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Women in the Bible

#1327 Women in the Bible
FEED DATE: October 06, 2005
Naomi Harris Rosenblatt

Opening Billboard: Funding for this program is provided by...

(Pfizer) At Pfizer, we’re spending over five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have 12,000 scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer, life is our life’s work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
WATTENBERG: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. Many of us can recall powerful stories of important figures from the Old Testament, leaders like Abraham, Joseph, and King David. But today’s guest argues that there are other important characters in the Bible who have often been overlooked — women. These Biblical women had a powerful impact on the society around them and on the moral lessons that we can take with us today. Who were these women and what can we learn from their stories? To find out, Think Tank is joined by Naomi Harris Rosenblatt, a practicing psychotherapist and author of ‘After the Apple: Women in the Bible: Timeless Stories of Love, Lust, and Longing’. The topic before the house: women in the bible, this week on Think Tank.
WATTENBERG: Naomi Harris Rosenblatt, welcome to Think Tank.

ROSENBLATT: Thank you. Thank you, Ben.

WATTENBERG: We agreed to talk, at least first, about four women and then hopefully we can go on to some others, and they are Eve, the Queen of Sheba, Tamar, Abigail. Let’s talk about Eve. You call her - it’s Eve the first...


WATTENBERG: What...tell me...

ROSENBLATT: What I realized is that the majority of our culture regards Eve as the underhanded seductress who manipulated Adam into sexual sin, so to speak, because they were told not to eat from a particular tree. She disobeys, she hands the apple, the symbol of sexual intimacy and so forth. By the time Eve is created we know that she’s been given freewill because that’s the idea of being made in God’s image. Unlike the animals in those three early chapters of Genesis, human beings are the only ones that the generous creator has endowed with freewill, which goes together with responsibility and accountability. Both women and men are equal in the sense that we can assess their actions, we can judge it, we can love it, we can be compassionate; nobody’s a saint and nobody’s a sinner.

WATTENBERG: But you say that she is endowed with freewill.

ROSENBLATT: And she uses it.

WATTENBERG: Well, she’s not endowed with freewill in one sense. God tells her “do not eat from this tree”.

ROSENBLATT: And what does she do? She uses her freewill, that’s the first time...

WATTENBERG: Violating God’s word.

ROSENBLATT: Right. When the creator made Adam and Eve he had already by then given them freewill. He had given them the capacity to disobey him. He created Eve and Adam and he knew, if I may be that arrogant for a minute to talk in God’s name, he knew that she would be the one to rock the boat. Why, Ben? Because we know that every female at birth is born with all the eggs within her for any baby that she will want so that God had created the female with that capacity to create life.

WATTENBERG: It’s not first that he needs a sexual partner.

ROSENBLATT: Right. If I can just give you one, two, three, four, the steps by which we arrive at it.
First God realizes that the human that he created is lonely and so he creates Eve. And so he brings Eve towards Adam and Adam is so excited and they’re running around the garden as two children. The main reason for creating Eve is companionship, because by then, Adam, the human, can talk and he needs a companion to be able to talk to. You can’t talk to the rhinoceros or the birds. So now they’re equal. Language is the bond.
Then he says, “Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Ben, it is essential to understand that knowledge in Hebrew means also sexual knowledge. Without understanding that Hebrew, you don’t understand it.

WATTENBERG: The tree of knowledge is also the tree of sexuality.
ROSENBLATT: In its broadest, broadest sense. And to add to that, five verbs are given as to why Eve takes from the tree: ‘cause she looks, she wonders - she’s not impulsive - and then the last rationale, ‘and Eve took from the tree to make her wise’. She was growing up. She wanted to expand. She wanted - and part of that was how to reach out to the male in order Ben, to express her potential of making life, which she had within her.

WATTENBERG: Why - when I was reading this, I mean, you say that Eve chooses knowledge over immortality. That’s...

ROSENBLATT: Well, that’s the exchange.

WATTENBERG: Right. But why might God want people not to have knowledge.

ROSENBLATT: I don’t think he wanted that, but what he did...

WATTENBERG: This was all part of...

ROSENBLATT: I think – but that’s the creator. He knew that this would happen, and Ben, this story is not for you and me just to talk about this simple couple running around the Garden of Eden. It’s for Ben and Naomi to learn about human nature, about action, decision, consequences, responsibility.

