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Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Jewish View on Priscilla and Deborah 

You'll recall that in a previous post on pastoral teams, I spent some time trying to figure out the specific role of Priscilla (Aquila's husband in the Book of Acts). It's good to hear other views on a topic, so I was delighted to read this comment from Inland Empress:

I read your post on Priscilla and it sounds like she was a sort of early Christian "rebetzin" (rabbi's wife) who welcomed people to her home and taught them to live Jewishly -- or in this case, as a righteous Christian. Nice that the New Testament acknowledges this very traditional role so prominently.

Well, Priscilla certainly wasn't a Gentile, but she was important:

Priscilla also called Prisca, and her husband Aquila had left Rome because the Emperor of Rome had expelled all Jews....

The Jewish Christian couple settled in Corinth, Greece (Asia-Minor) and met the Apostle Paul during the time he was witnessing throughout southern Greece. They were much beloved friends of Paul and he was their guests for 18 months, and the three worked together practicability as well as spiritual leaders to the community. Both Priscilla and Aquila were established Christians when they met Paul.

Knowing Hebrew, Priscilla and her husband deeply entrenched in the Old Testament prophecies and through these found their Lord and Saviour and were able to work with Paul in his remarkable ministry. As a husband and wife team they were the most outstanding among his fellow workers of the early church.

Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers as was Paul. Priscilla's husband had a tent repair shop. When not preaching or teaching the three supported themselves by tent making. Tents were made of goat's hair. Priscilla shared the duties of their workshop as an equal partner as well as sharing equally the Lord's work. All Jewish parents educated their children with a trade including females, whether rich or poor.

Priscilla outshone Aquila, who praised God for his talented wife. Both their names are Roman....Priscilla and Aquila's immediate family is not mentioned in the Bible and it is assumed that they were childless....

Priscilla's name precedes that of her husbands, which indicates she had a more prominent spiritual gifted role to the Body of Christ than her husband. That did not mean she was more important than Aquila.

Priscilla and her husband joined Paul in his work for The Lord Jesus Christ and travelled with him to Ephesus. Priscilla had a deep knowledge of Christian truth and used to teach the brilliant preacher Apollos, who was a jew, converted to Christianity by Priscilla and Aquila....

Priscilla and her husband were also used as church planters. Priscilla and Aquila being humble people, consecrated their home to God for the meeting of saints. In 66 A.D. Priscilla and her husband were still living in Ephesus. Priscilla and her husband became leaders in the church at Ephesus. She worked side by side with her husband and they eventually returned to Rome. On returning to Rome they dedicated their home to Christ and the church began in their house. Their home became a meeting place for true worshippers to gather, pray and fellowship....

Tradition records that Priscilla and Aquila were beheaded beyond the walls of the city, either in Rome or Ephesus.

But, in addition to Priscilla and Esther, there are other prominent women in the Bible. Here's another one, Deborah (from the Book of Judges):

Deborah was a prophetess whom God gifted and used in many different ways to help out her people, Israel. She is often compared to a bee. Deborah had a fatal sting for her enemies as the Canaanites and other foes came to experience. As the bee ranks the highest in intelligence in the animal kingdom, so it is written that Deborah stands out as among the wisest of all Old Testament women (Lockyer, All the Women of the Bible 40)....Often referred to as a "Mother in Israel", she was gifted with superior spiritual, mental, and physical powers, which left her mark in Israel....

She was married and her husband, Lapdoth, was thought to be meek, but by no means weak. He stayed behind the scenes and supported his wife, encouraging her in all her activities. It is usually said that behind every great man there is a great wife. In this situation it seems that behind this great woman was a great husband. Apparently he gave her his love, sympathy, support, and encouragement not minding if he rode "second chariot" to her (Herbert Lockyer, Herbert, All the Women of the Bible 40).

