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e-fish February 2004 -1

QUESTION How many women are in the Bible?

Go on make an educated guess! OK, count them off on your fingers – first the OT, then the NT – did you need your toes?

I’ve ‘brained-stormed’ various groups asking for names of Bible women. Groups usually come up with about 5 NT and 10 OT. A total of just over 30 rates top score. (Why not challenge your group to better this!)

The Women of Scripture have fascinated me for years and I’ve enjoyed delving into their stories. For decades I’ve underlined women’s names and ‘feminine’ passages during personal devotional reading. I happily admit to side-stepping the lectionary and using female text in the majority of my sermons. Male text has been used exclusively for so long some of us have to start balancing things up!

A couple of years ago I heard someone quote with convincing authority, ‘There are less than 100 women named in the Bible.’ I’m sure I can find more than that, I said to myself and began counting in earnest.

My total is 245.

This requires some interpretation - there are significant female incidents where a woman is identified only by relationship to a male (eg Jephthah’s daughter; Peter’s mother-in-law) or by location (widow of Zarephath; woman of Samaria). There are also named women without any story (mothers of kings, and daughters of prominent males) along with various mentions of ‘other daughters’ and ‘women and children.’

My simplest breakdown is as follows:

Named women: OT 125 + 35 NT = 160 total

Un-named women: OT 60 + 25 NT = 85 total

Bible total: OT 185 + 60 NT = 245

I have isolated and grouped the women into various sets and categories that I won’t bore you with. But around 245 females is not insignificant. However, it pales somewhat beside the estimate for males - given as 1,300 (not that I’ve counted)!

Have you read the whole Bible right through?

John Wesley did many times, so has John Spong.

For busy folk who want a summary of the plot?

I offer a potted version:

The Bible (in 70 words) God made, Adam played, Noah sailed, Abram prevailed, Isaac bound, ram found, Jacob fooled, Joseph ruled, bush burned, Moses churned, Egyptians bled, Hebrews fled, sea divided, Law guided, Promise landed, Tribes banded, Judges appointed, Kings anointed, Psalms sounded, Wisdom expounded, Prophets warned, Exiled mourned, Jesus came, healed lame, Truth talked, Disciples walked, Christ died - then revived, Spirit flamed, Love claimed, Apostles preached, Gentiles reached, World changed, God remained.

Did you notice women don’t get a mention?

So, now, I offer one-word stories of 70 Bible women.

70 Biblical Women © Rosalie Sugrue, 2002

God created, Eve mated, Mrs Lot was asalted, her daughters bolted, Sarah mirthed, Hagar birthed, Rebekah kissed, Rachel missed, Leah blinked, Zilpah winked, Bilhah bore, Mrs Potiphar swore, Asenath married, Tamar tarried, Shiphrah fibbed, Puah ad-libbed, Jocabed saved, the Princess raved, Zipporah snipped, Jael flipped, Miriam danced, Rahab chanced, Mahlah protested, Achsah requested, Deborah judged, Delilah fudged, Michal loved, Bathsheba tubbed, Abigail placated, Hannah donated, Abishag warmed, Haggith mourned, Jezebel painted, Athaliah fainted, the Medium surprised, Huldah advised, Naomi returned, Ruth earned, Vashti refused, Esther amused, Zeresh urged, Noadiah purged, the Shunammite trusted, Gomer lusted, Job’s wife cursed and Lemuel’s mum versed.

Elizabeth was amazed and Mary praised, prophet Anna adored, Peter’s in-law was restored, Herodias fumed and her daughter doomed, Joanna provided, the Syrophonecian chided, Martha worked, Mary shirked, Mrs Pilate tried, Salome cried, the servant girl accused, the Magdalene was bemused, Sapphira lied, Rhoda spied, Lydia traded, Dorcas aided, Drusilla escorted, Bernice courted, Priscilla admonished, Phoebe astonished, Chloe mentored, Euodia was censured, Lois confided, Eunice guided? many women contributed but few get tributed.