WATTENBERG: Let’s go on to our friend the Queen of Sheba. And then she is not a Hebrew.


WATTENBERG: Like a lot of the women in your story are not.

ROSENBLATT: Right. She might be Ethiopian, we think.

WATTENBERG: She’s an Ethiopian. So tell me the story.

ROSENBLATT: Well, the story is wonderful and it has captured the imagination of musicians, of Hollywood, of folk-tellers. The Queen of Sheba had heard about the wisdom of Solomon. It went all the way to, what we think, either Ethiopia or parts of Yemen; we’re not sure. And the Queen of Sheba is the queen of a large country and she decides that she has to come by herself to really find out if he’s as wise as his reputation says he is.
So she comes to Jerusalem and it must have taken her a long time. In those days it wasn’t a shuttle. It was caravans and so forth. She comes laden with gifts and she comes up to Jerusalem and she meets with him and the conversation between her and Solomon should be a blueprint for any woman going into the corporate world. First of all, she’s an absolute equal. The Bible treats her with tremendous respect. She’s a woman who asks him intelligent questions, difficult questions, tells him right away that she didn’t believe he was as wise that she had heard, but now that she’s got his answers to the questions that she’s posed him, she really realizes how wise he is. So she flatters him without getting personal.

WATTENBERG: She bares an illegitimate child.

ROSENBLATT: Not in – you see, that’s exactly what I’m so upset about. Because the ten verses in the Bible, and that’s the only thing we know about the Queen of Sheba - she’s never referred to again – is she comes with great dignity - yes there’s a lot of give and take; I think that maybe there was some flirtation. After all, Solomon had 800 wives. I mean, he knew how to handle women.

WATTENBERG: I think what I wrote up, you have 700 wives and 300...

ROSENBLATT: Concubines. Well, either way, right. A lot of women he had to deal with.

WATTENBERG: Now we’re going on to Abigail. What’s the story?

ROSENBLATT: Abigail starts out - that’s 3,000 years ago, about 1,000 BC – starts as the wife of a wealthy landowner called Nabal. At that time, the young David, who eventually will become king, is running away from the present-day king, Saul, who’s jealous of him, who’s a little bit – has his problems. David is becoming very popular as a result of having killed Goliath. He’s a great musician, he’s a poet, the guy’s a renaissance man.

WATTENBERG: And the crowds as I recall...


WATTENBERG: Saul killed in his 1,000s; David...

ROSENBLATT: David 10,000. And the women are nuts about him. Nuts. Charismatic, right. So anyway, we come to a point where Abigail – and she’s introduced not only that she’s very attractive, but a woman of great intelligence. I mean, that’s an important fact that they bring out about Abigail in the chapter. And she finds herself in the untenable situation of being between two warring males who’ve got their horns locked. Her husband, who’s the rich, selfish landowner, and the young, hot-blooded David. Because David had come with his outlaws, he’s running away from the king, has asked her husband for food. And Abigail’s husband will not give him food and in an arrogant way says, “Who’s this outlaw that’s asking – who’s David, who cares?” And David, hot-blooded, says, “I’m not getting food. By the morning there won’t be one male left in this man’s hacienda.” So whom do they go to? The farmhands? They go to Abigail.

WATTENBERG: Because they would be killed by David.

ROSENBLATT: If they didn’t do something about it, right. Now, but why do they go to Abigail? Because she’s wise and they can talk to her and so forth.
Abigail, like your original Eve - Eve has all the archetypical qualities that will appear in all these biblical women - she’s highly intelligent; she’s a risk taker; she’s decisive; and she moves.

WATTENBERG: What does she do?

ROSENBLATT: Without tell her husband, which is unknown of – unknown in a matriarch – patriarchal society, she prepares about six donkeys, covers them with food. When you read it your mouth waters. Lamb, wine, raisins, nuts, delicious. And she goes down the mountain with six of her handmaidens to meet this young David.
Now, the courage that she took, she had no idea if he’d murder her or not. What does she know about this young outlaw? She’d never met him. But she comes down and you visualize her with a wonderful carriage and meeting him. Not groveling. Not – and she says to him...

