Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nephite and Lamanite Women Who Toiled, Spun, and Made All Manner of Cloth

Egyptians harvesting flax from which linen is made (Image Source)

Helaman 6:13

Background: Abt 30 BC

The prophets Nephi and Lehi left positions in the Nephite government and dedicated themselves to preaching the word of God. They traveled throughout all the lands of the Nephites and they "did teach with great power" (Helaman 5:17). They also taught among the Lamanites and they converted 8,000 Lamanites in Zarahamela to the gospel of Christ (Helaman 5: 19). They traveled through other Lamanite lands and were thrown in prison. When the Lamanites came to get them out of prison an earthquake shook the walls of the prison and a great darkness came over all the Lamanites. The Lamanites were afraid and heard a still small voice tell them three times,
"Repent ye, repent ye, and seek no more to destroy my servants whom I have sent unto you to declare good tidings." (Helaman 5:32)
After hearing the voice the Lamanites listened to Nephi and Lehi and the greater part of all the Lamanites were converted to the Lord. They laid down their weapons of war and hatred and there were no boundaries between the Nephite and the Lamanite lands (Helaman 5: 33-52). The Nephites and the Lamanites had free trade and free movement between each other's lands and became "exceedingly rich, both the Nephites and the Lamanites." (Helaman 6:9),

Facts About Them:
  • They enjoyed a time of great righteousness, richness, prosperity, and peace in the history of the Book of Mormon;
  • In listing all the combined riches of the Nephites and Lamanites Mormon listed that they had much gold, silver, crops, herds, and that " ...their women did toil and spin, and did make all manner of cloth, of fine-twined linen and cloth of every kind, to clothe their nakedness. And thus the sixty and fourth year did pass away in peace." (Helaman 6:13)
  • Eventually all the people, Lamanite and Nephite, became wicked and the Gadianton robbers gained power among them because "the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain. " (Helaman 6:17)
  • Harvesting, spinning, and weaving cloth was something that these women learned from their mothers and grandmothers. Years and years before these women were born Zeniff (a Nephite leader) ".. did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work, and work all manner of fine linen, yea, and cloth of every kind, that we might clothe our nakedness; and thus we did prosper in the land—thus we did have continual peace in the land for the space of twenty and two years." (Mosiah 10:5)
Speculations About Them:
  • Linen is a material that is made out of flax. There has been some discussion among scholars about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon because flax does not grow native in the Northern Hemisphere and thus would not have been available for Lamanite and Nephite women to spin into linen. Yet John L. Sorenson in his article "Possible 'silk' and 'linen' in the Book of Mormon" explains that,
    "Linen is defined as a cloth, often quite stiffish and hard-wearing, made of fibers from flax or hemp plants prepared by soaking and pounding. Although the flax plant was apparently not known in pre-Spanish America, several fabrics were made from vegetable fabrics that look and feel much like European linen. One was made from fibers (called henequen) of the leaf of the ixtle (maguey or agave plant), but fibers from the yucca and other plants gave similar results. Conquistador Bernal Diaz said of henequen garments that they were "like linen." Bark cloth, made by stripping bark from the fig tree and soaking and pounding it, was common in Mesoamerica and also has some of the characteristics of linen.
    So it is probable that Book of Mormon women did not actually use flax to make linen but used similar fibers to produce a material similar to linen.

  • The production of flax and other materials (like silk that is mentioned in Alma 1:29) were very , very labor intensive and took months of work to produce. Since we know that at this time that both the Lamanites and the Nephites "...did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire (Helaman 6:8) " it is interesting to think that perhaps both Lamanite and Nephite women worked together to make these fine-twined linens and other types of cloths. If anything they must have traded their materials back and forth between their lands.
My Thoughts:

I mentioned a few days ago that I have been knitting in the evenings and that it has given me a lot of time to reflect. One evening I started thinking about the specific mentions that the Book of Mormon makes to women spinning and weaving cloth. So after my kids were finally asleep I got out my scriptures and looked up the exact verses. Women making cloth is specifically mentioned in Helaman 6:13, Mosiah 10:5 and indirectly in Ether 10:24. It really intrigued me that all three scriptures (even though they are historically generations apart) almost the same wording was used to describe the work that the women were doing. Both scriptures state that 1) the women did toil, spin and weave fine-twined linen, 2) that the reason they made it was " that we might clothe our nakedness" and 3) that immediately after mentioning women making cloth the author states "and thus" there was peace in the land, implying that cloth making somehow related to bringing peace to the land.

Well these verses got my little scripture mind thinking and pondering and I did a scripture study on the words "linen", "cloth", "sew", and "weave". There really aren't a ton of scriptures on those verses so my study was short but so enlightening. The most significant thing I found was learning the spiritual significance of linen. Here are some of the verses about linen that I felt were very illuminating:
  • In Exodus 39:27- 29 it mentions that the temple robes that Aaron and his sons wore were made from linen.
  • Ezekiel 44:17 also specified that priests were only to wear linen in Solomon's temple.
  • In Revelation 19:8 the "Bride of the Lamb" is clothed in "fine linen" and it states "for the fine linen is the righteousness of the Saints." Also it is specified that the armies of the Lord, mentioned in Revelation 19:14, will also be clothed in fine linen.
  • In Mathew 27:59 we learn that when Christ was brought down from the cross he was wrapped in a linen cloth;
  • John 19:40 specifies that Christ was wound and buried in linen clothes.
This insight in to the spiritual significance of linen really changed my understanding of why the Book of Mormon makes such a big deal about women making "fine twined linen" to "clothe our nakedness." I don't think that these women were making any ordinary clothes. We know from 2 Nephi 5:16 that the Nephites built temples which were constructed after the pattern of Solomon's temple. We don't know for sure what sort of work they did in those temples but seeing as the Nephites lived the law of Moses it was probably very similar to the type of temple work that went on in the Old Testament temple. It may have been that these women were making garments similar to the linen ones that Aaron and his sons wore to serve in the tabernacle to be used for service in their temple work.

