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Course: Reading the Bible from Feminist, Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi Perspectives.

Section II. 3. a. The radical, democratic vision/imagination of equality in the biblical disourses

Women in the Genealogy of Jesus in Matthews Gospel

Because of You, women pursued men: Tamar desired a man who was widowed, and Ruth loved a man who was old. Even Rahab, who captivated men, by You was taken captive. - Ephrem the Syrian1

Imaginatively adopting the perspective of biblical wo/men rather than just looking at them as fixed objects in texts in a fixed context yields a different world and set of possibilities.2 Feminist readings in theology received a shot in the arm following the publication of In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (1983), which was a pioneering work which had immense influence. Since the course deals with feminist readings of the Bible, we must define feminism. Feminism is a movement that seeks change for the better for women, for justice for them.3 Feminist theory insists that all texts are products of an androcentric patriarchal cultural history.4 According to Bauckham, feminist studies has invited our attention to what there is in the biblical texts about women and also the androcentric bias that prevented the evidence from coming to our attention. Besides, it helped to draw attention to what is not there in the text. Matthews genealogy commands the attention of readers especially its presence in the very beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew . The first chapter, verses 1-17 ellaborate the genealogy of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A similar genealogy is found in Luke, yet differs in the order (from Jesus backwards) and traces ancestors until Adam. As we may guess,both have specific theological purposes for its inclusion. This assignment focuses on the women in the genealogy of Matthew, in the light of the sub-section of the syllabus, radical, democratic vision/imagination of equality in the biblical discourses. The methodology for the same is understanding the experience and socio-cultural location of the characters and the reader.

Genealogy of Matthew: A Brief Overview

The first two words of Matthew in Greek, Biblos Genesos, has been understood as a short title for the genealogy and as a long title for the entire gospel. 5Fifteen women are named in the four canonical gospel among which three of them included in the genealogy of Jesus are from the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible. Bruner suggests that the Hebrew tradition inserted womens names in the genealogy only when they wanted to enhance their dignity, or if it wanted to ensure the purity of the line. In three of four cases they are sexually-morally anomalous. Why genealogy? A genealogy is the record of a persons ancestral descent.6 The genealogy in Matthew begins with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. The very beginning of the gospel is presented as the fulfillment of

Ephrem, Hymns on the Nativity: Hymn 9, Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns (Classics of Western Spirituality; New York: Paulist, 1989), 126 in Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (London: T&T Clark, 2002), 17. E. Schussler Fiorenza, Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation (New York: Continuum, 2000), 36, quoted by Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (London: T&T Clark, 2002), xi. Ann Loades (ed.), Feminist Theology: A Reader (London: SPCK, 1990), 1 . Fiorenza, op. cit., xv.

2 3 4 5

Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 1 The Christbook: Matthew 1-12 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007), 4. Mathews George/BD III/ Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala 686001


Course: Reading the Bible from Feminist, Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi Perspectives.

the promise to Abraham, the beginning of the history of salvation. In Jesus we see the apex of Gods plan of salvation, which is the central theme of Matthews genealogy.7 In the opinion of Bauckham, Matthews genealogy is meant to summarize the whole history of the Hebrew Bible from Abraham onward, as seen in 1 Chronicles 1-9 and Genesis. It evoked narratives in the minds of competent Jewish readers.8 It also shows that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the descendant of Gods faithful. Chakkuvarackal is of the opinion that the genealogy in Matthew is the beginning of the degradation history of God, where Jesus from a world of Being (implying splendor and glory) and glory comes to a world of becoming ( mutability and decay implied in taking the form of a servant and casting himself to Kenosis.9 He is of the opinion that genealogy is often neglected in preaching and teaching today. The Bible affirms equality of women and presents a radical democratic vision about them. To understand this better let us take a look at women in the genealogy of Matthew. There are five women mentioned in the passage: four named and one unnamed.

Tamar (literally, palm tree) was from a heathen and pagan community of Arameans, who were a semitic people whom the Jews considered as idol worshippers and immoral.10 She is described as the daughter in law of Judah and the wife of Er and then Onan. Her story is found in Genesis 38. There is another Tamar in the Bible, who is the daughter of David, but she isnt the one mentioned in the genealogy. Famous feminist theologian Phyllis Trible, in her monumental work Texts of Terror introduces Tamar as Princess of Judah, a woman of sorrows and acquainted with grief.11 Despite her playing a harlot with Judah,yet God chose the offspring of that union to bring about the line of David, ultimately the genealogy of Jesus himself. Tamar is able to bring about justice for herself and for that she acts in a very cunning manner that her father in- law was made to honour his word. This shows the presence of a strong woman in a deeply patriarchal text, which subverts the notions of power.

