Cracking The Seal On Women’s Narratives

Early in 2016, archeologists discovered a collection of ancient seals in Jerusalem. Located outside of the Old City, the seals are from the first temple period of Jewish history.  Their discovery offers a new perspective on the place of women during this period. It also begs the question: does our modern narrative of “biblical femininity” color the way we view historical Christian women? Let’s unearth some answers.

How we read historical Christian women is colored by how we treat Christian women today. Click To Tweet

A Seal In The Ancient World

Finding a seal is significant. It gives researchers the name or symbol of an influential person who lived in the area. One of the seals, as reported in The Times Of Israel, is rare and valuable to Biblical archaeology. It bears the feminine form of the name Eli, “Elihana bat Gael“. Archaeologists found the seal in the ruins of what they believe to be an administrative center.

A seal bearing the inscription: ‘to Elihana bat Gael’ (Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority) via The Time Of Israel.

Dr. Hagai Misgav of Hebrew University in Jerusalem added, “Seals that belonged to women represent just a very small proportion of all the seals that have been discovered to date. This is because of the generally inferior economic status of women, apart from extraordinary instances such as this. [1]

Historical Context

The first kingdom period was a prosperous time in Jewish history. King Solomon, one of the most famous Biblical characters and a real historical figure, reigned from circa 970 to 931 BCE. He ruled a united Jewish monarchy, which would later split into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah after his death.

Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem, which stood until 587 BCE when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it in the siege of Jerusalem. This places the seal on an ancient timeline; not often associated with female empowerment or agency in today’s narrative.

Fitting Or Breaking The Narrative

The 2,500-year-old seal is groundbreaking for its rarity and the implications it holds for the place of this woman within traditional Jewish culture. It would have been used during the First Temple era to signify transactions and mark ownership. Thereby forcing us to question our deepest held beliefs about Biblical women and the power they wielded within their society.

In Elihana, we have concrete evidence of a Jewish woman with seemingly independent wealth and/or a position of power in her community. We know that women in antiquity, just as today, faced oppressive levels of patriarchy brought on by the sinful nature of humanity. But taking this view can often mean we blanket the authentic stories of strong women in the shroud we want to see them in, mainly, that of the meek and mild “biblical femininity” prevalent in the church today.

The Danger In Forgetting Elihana

Whatever her story, Elihana’s seal proves that not all Jewish women at this time were powerless or oppressed. Her story is something we must remember, reflect on, and consider the implications of. Christians often use Biblical history to imply that women should be submissive to men and led by men.

Complementarian theology mixed with a 1950’s fabrication of the ideal woman would have us believe woman belong in the home, exclusively and throughout time. Proverbs 31 and stories like that of the apostle Junia have been hijacked by the rhetoric of the patriarchy to oppress and dilute the significance of women. This historical find challenges those assumptions, showing once again it is not only permissible for women to lead but celebrated. And this time, it’s right in the back yard of Christianity.

We have to remember and champion the narratives of women to fight oppression. Click To Tweet

We Have To Notice Women

Like women in the Bible, and all of history, Elihana is coated by the sands of time and oppression. Thanks to the permeance of Complementarian theology, we are taught to read the Bible through the lens of a Stepford wife. We do not notice the stories of women because patriarchy systemically ignores them. This is especially true for women of color and other minority groups. Which is why highlighting the narrative of women, particularly our biblical history, matters so much.

Without more sources, we cannot make assessments of Elihana’s life. Whether she worshiped God or not, we may never know. But the discovery of her seal can tell us one thing that the church desperately needs to hear. Women, since the beginning of time, have been strong, capable, image bearers of God. Equality, like faith, can be smothered but never snuffed out.

Equality, like faith, can be smothered but never snuffed out. #ChristianFeminism Click To Tweet

 

What do you think about this?