I particularly like reminding people of women stories they have forgotten, such as Abigail (a quick thinking peace-maker), and stories they never knew such as Queen Vashti (a role-model feminist), and to delve deeper into half-remembered stories Rahab (a prostitute) etc.

If you are looking for a ‘discussion producing’ Bible study and are interested in land-rights and the marginalized I offer the following:

Spirited Sisters - A Fearless Five
(Joshua 17:3:6)

The Bible calls them The Daughters of Zelophehad (Ze-lo-fe-had). I prefer to call them Mahlah and Sisters but whatever we call them, theirs is a fascinating story, a great story. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah were a family of daughters. From what we can glean they were well adjusted girls and doubtless their parents were proud of them. However, to die without a son, was to die without an heir. This is no problem to the landless but the Children of Israel expected to inherit land. The pedigree of Zelophehad was sound. He was a direct descendant of Joseph but the descendants of Zelophehad were destined to be landless. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah were not women take this sitting down. We first meet the fearless five in the book of Numbers. Compare Numbers 27:1-11 with Joshua 17:3-6

What differs in these two accounts?

At a first glance this could be the same story but closer examination reveals two different incidents. The verbal granting of a request is one thing, executing it is another. The Fearless Five were determined to have the promise fulfilled. It is not enough to take a stand for justice. Action is required. This may take further petitions. Mahlah and her sisters persisted in their determination to achieve justice.

Question: Did you hear this story at Sunday School? Any ideas why not? Children’s Bible Stories tend to reflect the well-known lectionary texts. The Bible contains a wealth of material most people never come across. Not only is our lectionary confining, for centuries it has been male-chosen. It is important to realize that most of the Bible is written from a male perspective. Even Bible-stories written for children usually carry an unintended male bias. There are few inspiring female roles offered for girls.

As the sisters are unmarried it is likely all are teenagers. The younger ones may have been quite young children. The death of Zelophehad is recorded. As there is no mention of a wife we can presume the sisters are orphans. Their story reveals a united set of sisters who appear to manage on their own. By standing together they commit to making things work out. They are young women determined to improve matters. They identify the injustice, marshal their arguments and make a deputation to the boss. Their audacity is breathtaking. Moses was sufficiently taken aback not to reply in haste. Moses ‘brought their cause before the Lord.’

Share times when a problem has motivated you to:

a) Stand with your family;

b) Work for justice with other women;

c) Consult God.

Read: Numbers 36:1-13

How do you feel about the stipulation Moses imposed?

Land disputes are the greatest contributor to warring the world over. There is power in owning land. Land ownership offers security and wealth. Some people believe land cannot be owned. Land should be regarded a part of the wholeness of creation. We are guests on its surface. Humankind can be seen as the God’s tenant farmers. However land is viewed it evokes powerful emotion.

Question: Is land of more spiritual significance to Maori than Pakeha?

The sisters did not couch their request in spiritual terms. Their concern had more to do with survival than spirituality. Land earths our being. We develop affinity for the landscape we feel at home in. Owning land gives security along with a sense of belonging, roots, and connectedness.

Jesus was of the landless class and he was not concerned over his lack of land but he leaves us in no doubt that injustice is a spiritual matter. Jesus befriended outcasts and supported the marginalized wherever he went. Even if land is not a personal concern of ours injustice should be.

Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah were ordinary young women and yet amazing. Not only was their request granted, the law of the land was changed in response to their action. Often Biblical women are identified merely by location or relationship to a named male. In this case the pedigree is listed and each sister is named. Their names occur four times. The daughters of Zelophehad are mentioned in three different books – Numbers (26:33; 27:1-11; 36:1-13), Joshua (17:3-6), and 1Chronicles (17:15). The impact of Mahlah and Sisters is remarkable.

