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Great Women of the Bible

At Ley Hill we have been studying great women of the Bible. When we think of the great characters of the Bible most of them are men, and in an ancient patriarchal society maybe that is to be expected, but there are some great women in the Bible too. There are only 2 books of the Old Testament named after women: Ruth and Esther, and in the deuterocanonical books we can also find the books Judith and Susanna. However, the Bible includes some very significant women with great authority, including important leaders and prophets. Read here to find out more... Female leaders The first and second book of Kings, are not just about kings, but about queens too, and not just queen consorts but also ruling queens. The Queen of Sheba is described in terms making her an equal of King Solomon of Israel (1 Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12). The book of Kings also describes a ruling queen of Judah, Queen Athaliah who ruled for 6 years. She was not a very good queen, but then many of the kings were not very good either. Her story used to be much better known, and she was made famous by an oratorio called Athalia written by Handel in 1733. Later Judea also had another queen of the Hasmonean dynasty, Queen Alexandra, who is described by Josephus and is found in some in writings in the Dead Sea Scrolls, although she is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Female prophets Traditionally Judaism recognises 7 women of the Hebrew Scriptures as prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther. Three of these women are explicitly called prophets, or prophetesses, depending on the translation, and in addition Miriam and Deborah are also called leaders.

In Exodus 15:20 we read that “the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.” (NRSV) Micah 6:4 reported the Lord as saying: ‘I brought you out of Egypt; I rescued you from slavery; I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you.’ (GNB). In the early days of Israel when it was ruled by Judges, the fourth and one of the greatest was Deborah. She was not only a Judge but was also called a prophet. In Judges 4:4 we read “Deborah the wife of Lappidoth was a prophet and a leader of Israel during those days.” (CEV)

Huldah was a prophet in Jerusalem who the high priest Hilkiah, and the righteous king Josiah deferred to on matters of religion (2 Kings 22:14). She recognised a scroll found in the Temple as a valid book of Scriptures, so she helped to form the canon we have today (as told in 2 Kings chapter 22). There may have been many men and women unrecorded as prophets. When Jesus is presented at the Temple Mary and Joseph met Anna, who is an old woman of the tribe of Asher, and she is described as a prophet (Luke 2:36-38). Joel predicted a time when female prophets would be more common when he said “Your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28), quoted by Peter at Pentecost to explain why both men and women (Acts 1:14) were speaking in tongues to the crowds (Acts 2:1-17).

Female disciples

Jesus had many disciples both male and female, and appointed 12 apostles from among them (Luke 6:13). Although none of the 12 apostles appointed by Jesus were women, Luke wrote that Jesus and the apostles travelled around with many women, and some were quite wealthy and financed the ministry. (Luke 8:1-3) Those who accompanied them, may well have included their wives. Peter’s wife is not mentioned by name, but we know she existed because we read that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38). Later we learn that most, if not all, the apostles were married because in 1 Corinthians 9:5 Paul writes “Don't I have the right to follow the example of the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Peter, by taking a Christian wife with me on my trips?” (GNB)

After the resurrection it was Mary who was the first witness, and Jesus told her to “Go and tell the others” (John 20:17). In the Early Church we read of Philip the Evangelist, one of the 7 Greek-speaking Jewish deacons of the Jerusalem church. It is written that he had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. (Acts 21:8-9)

So all through the Bible, although most of the main characters are men, we still find women taking key roles as leaders and prophets, without any indication that they were disqualified to do by their gender. Paul wrote to the Galatians that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

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