If in deed these women were making linen to be used in temple work it then make much more sense to me why, in all cases were it is mentioned, the author concludes by stating "and thus" there was peace in the land. Where ever there are men and women engaged in going to, serving, and working in the temple there is always an out flowing of peace in the land. President Thomas S. Monson has said,
“ The temple provides purpose for our lives. It brings peace to our souls—not the peace provided by men but the peace promised by the Son of God when He said, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’” Source
It think that it might be fair to say that the peace that the Nephites and the Lamanites were experiencing was not because of their gold, silver, herds, crops or fine clothes but because they were engaged in serving in the temple. I know that in my own life serving in the Lord's house brings me an indescribable amount of peace and calm. It is a lasting peace-- one that the world can not take a way no matter how hard it tries. It makes me happy to think that the women in the Book of Mormon would also have had the blessings of temples in their lives and that they were engaged in helping to do that work.

Questions to Think About:
  • Why does Mormon mention women's production of cloth in his list of the people's riches? What does this tell us about the important role women played in Book of Mormon life and society?
  • The processes of harvesting, spinning, weaving and sewing cloth require a great deal of physical labor and time comparable to any field or husbandry work that men traditionally did. Egyptian Goddesses were even sometimes portrayed as spinning and weaving. Why do you think that these processes were usually "women's work" and not men's?
  • Do you think that having temples in a country, a state or a city, brings added peace to that place?
  • How does temple service bring peace to your life?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

This is the Type of "Feminist" I Am

My family dressed up for Halloween

I've been thinkint about feminism the last several months. My thoughts have been tumbling around in my head since before Christmas and I figure it is time to get them out before they burn a hole in my head.

Feminism and I have had a long and tenuous relationship. I started struggling with "women's issues" when I was really young, around 11 or 12. I had lots of hard questions about why men’s and women's roles and places in society were so different. For most of my pre-teen and teen years my questions smoldered and confused me. I spouted popular feminist ideals and jumped on any feminist bandwagon I could find. Yet my confusion only got worse and it started to make me angry and resentful. The only thing that kept me anchored to my testimony was a sure knowledge of God's nature. I knew that He wasn't a respecter of persons, male or female, and knew that if I was confused it was probably because I didn't understand things well enough. It also helped that I was also a dedicated scripture reader and from a very young age turned to them for guidance with my questions.

By the time I got to college I had a burning desire in my heart to do something that would help improve the condition of women in the world. I remember once telling my roommate that I wish I'd lived in the early 1900's so I could be a suffragette. I needed and wanted a cause--any cause-- to fight for that would help women. At BYU I majored in Public Health and minored in Women's Studies. I also got a job as a research assistant at the Women's Research Institute (which sadly doesn't exist any more) and worked there for four years studying women and peace, peace education, and women's education. While there I met LDS women who healed my heart and taught me not to rely on blogs, lectures, videos, or books for an understanding of women's roles but to open my scriptures and ask God. Their advice has made all the difference. Through the scriptures, prayer, and fasting I gained a testimony of my divine nature as a daughter of God and my role as a woman on the earth. I gained a sure knowledge that the only way women (and men for that matter) will truly be empowered and realize their true value is through embracing and living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yet despite all my involvement with and passion for women's issues recently I've started feeling uncomfortable labeling myself as a feminist. Perhaps this is because feminism is often a loaded term and means different things to everyone, but I think it is mostly because I've never found a group of feminists or a feminist philosophy that describes or advocates for the sort of "feminism" I believe in-- not "Mormon Feminism"-- or any other brand I have come across in my years of searching.

I think the closest that anyone has come to putting into words the type of feminism I believe in is Rachel DeMille in her essay "’Steel to Gold’: Motherhood and Feminism" . She said,

There is a widespread myth that feminism came about in the 20th Century, that—along with Civil Rights and Environmentalism—feminism is one of our great modern advances. The truth is that feminism has a much earlier origin.

Ancient feminism, started by the initiative of Eve, and spurred on in the East by Taoist thought of Yin and Yang, and in West by the Odysseus-Penelope tradition, has one focused objective: the maintenance of the basic unit of society. In all three traditions equality was never in question, and the feminine provided spark, spice and initiative.

In the ancient stories it is woman who takes this initiative, woman who teaches that all other vows in society are only as strong as the marriage vow, woman who instills steel in young hearts—hearts which will not bend to temptation or loose traditions.

It is ironic then that modern feminism has attacked the marriage vows, pushing for religious, traditional and even legal approval of breaking them, of disconnecting us from each other, of replacing wholeness with individual license.

Eve didn’t need to be emancipated. Only where the marriage vows fail is there abuse and domination by male or female.

I think DeMille put into words so wonderfully what I have known in my heart for a long time. As I've studied the history of women in the scriptures I've seen that there are many, many strong, intelligent, and influential women who alter the course of history through their actions. I've seen the repeated emphasis on the family and have read time and time again (like in the story of the Concubine in Judges 19) how when the family is corrupted by unrighteous dominion or is abandoned as a societal goal that it results in violence, oppression, and the silencing of women's voices and influence.

