Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I love Advent, and I have been reading and thinking about it - but unlike other years I haven't made a lot of that public per se. I usually send Advent emails and cards and such things. For some reason, I haven't done that this year. Partially, I think because I was on vacation last week - and I am not doing a huge family thing this Christmas - it feels different, defining Advent over again for myself. We are hugely behind on our advent calendar - maybe because I don't like the chocolate it has in it.

I think it is a personal quest this year, I am reading four advent devotional online each day - ones that make me think and question and don't give pat answers - I am enjoying it and being challenged by it. I read a piece today that sounds like something I would write - so I thought I would share it here. It comes from Theoblog

Holy mothers of God

By Kristin M. Swenson

Quick, what do these women have in common: hooker for a day, prostitute, foreigner, adulteress, unwed mother? Hint: They appear in the Bible together, and without them, we'd have no Christmas. If you guessed that they are the only women named in a list of Jesus' predecessors, kudos to you.

Genealogies in the Bible seldom make for good reading. Many's the pious person who, determined to read the Bible from start to finish, sails through stories of creation, disobedience and fratricide only to founder on the shoals of "begats." But those lists of names—Mehujael, Methushael, Lamech, Jabal—so odd to our ears, serve a purpose.

The Gospel of Matthew begins in good Jewish tradition with a genealogy. It is Jesus' family line from Abraham to Jesus' father, or, er, his adopted father Joseph, "the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born." Of the 40 generations listed, almost all are the names of men. This is a patriarchal culture, after all. But five women also appear, although (because?) each is of questionable repute.

The first, Tamar, is the daughter-in-law of Judah… twice over. Genesis tells us that the first two of Judah's sons that Tamar married were killed by God. Judah must have thought that there was something fatal about Tamar, so he withheld his third son from marrying her. This put her in a terrible predicament, since a woman in that ancient patriarchal world had no clout (or anything, for that matter) without connection to a man. So Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute, Judah slept with her and she got pregnant. Judah was angry (how dare his daughter-in-law sleep around), and then she revealed that he was the father. Judah repented and called her "more righteous than I" and Tamar had twins.

Matthew also mentions Rahab, a prostitute who hid Israelite spies, effectively protecting them from certain death. She declared their God to be the true God and kept her promise to keep them secret. When Jericho was destroyed, Joshua and company kept their promise to Rahab, sparing her and her family who "lived in Israel ever since." Matthew describes her as the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth, the third woman that Matthew includes.

Ruth hailed from an enemy people, the Moabites. Nevertheless, her story is one of tenderness and loyalty. After her first husband died, Ruth determined to stay with her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. It is Ruth who made the famous declaration reiterated at countless weddings: "Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people, and your God my God." But she said it to another woman, Naomi.

Their children have children, begetting and begatting until we get to the great king David. The Achilles’ heel of David's monarchy was his adulterous union with Bathsheba, the fourth woman that Matthew mentions, calling her "the wife of Uriah" to emphasize the adultery. Bathsheba advocated successfully for her son, Solomon, to succeed David as king; Solomon became the great temple builder.

Four women, all with complicated, questionable sexual pasts who do heroic things. The fifth? The pregnant virgin Mary, of course, who stands in a long tradition of eye-brow-raising, wink-wink women without whose intelligence, independence and integrity there would be no God-graced baby, no savior of the world. Or so the Bible says.

Kristin Swenson teaches Hebrew Bible at Virginia Commonwealth University.

No comments: