‘And Many Other Women’ Part I

I’ve been trying not to post much since I have entered the Mentally Incoherent state of pregnancy (as evidenced by the fact that I somehow deleted this post after writing 80% of it–this is take two), but the comments from Ashleigh and others about women in the scriptures have tempted me beyond that which I can bear. I am hoping that this will be the first in an occasional series about overlooked women in the scriptures. The title is from Mark 15:41, where we find out, at the crucifixion, that women have been with Jesus all along (“Oh, gee, did I forget to mention that for the last fifteen chapters?”). Do notice the exceptionally well-placed emoticon immediately before this phrase.

OK. Read Mark 8:14-21. It seems obvious that Jesus here expects the disciples to compare the two feeding miracles (Mark 6:33-44 and Mark 8:1-9) and that the numbers involved seem to have some special significance.

At this point, you should go over those feeding miracles with a fine-toothed comb and make a list of their similarities and differences. There’s a lot going on. I’m only going to comment on the one facet that involves gender. I will note that based on word choice, setting, number symbolism, and themes, many scholars conclude that the first miracle is ‘for’ and ‘about’ the Jews and the second is ‘for’ and ‘about’ the Gentiles. If anyone is curious, I can provide more detail on this, but that would require getting up and my first rule of pregnancy is Do Not Move Unless Absolutely Necessary.

Note that in the first miracle, 5000 MEN are fed and in the second, 4000 PEOPLE are fed.

Note that the first (the Jewish) miracle has many similarities with 1 Samuel 21:1-6, where David and Co. are able to eat the consecrated bread. Why? Because they have not been made impure by women for three days.

Now note the different reasons in each story why Jesus has compassion on the people: in the first, it is because they are as sheep without a shephard but in the second, because they have been without food (i.e., fasting) for three days.

Why is the first group (of Jewish men) worthy to eat of the sacred bread that Jesus provides? Why is the second group (of Gentile people) worthy to eat of the sacred bread that Jesus provides?

I don’t think that it is much of a stretch to think that the Gentile people are worthy to partake because their fasting is the replacement method of purification for abstaining from women.

We don’t usually ‘see’ the women in this story. But the message about gender and what it means in the kingdom that Jesus inaugurates is there.

(I’m going to apologize for any incoherence in advance. I really am operating at a mental deficit.)

5 comments for “‘And Many Other Women’ Part I

  1. Bryce I
    September 29, 2004 at 8:53 pm

    Thanks for the post Julie. It makes me realize how little I know and understand, and in particular, how relatively meager my Bible knowledge is (having had the privilege of serving a mission in Japan, where we could start right off with the Book of Mormon as the primary text).

    And I am in awe of any woman who can homeschool while pregnant (I hope that’s going ok).

  2. Julie in Austin
    September 29, 2004 at 9:20 pm

    Homeschooling is the least of my worries. The one thing that I am very capable of right now is sprawling on the couch reading aloud about Vikings. (My three-year-old insists that we call him Thor.)

  3. Ashleigh
    September 29, 2004 at 11:56 pm

    Goodness Julie, I can’t handle homework.

    But thank you for this, you’re a doll.

  4. maria
    September 30, 2004 at 10:49 am


    This is really interesting. Thanks for taking the time to post this for everyone. I would love to see a series of posts on overlooked women in the scriptures, or even just the NT (which I see is your area of expertise). We’re teaching NT in seminary this year and I would love to have more discussions about women with my class. Since 95% of those that actually attend my class are young women, I feel that it is important to highlight role models for them in our course of study.

    And maybe as a separate series we could have a conversation about ways to not perpetuate the overlooking/underutilization of women in the church today. Or do you think that only women would read/post on that topic? :)

  5. Rosalynde Welch
    September 30, 2004 at 9:22 pm

    Nice reading, Julie–subtle and potentially significant. Still, though, I wonder whether it’s enough for women who look to the scriptures for a kind of devotional mirror, find it lacking, and are left bereft. I think maybe we need to re-examine what we expect from the scriptures. I study Renaissance literature (or did, the PhD is behidn me now), an abiding fascination of mine, but I don’t find myself distressed or indignant that so few women are represented in that canon: observe the absence, sure, analyze the absence, yes please, contextualize the absence, by all means, but to feel insulted by the absence would be silly. The difference, of course, is that I read Renaissance texts differently than I read scriptural texts: I don’t try to “apply them to my life” or find in them some sort of specific spiritual address. I realize that we’re counselled to “apply” the scriptures, and that daily scripture reading (along with daily prayer) is intended to constitute a kind of devotional communion with the Spirit. But I’ve never truly been able to read the scriptures that way. I read them as a record of God’s dealings with certain groups and individuals, a compendium of the (relatively few) direct utterances from God and Christ, and an incomplete exposition of doctrine. They’re crucially important, yes, and I do attempt to read carefully (and daily!)–but I don’t often turn to them for touchstones of spiritual identification. Prayer and meditation do that for me.

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