will attempt to describe as we meet each of these women.
Because a book of the Bible tells us how these people lived, it is not saying that this is how we are to live. We have also to remind ourselves that the Bible is a library spanning centuries. A nomadic Sarah in a polygamous society shapes her life by factors that are so different from those of urban Priscilla eighteen hundred years later. Each deals with her circumstances, as must we.
This point is so important because critics are inclined to make this incredible library a weapon of patriarchy. How society was shaped then is not how society should be shaped today. In every age women and men have to make their way in the world in which they live. This is the intriguing fact about the women we will meet during our study. Each one says, “I chose to do this. You might or might not have made the same choice, but see me for who I am and when I lived.”
It is astonishing that the male recorders of the Bible (almost certainly the human authors were male scribes) have given us these moments. The women as family storytellers undoubtedly helped to shape the ancestor accounts. Did they quietly but firmly make certain they were included?
It is intriguing to imagine a Hebrew mother gathering her children about her before bedtime to tell stories of the past and to make sure that Abraham’s includes Sarah’s as well, that Isaac’s rather pallid adult life is enlivened by that of the creative Rebekah…
However it came about, the story of biblical women is ours to explore, even as we remind ourselves that to describe is not to prescribe.