Chapter 26 of Numbers lists the genealogy of Jacob’s heirs. The descendants are numbered as 601,730 enrolled Israelites. Of the 107 names listed only eight are female, five being the daughters of Zelophehad. This family of females features out of all proportion, showing the importance given them by historians of the time.

The Fearless Five are fine role models for all daughters, and all sons. They show that injustice should be challenged and ordinary people can make a difference.

Reflect on:

A person who by deed or example, made a difference in your life.

An incident where your actions made a difference to the life of another.

An injustice your group could tackle.

Pray together: Lord grant us: the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things we can change; and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

This above study is one of a set entitled Survivors, Enterprising Women in the Book of Joshua – if interested, check with your Women’s Fellowship - MWF Programme Pack 2002 (or contact me direct:

Book Review

Prayers for Life’s Particular Moments by Dorothy McRae-McMahon

I am delighted with this book. The author (recently retired) was a high profile minister in the Uniting church of Australia – director of mission in Sydney and moderator of the WCC worship Committee. A liturgist of international renown, she now shares her gift with words through books. This book, as indicated by the title, is a selection of prayers and simple ceremonies for special moments of joy, sadness and celebration. There are also prayers for ordinary times and particular times. This is a book to nourish the soul and lift the spirit.

We celebrate this God
who leaps free of all our boundaries
in love stretching out from horizon to horizon,
and in mercy bending deep
into fragile human hearts.
Dorothy McRae-McMahon

Published by DESBOOKS, Australia, 2001
Available from Epworth Books $34.95 (+P&P)

News Flash

The Wellington based NZ Lay Preachers’ Executive has now officially passed the work to the Waikato District. The change-over took place at a service in Hamilton last Saturday. Mary Rose is the new president and Viv Whimster the new secretary. The Wellington ex-exec intends to continue as a District LP Assn. North Canterbury and Waikato already have thriving Lay Preacher groups. Are there any others we don’t know about?


It is our hope that all Districts will form Lay Preacher/Worship Leader groups to support all who are involved in leading worship, encourage others into initial training and to promote regular on-going, inter-denominational training sessions.

You may like to file this puzzle for ‘Mothers Day’ or for ‘Mothering Sunday’ that occurs in March.


(c) Rosalie Sugrue

The Mother of:
Jacob __ __ B __ __ __ __ (Gen 25:20-26)
Dan __ I __ __ __ __ (Gen 30:5-6)
Solomon __ __ __ __ __ __ __ B__ (2Sam 12:24)
Joseph __ __ __ __ __ L (Gen 30:22-24)
Eunice __ __ I __ (2Tim 1:5)
Timothy __ __ __ __ C __ (2Tim 1:5)
Samuel __ A __ __ _ _ __ (1Sam 1: 20)
Dinah (Gen 34:1) L __ __ __

Jesus M __ __ __ (Mtt 1:18)
Dancing girl [Salome] __ __ __ O __ __ __ __ (Mtt 14:6)
Obed __ __ T __ (Rth 4:13-17)
Ishmael H __ __ __ __ (Gen 16:15)
Cain E __ __ (Gen 4:1)
John Mark __ __ R __ (Acts 12:12)
John the Baptist __ __ __ S__ __ __ __ __ (Lk 1:57-60, AV)

Reflect on:

Which mother from the Bible would you least like to be your mother?__________

Which mother from the Bible would you most like to be your mother? __________

Answers to BIBLICIAL MOTHERS puzzle
ReBekah, BIlhah, Bathsheba, RacheL, LoiS, EuniCe, HAnnah, Leah;
Mary, HerOdias, RuTh, Hagar, Eve, MaRy, EiiSabeth.

Who was the Bible’s greatest female financial whiz?
Pharaoh’s daughter – she got a major prophet from the rushes on the bank.

Who was the world’s first financial whiz?
Noah - he floated a limited company when the world was in liquidation.

Why do women have cleaner minds than men?
They change them more often.

That’s all folks
Rosalie Sugrue
Facilitator of the Methodist Lay Preachers’ Network