I firmly believe that God loves both His daughters and his sons and that He divinely organized the best arrangement in which both men and women could reach their highest and greatest potential and that it is called-- the family. All other organizations, groups, movements, NGOs, or governments we create on this earth will always fall short of the impact that the righteous family will have in the lives of women, men and children. In my opinion the family, because of its ability to influence past, present and future generations, should be the focus of all our "feminist" energy.

Yet it is interesting to me just how much some feminists want to distance themselves from the family and don’t believe that women can truly be happy or empowered in a patriarchal society. I think that many of them, at their core, believe in the family and understand its importance but they get deceived into believing that things like NGOs, the UN, universities, law firms, medical schools, development programs, more political involvement, and countless other things will make more of a difference to women and to the world than the family. Instead of focusing on helping people improve their intimate, most basic relationships with themselves, God, and their family they run programs and petition governments, churches, and international organizations for greater gender equality. It is true that many of these actions are very praise worthy, and I have participated in some of them myself, but all they do is temporarily relieve women’s suffering. They are treating the symptoms of the disease rather than the cause and in doing so are missing what will really make the most difference in the lives of women.

In her essay DeMille goes on to say,

"There is a power that women bring to the table, the power of shaping a community—of changing its very heart—a power that lasts for generations, not just between elections. This power is best expressed by the woman who sets out to raise her great grandchildren. At first this seems obvious. A woman who raises her own children successfully will, of course, have direct and indirect impact on her grandchildren and even her great-grandchildren. But this is only the start.

Every great-grandchild is directly raised by twelve people. There are others who will influence the child, but twelve who directly raise, mentor, teach, lead, counsel and help the child reach adulthood. The power of womanhood is to directly train all twelve of these people, so that when her great-grandchild is raised, he or she is raised correctly and well.

The twelve people are the great-grandchild’s:
father
mother
grandfather
grandmother
grandpa
granny
uncle
aunt
rabbi (church leader)
teacher
friend
mayor (government)

These are the twelve most influential people on the life of your perhaps yet unborn great-grandchild. And if you don’t raise them right, who will? What an incredible challenge! Our role as women is to raise these twelve people right! No elected official can do all this, no judge, no senator, no CEO, no high school principal, no Hollywood executive, no media mogul or Federal Reserve banker. No President or Pope can do this. They just aren’t powerful enough.

No matter how successful such men or women may be in their sphere, they don’t have the power to raise these twelve people effectively. No constitution, law or policy has such power, but every woman has it, is born with it, can reach deep down inside and bring it to the surface, can spend her life doing it. If this seems overwhelming, welcome to womanhood."

It is getting harder and harder for women to remember but they way in which we in the United States live our lives is only a product of the last 150 years or so. For most of the rest of US history women didn't have to choose between "home" and "career" and neither did men. The home was the fundamental unit of society and all the important work of society centered around it. Men often did not work far from home (unless they were merchants, soldiers, or members of a privileged class) and women stayed home, not because they were unfit for other work, but because the amount of work required to keep a household running required a clear division of labor. Most businesses were family owned and were often run out of homes. All major life events like marriage, birth, and death were conducted in the home and all the members of the family were involved. There was no real divide between the home and the rest of the world and men and women worked side by side. Women and men were focused on raising, not only their children, but in creating a the type of world they wanted for their great-grandchildren and it was focused around the home.

In the United States it wasn't until the advent of the Industrial Revolution that both men, women, and children left home, on a widespread scale, to make their living. Our society’s focus shifted from the home and the family as the fundamental unit of society to the institution and the individual as the fundamental unit of society. Tasks that were once functions of the home and the responsibility of families were "outsourced" to institutions and corporations. Today we rely on governments, corporations, and organizations to do the jobs which men and women traditionally did in their homes together. Jobs like pre-school and foundational education, caring for the elderly, hosting guests, preparing meals, building, taking care of the poor, raising and preserving food, nursing the sick, birth and labor, weaving, spinning, making clothes, preparing and burying the dead, cleaning, and making the things necessary for the home are tasks that we have now turned over to organizations. These organizations, by their very nature, often require the break up of the home. They require that men and women be separated, working in separate spheres, buildings, and focusing on separate goals. Men and women no longer work side by side together all day like they once did and often times they forget that they are working towards the same goal and sometimes don’t even know what that goal is.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think that our modern progress is in many ways a great blessing, but I think we are sometimes unaware of how it has affected and changed our most basic relationships. If our focus as a society was really on the family, rather than economic and individual gain, then women (and men) wouldn't have to choose between "working" in the home or working in "society" because the end goal of both would be the same-- creating strong and righteous families. Yet because our society is not focused on the family men and women spend all their time trying to balance two competing agendas-- that of creating a strong family and that of making money and creating a "good" world-- and often it just makes them stressed and results in a weak family and weak society instead.

I’ve been listening to the news for months waiting for any mention of how we need to strengthen families to improve our society. I haven’t heard anything. Instead all I’ve heard is that we need to improve our economics, our education, our health care, our gender equality, and our international relations and then all the world’s problems will be solved. The more I listen the more I realize that we really are living in a world in which the family is increasingly no longer the fundamental focus of our society. We are beginning to loose our center, the very core of who we are, and why we are here on the earth. We are becoming like Paul described in Eph. 4:14 a ship at sea “tossed to and fro” with no rudder and not direction. Patricia Holland elaborated more on this in her essay "One Needful Thing: Becoming Women of Greater Faith in Christ", she said:

"I am very appreciative of the added awareness that the women’s movement has given to a gospel principle we have had since Mother Eve and before—that of agency, the right to choose. But one of the most unfortunate side effects we have faced in this matter of agency is that, because of the increasing diversity of life-styles for women of today, we seem even more uncertain and less secure with each other… Surely there has not been another time in history when women have questioned their self-worth as harshly and critically as in the second half of the twentieth century. Many women are searching, almost frantically, as never before, for a sense of personal purpose and meaning; and many LDS women are searching, too, for eternal insight and meaning in their femaleness.

…If I were Satan and wanted to destroy a society, I think I would stage a full- blown blitz on women. I would keep them so distraught and distracted that they would never find the calming strength and serenity for which their sex has always been known…Satan has effectively done that, catching us in the crunch of trying to be superhuman instead of striving to reach our unique, God-given potential within such diversity…We can become so sidetracked in our compulsive search for identity and self-esteem that we really believe it can be found in having perfect figures or academic degrees or professional status or even absolute motherly success. Yet, in so searching externally, we can be torn from our true internal, eternal selves…

One woman…whose writings I love, is Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She comments on the female despair and general torment of our times: “The Feminists did not look … far [enough] ahead; they laid down no rules of conduct. For them it was enough to demand the privileges. … And [so] woman today is still searching. We are aware of our hunger and needs, but still ignorant of what will satisfy them. With our garnered free time, we are more apt to drain our creative springs than to refill them. With our pitchers [in hand] we attempt … to water a field, [instead of] a garden. We throw ourselves indiscriminately into the committees and causes. Not knowing how to feed the spirit, we try to muffle its demands in distractions. Instead of stilling the center, the axis of the wheel, we add more centrifugal activities to our lives—which tend to throw us [yet more] off balance.

“Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have … lost.” Regardless of the time period, she adds, “[for women] the problem is [still] how to feed the soul.”

DeMille also said something similar in her essay. She said,

"... the more unfortunate impact of 20th century feminism is antithetical to its aims: not strong, amazing women who know the power and beauty of their mission, but rather women who are doubting and tentative, even as they assertively rationalize their insecurities. If they have careers, they fear they are missing something. If they are homemakers, they fear they're missing something. If married, they're lectured about independence; if single, they're cautioned against it. This is the legacy of modern feminism-- Not independence. Not emancipation. Not opportunity. Not equality-- doubt."

I think that this doubt, competitiveness, and hunger about what women's roles are in the world is very obvious among women in our modern world. One only has to take a quick spin around the blog world to discover that there are countless forums and groups dedicated to making sense of women's roles within the workplace, the home, in religion, amongst other women, and in the world. Even among LDS women there is a whole lot of doubt, talk and chatter but very few answers. I think that when it comes right down to it most women-- not all-- are living their lives in a sense of half fulfillment, constantly doubting (inside themselves, if not out loud) that what they are doing or who they are is "enough". Like DeMille said, if they have a career their afraid that they are missing something and if they stay at home they are afraid they are missing something. When the real truth is that women need to be actively involved in their homes and in shaping society but that these things shouldn't be mutually exclusive.

We live in a world where women are starving for meaning, freedom and purpose in their lives but are looking for it in all the wrong places. They see the symptoms of the disease and assume they must be the cause. They spend all their time focusing on curing the symptoms, wondering why they never seem to be making a difference, when the real culprit-- the disintegration of the family as a societal goal-- sinks further and further into the abyss and the world gets sicker and sicker. What we need in this world is not more governments or private programs what we need is a huge re-evaluation of our goals as a society. We need to re-focus on the family and once again make it the fundamental unit of society. We need men and women to come back home. We need them to rediscover the value of children and their responsibility to perpetuate life. We need them to realize that as the world moves further and further away from the family that true gender equality and true "empowerment" for women is impossible. We need women who are not encased in doubt but who have strong and passionate testimonies of their divine roles. We need men and women (regardless of their marital status) who are dedicated to raising their great-grandchildren, focusing on making a home, a community, and world in which men and women see and respect the divine nature of each other and are dedicated to the continuation of life.

That is the type of "feminist" Eve ,

Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel,

Miriam, Esther, Mary the mother of Christ,

Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and Emmeline B. Wells were.

That is the type of feminist I am.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Celebrating Purim

Purim, a Jewish Holiday celebrating Esther's liberation of the Jews, was last Saturday and Sunday. I've always wanted to celebrate Purim. I mean really, a woman in the scriptures with her very OWN holiday, what isn't there to celebrate about that! Jews often call Purim the "children's holiday" because many of the activities revolve around fun activities for children. My kids were old enough this year that I thought celebrating Purim would be a fun thing for us to do on our family night (I figured that since we aren't really Jewish that it didn't matter if it wasn't on the real day).

The kids and I started the day out by making "groggers" or noise makers. They are for shaking during the reading of Esther's story. Every time Haman's (the bad guy who tried to kill the Jews) name is mentioned you are suppose to make as much noise as possible. The idea is to drown out Haman's name, and thus his memory, from the story.

I found tons of different suggestions online on how to make groggers but I didn't end up using any of them. In the end we used glass peanut butter and baby food jars filled with pennies. Then I wrapped construction paper on the outside and we painted them. They turned out wonderful! Very, very noisy.

Then we made hamantashen which literally means "Haman hats". They are shortbread cookies filled with jam or figs. This was the best recipe I found. They were delicious but tricky to make. It might take me a few years before I figure out how to pinch them correctly.

My second batch didn't turn out very good, but it still tasted good. Which is the important thing.

Then when my husband got home we had family night and the kids got dressed up in costumes like Esther and Mordecai. I guess that Jewish children often just dress up in any sort of costume, it doesn't have to be Purim related, but I figured my kids might get confused if we strayed too far from our theme. Then I pulled out the felt board and the Esther characters I made a few weeks ago.

From the left: King Ahasuerus, Haman, Mordecai, Vashti, and Esther

We'd already gone through the story a few times on other days and so my little boy knew who all the characters were. As I read an abbreviated version of Esther's story he put each character on the board... making sure to shake his grogger ferociously every time I said Haman's name. My little girl didn't pay much attention to the story but jumped around shaking her grogger like a wild child. I think she mostly liked being allowed to be crazy and noisy and not get in trouble.

Our Purim celebration was pretty simple but we really enjoyed it. I like that it is a fun way to teach my children an important Bible story and to get them familiar with different religious traditions.

There are other Purim traditions that we didn't do this year, like fasting the night before to commemorate Esther's fast, giving food and gifts to the poor, and burning Haman's effigy. I think that next year I would like to incorporate the fast and the gift giving into my personal celebration of Purim, but my husband has already told me that he draws the line at effigy burning. Drat.

Purim follows the Jewish Calender and so is never on the same day every year. Next year it will be start at sundown on March 8th and go till sundown on March 9th. I'll try to give you a heads up... if I remember... so that you can celebrate it too.

I think that this just might be the only holiday specifically celebrating a woman from the scriptures... so it is just too good to pass up!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Test Your Knoweldge and Win a Prize!

After my interview with Diana Webb, the author of "Forgotten Women of God" she was so good to offer to give away a copy of her book to one of my lucky readers! If you missed my interview with her make sure you go back and read it. She has beautiful insights into women in the scriptures.

There are three ways to enter the give away.

1) Take the quiz on women in the scriptures (written by Diana Webb) that is posted below. If you get 1- 5 questions right you get 1 entry. If you get 6- 11 right you get 2 entries and if you get 12- 17 right you get 3 entries.

2) "Like" Diana Webb's facebook page.

and

3) Link to my interview with Diana on either your blog, facebook or twitter.

Please let me know which ones you do.

Excited yet?


Here is is the quiz. There are two rules.

1) You may NOT use google or any other outside source to find answers and 2) please be honest.


Good Luck. I will post the answers in the first comment.

1. What was the name of the wife of Joseph of Egypt given to him by Pharaoh as a reward for interpreting his dream?

2. From the Apocrypha: Who saved her Jewish people by beheading the formidable general of the Assyrian armies in his sleep?

3. Which woman of the ancient world was a judge, a prophetess, and a military leader, but was most remembered for being a “mother in Israel?”

4. Who hammered a tent peg into the temple of the sleeping Canaanite general Sisera after giving him warm goat’s milk?

5. Who was sacrificed by her father, a General of the Israelite armies, after he made a rash vow promising God that if he would make him victorious in battle, he would offer, as a sacrifice, the first thing that met him when he returned home victorious?

6. Who prayed for a child in the Tabernacle at Shiloh and promised God she would dedicate him to the Lord if only God would grant her petition?

7. Who dressed up as a sacred prostitute in order to raise up seed to her dead husband?

8. Which woman performed the circumcision of her son herself, in order to save her husband from being killed by the Lord?

9. Who strategically arranged for her abandoned brother to be nursed by his own Hebrew mother instead of in Pharaoh’s court where he was adopted?

10. Who hid her newborn son for three months in order to prevent him from being slaughtered by Pharaoh’s soldiers?

11. Who defied Pharaoh’s dict to kill all newborn male babies at the peril of their own lives?

12. Who rescued a condemned Hebrew baby boy from the waters of the Nile?

13. From the Apocrypha: Who maintained her integrity even though she knew that she would be condemned to death after two respected Jewish elders threatened to blackmail her if she would not let them seduce her after they discovered her bathing in her private garden?

14. Who, like Mary, had the birth of her son announced to her by an angel?

15. Who sold her hair to the devil, disguised as a bread seller, in order to feed her suffering husband?

16. Which woman, purported to be the daughter-in-law of Noah, is portrayed on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but is not found in the Bible?

17. Which woman gave God a name – “The God That Sees Me” and was the mother of Abraham’s firstborn son?

Good Luck, hope you win! I will close the give away on April 1st.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Interview with Diana Webb, Author of "Forgotten Women of God"

For the last few weeks I have the opportunity to be in correspondence with Diana Webb the author of "Forgotten Women of God." I first picked up Diana's book at the library about a year ago and loved it. There have been several times in the last year that I found myself wishing I had my own copy of her book so I didn't have to keep checking it out of the library. Several months ago I contacted Diana and asked if I could review her book and interview her for my blog. It has been a really fun experience getting to know her a little and to hear her amazing insights into women in the scriptures.

"Forgotten Women of God" focuses mainly on the women mentioned in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha books, which are additional books of scripture that got left out of the Old Testament for numerous reasons. In the Bible Dictionary it says this about the Apocrypha,

"....those sacred books of the Jewish people which were not included in the Hebrew Bible. They are valuable as forming a link connecting the Old and New Testaments, and are regarded in the Church as useful reading, although not all books are of equal value. They are the subject of a revelation recorded in D&C 91, in which it is stated that the contents are mostly correct, but with many interpolations by man."