WATTENBERG: Not groveling but you say that she...

ROSENBLATT: Well, she bends.

WATTENBERG: Prostrates herself on the ground...

ROSENBLATT: Right. ‘Cause that’s more feminine and that’s sort of playing up to his ego. And then we hear her soliloquy. There’s a speech there that she gives him, which is the longest speech of any woman for sure, and you can study it the way you study friends, Romans, countryman from Julius Caesar. She first calms him down. She first takes responsibility that, yes, she and her husband are the ones who are at fault; not David for acting like a madman. And so she – he was sure that she would start criticizing him. She doesn’t. She builds him up and calms him down. And you can tell as you read that David - he’s a survivor the way she is - is aware of what she’s doing and appreciates it and she goes on.
Then she begins bringing in – she’s politically savvy, they’re all intelligent – that she knows, because that’s the rumor, that God has chosen him to be the next King of Israel and if he wants to arrive at the crown he better not sully his hands in blood on the way to becoming King of Israel. And then in a quiet subtle way she says, “After all, you and I come from a tradition.” I’m now paraphrasing it, that one shalt – thou shalt not murder. And don’t do this because you’ll be sorry.

WATTENBERG: Which is one of the Ten Commandments.

ROSENBLATT: Of course. Right.

WATTENBERG: Right. Okay.

ROSENBLATT: But that’s her subtle way of saying you and I are cut of the same cloth. By the time she’s finished giving him compliments - and then Ben, you’ll enjoy it, she keeps changing. She says, the Lord, with a capital L and my lord with a small l. David. By the time she’s finished, he doesn’t know if she’s talking about God or talking about him. It’s loaded with flattery.

WATTENBERG: But the gist of it is he calls off the murder of...

ROSENBLATT: Yes. But at the very end - that’s why she would do so well in Washington – at the very end of this, the way we do with somebody who’s in the White House and we want a job in the White House, she says to him, “But when you become King, don’t forget your handmaiden.” In other words, give me a job in the White House.

WATTENBERG: Now, maybe – I mean, in recent years in the United States we’ve had two Secretaries of State who are women; Madelyn Albright and Condoleezza Rice, so maybe we’re learning something about diplomacy there.

ROSENBLATT: That’s right. And that female intuition and the importance of persuasion, the art of persuasion. And so that’s all she says to him: When you become king. He never commits himself, typically male, doesn’t say anything. However, he does become king one day. No, he hears that her husband dies... sorry. This terrible husband dies, he hears about it, sends messengers to bring her to become his wife.
No sooner does he send the messengers, Abigail - doesn’t take her more than one minute. She jumps on her donkeys and she joins David and becomes one of his wives.

WATTENBERG: Let’s go on to a few other women in the Bible that you write about. First is Ruth. I have a daughter named Ruth.

ROSENBLATT: Right. I know her very well.

WATTENBERG: I know you do.

ROSENBLATT: She’s lovely and highly intelligent.

WATTENBERG: Like all my children.

ROSENBLATT: That’s right. We mustn’t – right. In the story - it’s really a wonderful story of two women. First of all, a great friendship between two women; one, the ancient mother-in-law, Naomi. And her young daughter-in-law, Ruth.

WATTENBERG: Not Hebrews.

ROSENBLATT: Naomi is; Ruth is a Moabite. That’s from the east side of the Jordan, Moab. Anyway, the two women - and I have to cut this short - find themselves...

WATTENBERG: Don’t... Tell your story.

ROSENBLATT: ...find themselves to be widows - their husbands died - and both are childless. In those days for a woman – now it’s not easy, either – to be a widow and childless, you were really pretty much left anonymous in society. So they’re both in Moab where there’s a famine. And Naomi, the mother-in-law, decides to go back to Bethlehem where she comes from. And there’s nothing more for her to do. She lost her husband, there’s famine. And her two daughters-in-law – she’s, in fact, for every modern mother-in-law, should study how Naomi deals with her daughters-in-law in order to gain wisdom, tact...

WATTENBERG: One of her daughters-in-law is Ruth.

ROSENBLATT: Right. And the other daughter-in-law -- she says to them tactfully, “Look, I’m going back; there’s nothing for me anymore. I’m a bitter old woman. You go back to your people and find young husbands.”