(Further references: Joshua 2: 1, 3; 6: 17-25; etc.) Herbert Lockyer describes Rahab as the woman God took from the dunghill.12 Rahab was a Canaanite woman who is ascribed as the wife of Salmon (one of the two spies she sheltered 13) and the mother of Boaz. Canaan was the region west of the Jordan river. Canaanite people were merchants and came from a polytheistic society which also were, in Jewish eyes, immoral. Rahab plays a major role in the conquest of Canaan, by sheltering two spies from an enemy nation. According to Chakkuvarackal, she comes across as a business woman of intelligence and initiative. Her hiding the spies shows her political awareness and a great deal of courage. The fact that she says, The Lord your God is God in heaven above and earth below (Joshua 2:11), reveals that she had great spiritual insight. Hebrews and James underline her faith and righteousness. (Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). This lady, a prostitute by profession is now in the Salvation history, says the author. Indeed this raises important questions and helps extend the boundaries of our faith. 14 Rahab is commented to be a fitting illustration of another miracle of divine grace, namely the calling forth of his church out of a Godless, gentile world, and for this assignment, the highlight is that God does so through a woman! Yet another important aspect is her concern for a family when death is about to strike. She seeks protection for her family, showing a person with deep filial concerns.

6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Johnson Thomaskutty Chakkuvarackal, "God enters the World of Degradation:: A Sermon from Matthew's Genealogy (1:1-17), IJT 51/ 1 & 2 (2009): 36. Ibid., 36-45. Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (London: T&T Clark, 2002), 19. Chakkuvarackal, op. cit., 36. Ibid.,39. Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror (Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1984), 37 . Herbert Lockyer, All the Women of the Bible (Michigan: Zondervan, 1967), 130. Lockyer, op. cit.,130.

Chakkuvarackal, op. cit., 39-40 . Mathews George/BD III/ Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala 686001


Course: Reading the Bible from Feminist, Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi Perspectives.

Rahab and her place in Gods plan is such an eye opener to readers of the Bible. Her inclusion in various scriptural portions challenges us to rethink our notions of righteousness and sin before God. In her we see strength of will, conviction of Gods potential and a deeply caring character, as seen in her interaction with spies. Her presence in the New Testament beyond the genealogy, shows her relevance and importance in the Christian tradition. She had admirable courage and willingness to risk her own life for the sake of the God of the spies, whom she acknowledged as God. She is also seen assuring the spies not to worry. In Rahab, we see a person with foresight and care for elders. Although Israelites had complained in the wilderness, in contrast, we see Rahab, a foreigner who believes in the God of Israel.

(Further references: Book of Ruth) Ruth was from Moab, a people who were considered untouchable for the Israelites, since they were descendants of incestuous Lot.15. Their God was Chemosh and was understood to have a special relationship with the people, just like Yahweh had with the Hebrews. Archaelogy shows the existence of Baal shrines, which indicate a polytheistic society. Yet, inclusion of Ruth indicates a universalist intention in Matthew, over nationalist, to elevate virtues of loyalty and friendship, and preserve womens tradition. 16 Of much importance is her adherence and commitment to Naomi, her mother-in-law declared in Ruth 1:16-17, where you go, Ill goGreat is the love of God for all people, such that Ruth is the immediate grandmother of the most notable person in the genealogy David! A lady with a cursed background plays an important role here. There are studies which strongly suggest that Ruth was a female text, i.e. written by a female. 17It portrays woman Ruth as one who is self-determinative; who circumvented and subverted the structures of the society. She made legal provisions that were designed for her disadvantage to her advantage. We also see that the official genealogy in the book of Ruth, which is supposed to match the history/narrative omits the story of the two women, Ruth and Naomi. Her inclusion in the genealogy in the Gospel according to Matthew in a male line of descent makes a stark display of the inadequacy of men alone to bring about the history of salvation! Now that goes to show a radical inclusion to emphasis the role of men and women in the history of the messiah.

