Sunday, 21 September 2008

Excellent Women?

Judah and Tamar, school of Rembrandt

It’s a while ago now, but I wonder if you remember the gospel for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that is the first chapter of Matthew, the genealogy of Christ. An aside in the sermon I heard pointed out that, in contrast to Our Lady herself, most of the women mentioned are pretty disreputable! This has roused the wrath of my inner feminist (yes really!) to provide some special pleading in each case

1)Tamar (Genesis 38): her scandalous reputation stems from dressing as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law, Judah, into sleeping with her. But, she only tricks him into doing his legal duty. Under the Levirate law, when a man died, his nearest male relative had to marry the widow and father a son to continue the dead man's name. Tamar had been married to Er, and then to his brother Onan but had no children so Judah was shirking his responsibility. When Judah finds out that she is pregnant, he orders her to be burnt as a harlot but when she reveals his seal, which he had given to the 'prostitute', he is forced to reveal that he is the father of her child. He also admits that "she is in the right rather than I".

2)Rahab (Joshua 2): unlike Tamar, she really is a prostitute. But some would call her a 'tart with a heart', though possibly not the inhabitants of Jericho. When Joshua sent spies into the city, she hid them from the king under bundles of flax on the roof of her house. So, a traitor as well. But consider why she did it, "I know that the Lord has given you this land...when we heard this, our hearts failed us, and no courage is left in any of us to stand up to you, because the Lord your God is God both in heaven above and on earth beneath." Isn't this a profession of faith and an acceptance of God's will?

3)Ruth: she is not in any way disreputable. I'm not going to summarise the Book of Ruth, but read it because it's quite nice (and it's short!)

All three have in common a loyalty to their faith, to God's laws and a willingness to accept his command, even at a huge price. Tamar is prepared to risk her life and reputation, Rahab betrays her country and Ruth rejects the safety of her family for uncertainty. But for me, the most inspiring thing is that none of them crumbles, bewails their fate and waits for a miracle. They show intelligence, independence and act to better their lives while remaining true to their faith, and God helps them, because they have helped themselves.

(I know I've omitted "Uriah's wife", that is, Bathsheba, but I can't actually find any mitigating circumstances for her adultery with David. I suppose she was the mother of Solomon who was a Just King and Good Thing.)

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