The Bible is filled with obscurities – examples from women

 

The Bible has many obscure matters. In my forthcoming book “Mysteries of Judaism III,” I will give many examples of the obscurities and how some people have used the obscurities to disparage women. The following is a short version of what will appear in the 2019 book. These examples focus on women.

 

Eve

Whether Adam’s wife is pictured favorably or not has experts with conflicting views. The Bible says that Eve was created to be an eizer khenegdo. The two words literally mean “help” “against him.” Is it suggesting that she was to be an equal or a being that is somewhat an adversary? The wording is obscure.

When she ate the forbidden fruit, was this bad? We assume that Adam passed on God’s prohibition to Eve, but the Bible does not say that he did so. Even if he did, was Eve showing initiative, being active, as people should be, while Adam was passive. Yes, she was punished, but was the punishment for a wrongdoing, or was the Bible teaching that even praiseworthy acts have consequences, and people need to be careful? The answer is obscure.

 

Sarah

The Bible states that Abraham’s wife laughed when she was old and past the child-bearing age, when angels predicted that she would give birth to a son. Was she acting reasonably or improperly?

When Abraham took Sarah to Egypt because of the famine in Canaan, knew that Sarah would be kidnapped, and protected himself from being killed by saying Sarah is my sister, did he do wrong, as Nachmanides insisted? And what about Sarah, why was she silent? Why didn’t she refuse to accompany her husband? Why did she allow herself to be kidnapped? Was she violated when she was given to Pharaoh and placed in his harem? There is a midrash that states the people were sure she was, and that Isaac was Pharaoh’s son, and therefore God made Isaac look like Abraham to dispel this mistake.

 

Rebecca

Did the patriarch Isaac’s wife, the matriarch Rebecca, act improperly when she tricked her husband making him think that he was giving his blessing to Esau when he was blessing Jacob? And did she act improperly by making Jacob her accomplice?

 

Leah

Similarly, did Leah do wrong when she made Jacob think he was marrying his beloved Rachel? And was Rachel complicit in the deception? If not, why didn’t she warn Jacob? We do not know and can only speculate.

 

Tamar

Jacob’s son Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons with her. When they reached the appropriate age, he gave the oldest to a woman named Tamar.[1] When his first-born died, he gave his second son to her. When he also died, Judah thinking the third son would also die, from an unknown cause, did not give Tamar his third son.

Then two things happened. Judah’s wife died, and Tamar was seeking a way to get Judah’s third son. She somehow knew, we don’t know how, that Judah would want the services of a prostitute and decided to seduce him. We have no idea why she thought that the seduction would accomplish the goal of gaining the third son or what other motivation she had. Judah did have sex with her without knowing she was his daughter-in-law. She bore a son who later became the ancestor of King David. The Torah does not tell us what happened to Judah, Tamar, and the third son. Furthermore, it does not reveal whether Tamar’s behavior was wrong. Also, why does the Bible tell us that King David was the ultimate result of a sordid affair?

 

The wives of Joseph and Moses

Why does the Bible tell us that Jacob’s son Joseph and the lawgiver Moses married daughters of pagan priests? Each had two sons. Why doesn’t the Bible tell us about the character of these sons? Where they good people? Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons and made them tribal leaders, but we do not know why. What happened to Moses’ sons is not recorded. Rabbis imagine that Moses’ grandson was a priest at a temple of idol worshipers.[2]

 

Deborah

There are unfortunately many sages who read Judges chapters 4 and 5, the story of Deborah, analyzed obscure passages and made disparaging remarks about her. The judge Deborah agrees with the Israelite general Barak’s condition that he will lead the army in defense against the Canaanite attack only if she joins with him, but the Bible does not reveal why Barak felt he needed her or her role in the battle. Also, she ridicules him prophesying in a cryptic manner that a woman, not he, will get credit for the victory. Her prediction may refer to Deborah being praised or to Yael who slew the enemy general Sisera after the battle. It is also doubtful if she is disparaging women generally when she compared him to a woman, or, if not, what is the intent of the ridicule.

Abarbanel questions why Deborah, a judge and prophet, needed to sit under a tree. Abarbanel (1437-1508) responds that she felt that it was inappropriate for a woman to be alone with a man in a house, so she arranged her meetings with men outside, under a tree. Zohar 3:19b reads: “Woe unto the generation whose leader [judge] is a woman.” Several sources state: “Prophetess though she [Deborah] was, she was yet subject to the frailties of her sex. Her self-consciousness was inordinate. . .. The result was that the prophetical spirit departed from her for a time while she was composing her song.”[3]

 

Yael

After Barak and Deborah defeated the enemy forces, General Sisera sought shelter in the tent of Yael. She is called a Kenite, but it is unclear if the word means she was a non-Israelite, as some commentators think, or she was an Israelite living in Kenite territory as others contend.

Abarbanel asks: If Yael’s husband made a treaty with Jabin, king of Canaan, how could Yael breach that treaty? His answer: Women are not bound by treaties; they must only do what their husbands tell them to do.

Yael offers Sisera milk which makes him sleepy. When he falls asleep, she kills him, and is proclaimed a hero in Jewish tradition. But, it is unclear why she is a hero. Wouldn’t it have been better and more moral to call the Israelite forces to come and capture him. True, she may not have had an opportunity or ability to do so, but the Bible is silent on this issue.

Why does Yael want to kill Sisera? Was she angry about something, wanted revenge for something, a feeling of justice, or self-preservation? We do not know.

Also, both Deborah and Yael were married, yet acted independent of their husbands. Was this bad?

 

The medium of En Dor

When King Saul was convinced that he and his army were in trouble in his battle against the Philistines, he went to a medium, some translate her title as “witch,” for her to bring the prophet Samuel from the dead to tell him the outcome of the war.[4] The medium treated him courteously, brought up Samuel from the dead, and after Saul spoke to Samuel and received bad news, the medium gave Saul food to eat. We have no idea if this was a trick, or miracle, or precisely what happened during the séance because the Bible does not tell us. The story is obscure. True, the medium violated the Torah prohibition against sorcery and King Saul’s own law on the subject, but was she bad?

 

Bat Sheba

King David’s relationship with Bat Sheba is also unclear. Why was she bathing apparently naked in an area where the king could see her? What attracted David to her? Did he rape her? Why aren’t Bat Sheba’s thoughts and emotions mentioned here in the Bible? Why did David ignore the biblical prohibition against adultery? Why after having sex with her did he ignore her until she came to him revealing she was pregnant? Did David want to marry her? What were her thoughts about marriage and about the man who killed her husband? If David wanted to marry her, why did he try repeatedly to get her husband to have sex with her, so he could claim that the pregnancy resulted from the husband’s sex? Why does the Bible ignore her after she gave birth to Solomon until the death bed scene where she comes to David, prompted to do so by a prophet? Is there a hint here that he was not that interested in her? If so, why did he marry her? Was it to claim that her child resulted after his marriage and hide that he had an adulterous relationship with her? Why when he was on his death bed and was cold he had a virgin sleep in his bed to make him warm? Even though Bat Sheba was not young, she was warm?

 

There is no way to answer these questions other than to speculate and speculations are not facts.

 

[1] The story is in Genesis 28.

[2] See Judges 18:30 and my commentary on the verse in Unusual Bible Interpretations Judges, Gefen Publishing House, 2015.

[3] Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 66b; Zohar 3:21b–22a; Midrash Genesis Rabba 40:4; and others.

The quote is from Ginzberg 4:36.

[4] The story is in I Samuel 28.

Do You Want To Be Notified of New Blog Posts?

Email:

Categories

Archives