I've never spent much time in the Apocrypha but after reading this book it is definitely on my list of things to do. I was amazed at how many new women there were to discover and how the Apocrpyhal books gave new depth and understanding to many of the women mentioned in the Old Testament. I learned so much in Diana's book and am glad I now have my own copy to go back to again and again.

She also gave me some more incredible insights in our interview, which I have posted below. My questions are in black and her answers are underneath. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did!



Q. In the preface of your book you mentioned that you did your Master's Thesis on the women in the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. What got you interested in studying women in the scriptures? How has learning about them changed your perspective on the scriptures?

A. In graduate school, we had to come up with a thesis idea within a month. A thesis has to research that has never been published before. So you see, just choosing a topic was a bit daunting. Several months previously, my husband and I went to dinner with friends, and the husband told us versions of Old Testament stories that I had never heard before. They were fascinating! He said he read them in some ancient documents called the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. (These were composed anonymously between 200 BC and 200 AD but attributed to famous people like Moses or Abraham to give them credibility.) People wrote these stories down to reflect the Jewish traditions that had evolved over the centuries, but were not recorded in the Old Testament. These authors worried that these traditions would be lost because the whole world was buying into Greek culture, which was a lot more fun (permissive) than the Jewish culture with all its strictures. They wanted to preserve the beautiful stories of their culture for posterity.

Most of the accounts closely paralleled the Old Testament accounts, but provided fascinating and intriguing insights that were absent from the Bible. I especially liked the fact that the unnamed women of the Bible had been given names and personalities. Women like to hear stories about other women, especially ones who made a difference in the world. It has been a man’s world for many millennia, and women have had to get by as best they could. I loved the creativity and compassion of these women and decided to write about ALL the women in the two volume set of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha that I was using, but I was advised that such a project was beyond the scope of a mere thesis. My advisers suggested I just pick a few, perhaps the wives of the patriarchs. So, I ended up writing on Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Aseneth (“Technicolor” Joseph’s wife). When a publisher asked me to develop this thesis into a book, they were not interested in Eve, and the other more well-known women of the Bible. And so, I only used the chapter on Aseneth, and ended up writing about other women in the Pseudepigrapha that were NOT in my thesis.

Q. I think my favorite part of your book is your emphasis on correctly understanding the word "helpmeet" as it is used in the Old Testament and how the Hebrew word that it is derived from "ezer" means" to save" or "to rescue". I've reflected on how this insight has impacted my life but I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the word "ezer" and how it has influenced your understanding of womanhood.

A. I love the Hebrew word “ezer.” It makes me so happy that my Heavenly Father designed me as a woman to save my little corner of the world. To be a “power equal to man,” as translated by scholar David Freedman. I was meant to be more than a “helper.” I was meant to be powerful.

I love the quote by Nelson Mandela: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”

I love knowing that I was designed to rescue those around me. I don’t feel small at all. In fact, most of the time I feel indispensable. When writers of juvenile fiction want to create a great story, the first thing they have to do is kill off the mother. Think about it – Harry Potter, the Boxcar Children, etc. If kids have a mother, there is no drama. Women fix things for people around them. And they are supposed to. Women make the world richer.

Q. Before I read your book I'd been under the impression that the Apocrypha was an "unreliable" book compared to the Bible. I guess I figured that since Joseph Smith didn't bother to translate it, like he did the Bible, then there must not be anything important in it. Yet after reading your book my perspective changed and I was astounded at how the additional information in it illuminated many of the Old Testament women's lives and personalities. Catholics include the apocryphal books in their Bible, but most other churches, LDS included, seem to distance themselves from those books. Why do you think that is?

A. That is a great question. I’m pretty sure it is because the Jews did not include the Apocrypha in their Jewish scriptures. (Their scriptures are basically the Old Testament, but they don’t call it that, because that would imply there was such a thing as the New Testament.) This is a pretty boring, historical answer, so hold on to your hats. In 90 AD, the Jews held a council at Jamnia to determine their scriptural canon. The Christians were using the Jewish scriptures, including the Apocrypha, and the Jews wanted to make sure there was plenty of differentiation between Jews and Christians, so they made their own list of books to include in their canon. You can see why the Jewish elders would not want to have a book like Susanna in their scriptures. It ,makes Jewish elders look bad.

Q. There are several women in the Old Testament who we don't have names for such as, Job's wife, Noah's wife and daughter-in-law, and Jephtha's daughter, but who we learn much more information about-- including their names-- in the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal books. How do you think having a name or not having a name for a scriptural woman impacts the way we view or treat her story?

A. During the Holocaust, the Germans gave each of their Jewish prisoners a number, which was tattooed onto their forearms. They were meticulous record-keepers and wanted to keep track of what happened to each of them. And yet, they did not use their names. Having a name makes a person real. It gives a person identity. Many stories in the scriptures are so male-centered that women are skipped over, as if they are inconsequential. Many cultures in the world continue to devalue women to the point that they do not even have visible faces when they go out in public. Their only value is that they “belong” to a man. Having a name gives a person an identity, and a soul. When you know someone’s name, you know them in a way that you never did before. They become human. They become a brother or sister. Just look at what pains Rumpelstiltskin went to to make sure no one knew his name.