WATTENBERG: Back to Moab.

ROSENBLATT: Yes, or stay in Moab where we are and find a husband where you can start your own families. One daughter-in-law says goodbye to her, agrees to stay in her country, find a husband, but Ruth becomes famous because she comes out with the most unconditional sentence of committed loyalty to Naomi. She says, “No, whither thou goest, I go; your people are my people; your destiny” so to speak, “is mine. Where you will be buried, I will be buried.” So it’s an open-ended commitment. In other words, whatever happens to you in life, to your people, to... I am part of it. And today we use that declaration...

WATTENBERG: Wait a minute, so Ruth never gets married?

ROSENBLATT: No, we’re not there yet.


ROSENBLATT: So Ruth – this declaration is the one that we use by the way when people convert into Judaism.


ROSENBLATT: This unconditional sense that history and the future...

WATTENBERG: So Ruth goes back to Bethlehem.

ROSENBLATT: So Ruth – but that statement also is saying, whatever your history has been before I’ve arrived, is also my history. She takes it all on.

WATTENBERG: Now, if Naomi is Ruth’s mother-in-law...


WATTENBERG: ...that means that, or does it, that Ruth had a husband?



ROSENBLATT: And she, like her mother-in-law, is a widow.


ROSENBLATT: They’re both destitute, to cut a long story short. They come back to Bethlehem and Ruth then begins gleaning wheat, if I may digress for a minute, one of the great ethical...

WATTENBERG: They’re all digressing.

ROSENBLATT: That’s the Bible.

WATTENBERG: Well, that’s this show also.

ROSENBLATT: Well, the conversation, right, and I enjoy it tremendously. There’s a wonderful ethic - for me it’s worth the price of admission - that says when you reap your field – I get goose pimples and tears – leave the corners of your field unreaped; let the poor and the widows and the orphans come and collect what you have not reaped. In other words don’t be greedy ‘til the bitter end. Leave something for the have-nots. And that really has become a rule.
So Ruth has nothing; Naomi has nothing, and Naomi says to her, go into the fields to glean what has been left by the landowners and bring it home.

WATTENBERG: That’s the famous biblical injunction about you leave one tenth of...

ROSENBLATT: No, the corn – that’s another one. The corner of the fields...


ROSENBLATT: ...must not be... it’s like leaving a bit of profit to other people.

WATTENBERG: For the poor. Right.

ROSENBLATT: Not to be overly greedy and always aware of the have-nots in society. So Ruth who’s young and lovely I assume, goes into the fields and the landowner, and now the third person is introduced, the romantic subject, and that’s Boaz, the landowner. He’s an older man; he’s prosperous; he’s got land...

WATTENBERG: And he is a Hebrew?

ROSENBLATT: Yes. And he spots Ruth and sees this foreign young woman working among the gleaners and he says, “Who is this?”, he asks his farmhands, and they say, “Oh, this is Ruth, the Moabite” and they begin saying what a great girl she is, her loyalty to her old mother-in-law, how fine she is, and he obviously has noticed her. And he comes up to her and introduces himself and she just says who she is. She’s very modest but she’s very feminine. She’s aware that he’s noticed her. And she wants to...

WATTENBERG: As we say, giving her the up and down.

ROSENBLATT: Right. But he’s very charming, he’s a gentleman. And she makes sure that he remembers her. She introduces herself, tells him about Naomi. And then before he leaves he brings her extra wheat and barley to take home with her and also she hears that he tells the farmhands, hands off.
She goes back home to this wise old mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi says to her, “What’s all this wheat? Where did you get it?” And Ruth tells her the story that there was this landowner called Boaz. Naomi might be an old woman but she hasn’t lost yet her instinct for survival and, boy, there’s a possibility here like in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or any of your novels...

WATTENBERG: That’s a mother-in-law’s job is to...

ROSENBLATT: To see that there’s a potential...

WATTENBERG: Make a match, right.

ROSENBLATT: ... of a match of a wonderful son-in-law. So she tells Ruth – now I’m cutting the story short, but it’s lovely – she tells Ruth, “Look, it’s now the time of the harvest. Clean - wash yourself, anoint yourself, put on crèmes, perfumes and go into the field...”