Deborah was endowed with the gift of prophecy in which she had the ability to discern the mind and purpose of God and state it to others. Deborah sat under her palm tree looking very stately in person with her dark, penetrating prophetic eyes as she poured out wisdom and instruction of the counsel of God. She was able to stir up the public with her views and produce change. She stirred up Israel's concern about its sad spiritual condition. The land was debauched and well near ruin under the rule of the Canaanites and their liberty had been lost. Her people were dejected and afraid. Their spirits had been broken and there was no hope of deliverance from their present state.

Deborah did more than prophesy, she aroused a nation in the depths of despair through her fearless and unsolicited devotion to the freeing of her people. She awoke in them a driving desire to free themselves from their bondage and degradation. Her call and challenge to them was to seek God's help in delivering them from their enemy.

Akhlah, the Jewish Children's Learning Network, has this to say about Deborah:

When the people of Israel saw the king's men preparing to drive them from their homes, they forgot their idols and prayed to G-D for help. But Israel had no leaders. There was no one to give them strength and courage as Moses and Joshua had done. Through all this misery, there was a poor woman who lived in the hill country of Ephraim called Deborah, to whom the people went for advice. She had a voice that was softy and low, and people found comfort in her words when they came to talk to her as she sat under the palm tree outside of her house.

Now, Deborah believed firmly in one G-D, and had tried to keep the people from worshipping Baal. When the news of the war with the king reached the hill country, the people rushed to Deborah, crying, "What shall we do? What shall we do?"

Deborah answered, "Leave me alone and I will think of a plan. In the meantime, send for a young man called Barak, of the tribe of Naphtali, and bring him to me."

Barak was young and strong, and his tribe was the only one that still lived in peace because under his leadership, the Canaanites had been driven away. When he stood before Deborah, she said, "I have heard of your courage, Barak. Tell me, have you enough courage to lead an army of ten thousand men against Sisera, who commands the army of Canaan?"

Barak laughed. "Ten thousand! If I had ten thousand men, I would wipe out Sisera, and all the Canaanites who attack us, as well."

"Then listen to my plan," she said. "Israel is sleeping, and our warriors will only awaken when you call them to war. Send messengers among the people, tell all the fighting men to gather here. In a few days you will have more than ten thousand men."...

"You are wise, Deborah, but I will not go unless you go with me," Barak said.

She was surprised at his answer. "You mean you don't have the courage to go?" she cried in anger. "Aren't you ashamed to have a woman lead the men to war? Do you want it said that women have more courage than men?"

"In order to rouse these people, we must make them ashamed of themselves. You say we have brave men, warriors," said Barak, "but they've forgotten everything; their courage, their country, even their G-D. Come with me, Deborah, and show these men that even a woman has courage to face the enemy. With you at my side, what man would dare to stay behind?"

She understood and said, "I will go, Barak, for I see you are only thinking of Israel and not of your honor. But, tell me truthfully, wouldn't you feel ashamed if the people were to say, a woman conquered Sisera?"

Barak smiled, "Let them say what they please. My only thought is to conquer Sisera."

So messengers went from tribe to tribe, asking for fighting men to join Barak and Deborah. No man refused for fear the people would say his courage was less than that of a woman, and in a short time an army of more than ten thousand had come, each one proud and eager to serve his country.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Man, I wrote almost the exact same post about a year ago and got flamed for it by a bunch of chauvanist pigs.
I encourage you to read Inland Empress' post on the topic. An excerpt (note that Minitaur is her son):

a few of us Mommies are in high dudgeon at Minitaur's pre-school. It's a Reform synagogue, which is supposed to be a more liberal kinda place.

Yesterday, they rounded up the kids for a costume parade and then had them file into the sanctuary to sing the usual songs and have the Rabbi and Cantor explain all about wicked Haman (boooo!) and wise, brave Mordecai (yaaaaayyy!) and, oh yeah, pretty Esther (silence).

Just about every girl there had a Disney princess costume on.

Think about this. Think hard.

If you're unfamiliar with the Purim story, it's called the Book of Esther. Not the Book of Mordecai, her uncle. It's Esther who lands the king because she's modest, not just pretty. Big difference.

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