Q. I was very intrigued by the story of Judith, told in the Apocrypha, and the additional information we get about Aseneth (the wife of Joseph who was sold into Egypt) story in the Pseudepigrapha . Their stories were amazing and very powerful. Yet as I was reading them I couldn't help but wonder how true their stories are. In Doctrine and Covenants 91 the Lord told Joseph Smith that,

"Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men."

How can readers of these books discern which things are true and which are "interpolations by the hands of men"? In your opinion how much truth do you think there is in such powerful stories like that of Aseneth's miraculous conversion, Susanna's dilemma, or Judith's bloody triumph? Could there be truth in them -- in some form or another – or are they "interpolations by the hands of men."?


A. I’m so glad you brought up section 91. I love that section because it frees me to be a scholar and look for truth wherever it may be found. The rest of the section reads thus:

Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefitted.” (D&C 91:4-6)

There is a giant hint in these verses. “Hint, hint. There is benefit to be found by reading these books. Read them and receive the benefit from your search for additional truth.” The Lord gives us the key that will guide us to know if what we are reading is truth or “the interpolations of men.” He did not have to translate the Apocrypha because if we read with the spirit, we will be able to discern what is truth.

When I was doing my graduate work at BYU, I took a class called “Apocrypha and the Latter-day Saints,” taught by Dr. Stephen E. Robinson. Brother Robinson is the author of the books Believing Christ and Following Christ. It was my favorite class. (I had a directed readings private class with him where we would chat each week and talk about the things I had been reading in the Pseudepigrapha. In fact, Dr. Robinson translated a couple of the inclusions in the Charlesworth edition of the Pseudepigrapha.) We read the Pseudepigrapha We read the Apocrypha. We read the New Testament Apocrypha. We read the Nag HammadiLibrary, gnostic scriptures. Every day he would ask us what we thought about what we had read. Were we being guided by the spirit to find the diamonds hidden within all those volumes? I loved the challenge of finding the nuggets of truth within the “interpolations of men.” For I strongly believe that even if a document isn’t 100% truth, there is a seed of truth in the story that is true. For example, the story in the Book of Judith about a young and beautiful woman beheading the powerful Assyrian general Holofernes while he sleept seems hard to believe. Melodramatic evan. And yet, the account of Jael hammering a tent peg into the temple of the sleeping Sisera, the powerful commander of the troops of King Jabin is basically the same plot with a few twists. The story of Judith is apocryphal, the story of Jael is in Judges 4 and 5. Even if a story has been “embroidered” with tradition, perhaps there is a kernel of truth behind the tradition.

I remember the day we read The Hymn of the Pearl in the Acts of Thomas in the Nag Hammadi Library. It is one of the earliest Christian documents. It is said to be the hymn that Thomas sang while imprisoned in India. It is also known as the Hymn of the Robe of Glory.

In it, a young man leaves the kingdom of his father to go on a journey to “Egypt,” to obtain a pearl from the Serpent. He leaves his robe of glory behind, and is promised that when he returns with the pearl, he can once again put it on in his father’s kingdom. He arrives in Egypt and dresses himself as the Egyptians do so that they will not know of his mission to wrest the pearl from the Serpent. A friend warns him against associating with the “unclean ones” as their influence was powerful. The young man associates with the Egyptians, eats their food, and soon forgets about his mission to get the pearl he falls into a deep sleep. He says, “I forgot that I was a king’s son and I became a slave to their king.” His parents, concerned for his well-being, write him a letter and have it delivered by an eagle. It says, “

"From Us -- King of Kings, thy Father,And thy Mother, Queen of the Dawn-land,
"And from Our Second, thy Brother --To thee, Son, down in Egypt, Our Greeting!
"Up an arise from thy sleep,Give ear to the words of Our Letter!
"Remember that thou art a King’s son;See whom thou hast served in thy slavedom.
Bethink thyself of the Pearl
For which thou didst journey to Egypt.
"Remember thy Glorious Robe,Thy Splendid Mantle remember,
"To put on and wear as adornment,When thy Name may be read in the Book of the Heroes,
"And with Our Successor, thy Brother,Thou mayest be Heir in Our Kingdom."

After reading the letter, the young man remembers his mission to get the pearl. He lulled the Serpent to sleep by chanting over hum the name of his father, the name of our Second [his brother] and the name of his mother, the East Queen. He snatched the pearl, stripped off the filthy and unclean garments that he wore, and returned to the kingdom of his father. His parents send him his robe of glory, and he says, “as soon as I saw it, The Glory looked like my own self.” He says that “the image of the King of Kings was upon it.” He put on the glorious robe and is greeted by his father and his mother. He gives them the pearl and returned to live in the kingdom of his father, clothed in his resplendent robe of glory.

After I read this document, I was stunned. There was not much in the Acts of Thomas that I considered inspired, but here was this gem, perfectly outlining the plan of salvation from the restored gospel. It was wonderful.

Q. Are there other women mentioned in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha that you didn't include in your book?

A. Yes, many. I left out the naughty ones, like Lillith, the “bad Eve” character. I also left out the ones that were more well known, because that is what the publisher wanted. However, there is great stuff about my matriarchs, especially Rebekah.

Q. Are you working on any other projects right now? Do you have plans to write any more books or continue your research on women in the scriptures?

A. As a matter of fact I’m working on a book right now that I want to call Rebekah and Other Lionesses. I attended BYU Women’s Conference last April and was very moved by the keynote speech by Julie Beck, General Relief Society President for the Church, “Choose Ye This Day.” I have been a different person since I heard that talk. I knew I wanted to tell Rebekah’s story. That night when my friends went to dinner, I had them drop me off at the library so I could begin the I research for this book.