WATTENBERG: Very feminine.

ROSENBLATT: Oh, it’s delicious. It’s like what your magazines today have ten rules about how to catch a guy.

WATTENBERG: (Laughs) Right.

ROSENBLATT: She does it in the bible. It’s absolutely... and it’s matter-of-fact. This is life. This is how you get a guy and there’s no political correctness about it. And Ruth is so trusting of the mother-in-law that she follows it. I mean, they’re both working at this. So she anoints herself, covers herself with these things and then the last thing Naomi says to her, “When you go into the field at night to the haystack where Boaz is going to be sleeping and you snuggle up to him, wait ‘til the man has finished eating because he’ll be in a better mood.”

WATTENBERG: (Laughing)

ROSENBLATT: Don’t advance – and it’s like Clementine Churchill who said Churchill was always cranky ‘til she fed him, and then he was terrific, a nice man. So here was the same thing 3,000 years ago. And so Ruth follows - washes herself, et cetera, and it’s the middle of the night, everybody’s asleep including Boaz, whom I’ve had a soft spot for since I was 14, and she snuggles up to him on the haystack. And she waits ‘til he has eaten and he’s fallen asleep. And then she comes and she takes the corner of his coat, covers herself – sort of her feet – and openly says to him, “You know, according to the law you can be my redeemer, my...” There was a law in ancient Israel, some Orthodox Jews still keep it, that when somebody becomes a widow and has had no children, the brother can marry her in order – and those children inherit what would have belonged to the dead brother and the name is kept. It’s always about continuity of the family, the tribe.

WATTENBERG: Was Boaz married at the time?

ROSENBLATT: We don’t know. But if it was polygamous, I assume he could have, but we don’t know. That’s not brought up. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that he wakes up startled, seeing this young woman that he’s been watching and giving her extra wheat in the field, and then he says to her – again, modern men can learn – he says to her, “Look” – he listens to it and pretty much says that he’ll do whatever is necessary, find out if indeed the marriage can go through, if there’s any other relative who’s got a priority over it. And he says to her, “But leave before the sun comes up so that nobody sees you.” He’s already showing consideration for her reputation.

WATTENBERG: But are we to assume that they...

ROSENBLATT: Slept together?


ROSENBLATT: Some people interpret it as sleeping; I don’t think so. Not because I’m a puritan, because what if she had gotten pregnant? There was no birth control then. She didn’t take the pill. She didn’t have a diaph – I mean, she – she could have gotten pregnant.

WATTENBERG: And that would also be a...

ROSENBLATT: A bastard.

WATTENBERG: Yes, but it would be against the moral code...

ROSENBLATT: No question...

WATTENBERG: ... to have sex before marriage.

ROSENBLATT: No question. And what if he wouldn’t have married her? She would have been an unwed mother. This isn’t modern times.


ROSENBLATT: And the fact that she snuggles up... he could have rejected her. She was very brave.

WATTENBERG: And there are a lot of words in the Bible for ‘he knew’ and ‘he laid with’...

ROSENBLATT: Above all...

WATTENBERG: ... and this is snuggling so it may not be an actual...

ROSENBLATT: I don’t think it was consummated. I think what happened was she was saying to him, “Look, I could be a great wife. I’m sensual, I’m warm, I’m affectionate.”

WATTENBERG: But not ‘til we get married.

ROSENBLATT: But she doesn’t say that, but “I’m available and the law protects me and if you want to, you’re supposed to take – you can marry me.” Because he’s also a relative of Naomi, which I didn’t mention.

WATTENBERG: Oh, oh, I see.

ROSENBLATT: There is – so the end of the story is he does marry her and Naomi has her first grandchild. You see, she wanted grandchildren through this marriage.

WATTENBERG: Surprise, right?

ROSENBLATT: And more importantly, if I may add, because one of my points in the book is even though the women, though the women break conventions, but they do everything for the name of continuity. Her children will be eventually - her descendants - will bring about the House of David and in Christianity, Jesus.

WATTENBERG: Naomi Rosenblatt, thank you very much for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you. Please, do remember to send us your comments via e-mail, we think it makes our program better. For Think Tank, I’m Ben Wattenberg.

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