Eva Etzioni-Halevy is professor
emeritus of political sociology at Bar-Ilan Univeristy, Israel, now
turned into a biblical novelist.
A child Holocaust survivor, she was born in Vienna, Austria. She managed to escape as a small child with her parents in 1939 and spent World War II in Italy, partly in an Italian concentration camp and partly in hiding. She moved to what was then Palestine in 1945.
She also spent time in the United States and Australia before returning to Israel and taking up her position at Bar-Ilan. Eva lives in Tel-Aviv with her husband; she has three grown children.
To find out more about Eva follow the following link: http://www.women-in-the-bible.com
By profession, I am a political
sociologist; but after a lengthy academic career, I burst out in a
totally different direction and reincarnated myself as a biblical
It so happened that some years ago I began reading the Bible, and was entranced by it. What fascinated me was that it is full of dramatic and traumatic stories about people who lived thousands of years ago, and yet are so strikingly similar to us in their hopes, passions and anxieties. I began to identify in particular with the women, whose lives I could visualize as if they were my own.
A few years ago, I participated in a symposium on women of the Bible at which a lady in the audience asked: Why should we, women of the 21st century, be interested in biblical women, who were so limited in their lives? They were concerned mainly with marriage and giving birth to sons, while we have so many more options and ambitions for our lives.
Since then, I have been thinking about this question, searching for an answer. I came to the conclusion that the question was based on misconception. The women of the Bible are not only fascinating but also relevant today and even in the 21at century we can derive inspiration from them.
Abraham was commanded: "Whatever Sarah says, listen to her voice." Sarah and the other biblical women are still calling out to us from across the generations and we will do well to listen to their voices carefully, and doing so can have an empowering effect on us contemporary women.
For one thing, they lived in a male-dominated society, in which they had few legal rights and they were downtrodden in family and society. Yet most of them were strong personalities. Naturally they were not--and could not be--"feminists" in the modern sense. But neither did they merely sit around and bemoan their fate. Instead, they took destiny into their own hands and shaped it to do their bidding.
Deborah - the heroine of my novel The Triumph of Deborah is a shining example. She was a prophetess or religious leader, a chief justice and a national leader all wrapped in one, and the people adored her. Despite the difficult conditions for women prevailing at the time, she "cracked the glass ceiling" over three thousand years ago, without losing her femininity.
Most women have no wish to become national leaders. But what all women can learn from Deborah is that no matter what the field in which they choose to realize their potential, no matter what is right for them, they can draw on their inner feminine strength to achieve their goals and remain women and mothers at the same time.
Secondly, there was a great diversity among biblical women. Contrary to their image, they were not concerned solely with marriage and bearing sons, but also with a whole variety of other issues.
Tamar in the book of Genesis wanted children, to be sure, but she was not concerned with marriage. Instead, she was set on becoming what we would call today a "single mother," and her wish was granted.
Bathsheba forcefully strove to become a king's mother, the most eminent position for a woman at the time. Taking advantage of some court intrigues, she, too, was successful in her endeavor. And there are many more examples of the great variety of biblical women's goals and achievements.
In this sense they are particularly close to us today, an era in which feminism is frequently combined with a celebration of diversity, of women doing what feels right for them, for each woman, personally.
Thirdly, and most surprisingly, several of the biblical women were very sexual personalities. They were not merely "sex objects," but initiated sex. Occasionally they did so as part of what we might call "sexual politics," in order to gain power and obtain various objectives in life.
Ruth - the heroine of my novel The
Garden of Ruth used sexual enticement to achieve marriage to a
wealthy and prominent man, and thereby became the ancestress of a
dynasty of kings.
For all these reasons I was mesmerized by the biblical women and decided to hand them a "loudspeaker" by writing novels about them, so that their voices could be heard loud and clear across the millenia. I wrote about them as I think they deserve to be written about: stories of love, betrayal and redemption through more love, which are yet totally faithful to the Bible, for which The Triumph of Deborah is the most recent case in point.
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