(Further references: II Samuel 11:2, 3; 12:24; I Kings 1: 11-31; 2:13-19; I Chronicles 3:5) The meaning of her name is seventh daughter or daughter of the oath.18 She is noted as a the wife of Uriah, the Hittite, a faithful general of David. Hittites were actually a forbidden community to the Israelites. They spoke a non-semitic language; the custom of taking Hittite wives was discouraged by Rebekah.19 The name , Bathsheba is not mentioned in the genealogy. Instead, she is mentioned as wife of Uriah, her first husband. Though her name is not explicitly mentioned, her points to description Davids flaw, yet Gods grace gives redemption to the woman who finds a place in an androcentric, patriarchal genealogy. There are varied views on the character of Bathsheba owing to the ambiguity in the narrative. While Lockyer thinks that she was a seducer, Exum believes that she was raped, not necessarily by David, but by the writer of the narrative who has deprived her of a voice and in portraying her in ambiguous light that leaves her vulnerable, not simply to assault her by characters in the story but also by later commentators on the story.20 Bathsheba is more intimately connected with King David, the ancestor of the promised Messiah. Together, they commit adultery, cause her husbands murder. Together with Bathsheba, David is deeply entrenched in sin. God strikes their first child, yet blesses them with another child, Solomon, who would continue the line of David towards the promised Messiah. In her we see forgiveness and grace of God bestowed upon both sinners. In addition, we see that God continues to use Bathsheba for his glory, by gifting them Solomon. It also signifies that Gods grace and mercy is for all and redeems all. Feminist interpreters highlight the helplessness of Bathsheba and point to how God lifts her up. We can also conclude
15 16 17 18 19 20

Bruner, op. cit., 9. Chakkuvarackal, op. cit., 41. The author E. F. Campbell held this view in his book, Ruth (New York: Double Day, 1975). Lockyer, op. cit.,34 . Chakkuvarackal, op. cit., 42 .

J. Cheryl Exum, Fragmented Women: Feminist (Sub)versions of Biblical Narratives (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), 171. Mathews George/BD III/ Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala 686001


Course: Reading the Bible from Feminist, Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi Perspectives.

that Matthew is silent about her name because he wanted the spotlight on Davids sin with wife of Uriah, although he eventually married her! Here we see Gods justice at work. It is almost as if the woman is aquitted and David implicitly sharing the responsibility. A feature of that Justice appears to be that Davids blemished remained even to the New Testament, to serve as a reminder against such activity of Gods chosen people.

References to Mary , the mother of Jesus are found in all gospels except Mark and in the book of Acts.Bauckham thinks that the most fundamental reason why Mary is included in the genealogy of Jesus to explain Josephs relationship to Jesus. Thus it takes a woman for Joseph to make a connection with the Abrahamic Davidic descent. This makes the role of Mary not only essential, but also inevitable. The equality of male and female in the incarnation of God is proclaimed through the presence of Mary in the genealogy. Mary was open to the action of God in her life, come what may. She is represented as the final and perfect instrument in Gods providence I continuing and finally bringing into fruition, the messianic hopes of Israel.21Mary is thus shown as a model woman. According to some scholars, Mary contrasts Eve. While Eve disobeyed, Marys obedience to Gods plan despite the risk reveals the blessings of god upon her and her inclusion in the genealogy highlights this aspect. For women, Mary also foreshadows the suffering a person completely obedient to God might have to undergo. She is seen at the beginning of the gospel narratives and is even seen at the foot of the cross. Thus when Matthew begins his story, he acknowledges her faithfulness and devotion to God. Thus Mary reveals new shades of humanity. She is markedly different in character from the previous four women. In this regard, the Bible redeems the role of women as holy, necessary and involving risk when submitting to God.

All the women in the genealogy : Some observations a. As observed four of the women in Matthews genealogy, except Mary, are gentiles. The reason for this is the
promise that the Davidic Messiah is to blessing to all nations, for the Gentiles and the Jews indicated symbolically by the presence of gentile women in the ancestry.22 Thus we see God fulfilling the promise of a messiah with the participation of other nations around Israel.

b. According to Lockyer, Jeromes comment of the inclusion of the four foreign women in Matthews genealogy
suggests that they werent holy and their inclusion was in order that he who came on behalf of sinners, himself being born of sinners, might destroy the sins of all.23

c. However Elaine Wainright (in Bauckham, Gospel Women, London: T&T Clark, 2002), criticizes casting the four
women in the genealogy as gentiles as the product of an androcentric view which sees women as outsiders to the patriarchal world and culture.24 She adds that the tendency to view them as outsiders is critiqued by Matthew by including the gentiles in the genealogy.

d. Bauckham draws attention to the point that the four women are not accused of sin, but uses the same evidence
to suggest there were irregular circumstances in their union with male partners, through which God nevertheless acted to fulfill his purpose.25 e. Jesus Dalitness is seen in his being a descendant of such woman. It reflects that Jesus became a Dalit, a poor, emptied himself to save the humanity, so that salvation becomes accessible to the universal humanity. Thus Jesuss degradation is our upgradation. and wide (included Gentiles) mercy.26 Despite their irregularities, we see that all women showed remarkable courage and initiative, when they were called by God. Matthew finds them integral to Gods plan.

f. Matthews genealogy presents four new matriarchs who and they preach the gospel of Gods deep (forgiven)

21 22 23 24 25 26

Francis J. Moloney, SDB, Woman: First among the Faithful (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985), 37 . Bauckham, op. cit., 20. Lockyer, op. cit., 131. Bauckham, op. cit., 23. Ibid., 25.

Bruner, op. cit., 10. Mathews George/BD III/ Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala 686001


Course: Reading the Bible from Feminist, Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi Perspectives.

g. Finally, we can see that the inclusion of the four couples reveal Gods sovereignty of God in the overruling of
human weakness, which is its theological purpose.27

Insights/ Reflections
Deeply insightful is the remark by Bruner : This gospel teaches that God can use not only non-Israelite Gentile, but he can also forgive, overcome, and use Jewish and Gentile sinners(soiled but repentant persons) for is great purpose in history The genealogys first line teaches divine mercy extending to both racial and moral outsiders. 28 The marked absence of the four model matriarchs is impactful in that the Bible subtly affirms the redemption of sinners and His grace for all alike. Anyone can be saved by grace. Similarly Gods action includes both male and female which shouts loud the equality of status of both sexes in Gods eyes. As revisionist feministbiblical scholars point out, the patriarchal texts have texts within themselves that critique androcentric views of certain texts. Thus the Bible contains living texts which converse with each other, which has a consequent impact on the methodology of reading. The fallacy of biblical interpretations in certain ages is that they highlighted seemingly male-centred passages and male characters. Of course they arose from a definite socio-historical matrix.Yet this wasnt the case always. Syriac commentators like Ephrem (4 th century CE) were very affirmative of women to an extent which surprises modern thinkers. It is important to read the Bible in the light of other passages especially ones which feminists highlight and bring them into conversation with each other, so that the texts speak to us today. Through a description of the characters above, we see that the Bible takes into account the socio-historical struggles undergone by the people from whom the text generated. By the redemptive approach of God in the salvation plan, we hear a call towards creating a society free from all forms of inequality and oppression, which involves the affirmation of both sexes. This is the very rationale of this course titled Reading the Bible from Feminist, Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi Perspectives. This method of reading is of significance in that it upholds the dignity of women and their role in Gods salvation plan as not only important, but indispensable. However one ought to be careful not to confine ones reading only to one sort of reading, no matter the method of reading. The genealogy in Matthew proclaims this truth since its origins in the first century. However, most biblical scholarship and consequently humanity as a whole has been late in being initiated into this form of reading the Bible. Better late than never.


Bach, Alice.Women in the Hebrew Bible: A Reader. New York & London: Routledge, 1999. Bauckham, Richard. Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels. London: T&T Clark, 2002). Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007. Chakkuvarackal, Johnson Thomaskutty. "God enters the World of Degradation: A Sermon from Matthew's Genealogy (1:1-17). Indian Journal of Theology 51/ 1 & 2 (2009): 36-45. Exum, J. Cheryl. Fragmented Women: Feminist (Sub)versions of Biblical Narratives. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993. Fiorenza, Elizabeth Schussler. In Memory of Her. London: SCM, 1983. Loades, Ann, ed.Feminist Theology: A Reader. London: SPCK, 1990. Lockyer, Herbert. All the Women of the Bible. Michigan: Zondervan, 1967. Moloney, Francis J., SDB.Woman: First among the Faithful. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985.
27 28

Ibid., 10.

Bruner, op. cit., 11. Mathews George/BD III/ Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala 686001


Course: Reading the Bible from Feminist, Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi Perspectives.

Trible, Phyllis.Texts of Terror. Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1984.

Mathews George/BD III/ Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala 686001