Q.) Do you have a favorite woman in the scriptures? If so, how has her story impacted your life?

A. Of all the women in this book, my favorite was Susanna from the Apocrypha. Her book is part of the book of Daniel. I think she is a parallel character to Joseph of Egypt. Joseph refuses Potiphar’s wife by saying that he cannot “sin against God,” even though he knows she will have him thrown in prison. Susanna says basically the same thing when confronted by the elders, even though she knows their double condemning testimony will condemn her to death. What a woman! She reminds me of Joseph F. Smith’s answer to a man pointing a gun at him and asking him, “Are you a %&*#$@ Mormon?” He replied, “Yes siree, true blue, dyed in the wool through and through.” Talk about standing as a witness before God at all times and in all places. It makes we want to stand firm for the right and never cave in under pressure.

I think you have figured out by now that I love Rebekah. She is my idol. This was further reinforced as I listened to Sister Beck talk about her. She said that Rebekah was one of the most pivotal and important people in the history of mankind, and certainly in the House of Israel. She emphasized that without Rebekah, a woman worthy to receive revelation and capable of recognizing it for what it was, the House of Israel would not have been brought forth. Rebekah knew her responsibilities in the House of Israel and acted accordingly. She said that each and every one of us in our day is as important to the current generation of our family as Rebekah was to her generation. Each of us is pivotally important to our families, and we each need to understand our place in the House of Israel and our mission on the earth. The Lord is depending on millions of Rebekahs to understand their place in carrying on the blessings of the House of Israel.

As I sat there at the Women’s Conference I thought, “Here I am with 15,000 active, faithful, scripture-reading women at this conference, and I bet that it is the minority who even know what Sister Beck is talking about. It is time for Rebekah’s story to be told.” If every woman needs to be a Rebekah to her family, she should know what that means.

Rebekah was a powerful woman because she listened to the spirit of revelation. She recognized what God’s will was for her family and she acted upon it. Having the spirit means knowing God’s will and doing it. It is the potency of personal revelation.
Sister Beck also described women as lionesses at the gate of the home. I thought, “Wow! If that doesn’t describe Rebekah protecting the son she knows is supposed to carry on the covenant, I don’t know what does...” Sister Beck said that the things that matter to the lioness at the gate of that home, matter to that family. It is very difficult to get a lion cub away from a lioness unless she believes wholeheartedly believes that the cause that draws her cub away is for the benefit of the House of Israel and for the continuation of the everlasting covenant. That’s how important the lioness is.

Rebekah must have had a direct connection with her God. She went straight to the Lord about the future of the twins struggling within her. She found out that the elder would serve the younger. She knew this before they were ever born. The Lord confided in her the future of his covenant line. She never wavered in her determination to make it happen. If Rebekah had failed in any part of her responsibility, the House of Israel would never have come forth.

That is why I love Rebekah. I try every day to find out what the Lord would have me do, and then I find a way to do it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Five Things for Friday, 6th Edition

-1-

So remember that post I wrote a few weeks ago about how My Worth as a Woman is Not Dependent upon How my Children Behave in Church. Well, two Sundays ago I needed a HUGE dose of my own medicine because after a really hard day at church I ended up bawling... okay sobbing... on the Primary president's shoulder right in the middle of the hallway. She was so sweet and kept telling me that motherhood was hard, that everyone struggles, and that I was really doing a good job. I really don't know what came over me but I was a mess. I was suppose to conduct the Relief Society meeting but I couldn't pull myself together enough to do it. I ended up going home and bawling on my couch for the last half hour of church. Finally I was able to get it together enough to go back and pick up my family. From the moment I walked in the door I had arms around me from women telling me I was loved and that they could relate. Even though I was embarrassed to be seen at a weak moment they made me feel SO much better. Later I decided that if you are going to have an emotional breakdown that church is the BEST place to have it.

Oh, and just in case your are wondering church this week went much better. I think we will get this figured out yet!

-2-

I have been listening to some really wonderful programs lately on the Mormon Channel. This one called the "Lioness and the Lion" is about Brigham Young and Eliza R. Snow. It was fascinating and so uplifting. I also enjoyed the interview with Susan Easton Black, a religion professor at BYU. I took a class from her once and she is such a vivacious person. I also really loved the interviews on Women in the Scriptures with Camille Fronk, also a religion professor at BYU. Oh, and if you haven't heard the one with Julie Beck and her daughters you should definitely listen to that one! Any other good ones I've missed?


-3-
I think you truly know you are a mom when you no longer close your eyes during prayers... even when your children aren't around. Tuesday night I was at a Relief Society meeting and my kids were safely sequestered in the nursery but I realized that I still had my eyes open during the opening prayer and was scanning the room looking for someone misbehaving. I'm not quite sure how to break that habit!

-4-

I am probably the last person in the world to discover this but if you melt the butter before you add it to your choclate chip cookies they turn out amazing. Really they do. Who would have thought one little chemical process like melting could transform my hard as rock cookies into something yummy. Like I said you may already know this but it was pure revlation for me!

-5-

I had the great opportunity of interviewing Diana Webb the author of "Forgotten Women of God" and will be sharing it on Monday. She is such a wonderful woman with a great sense of humor. Her book is-- honestly-- one of my favorites and I can't wait to share some of the additional insights she shared with me!

Doesn't that make you excited for the weekend to be over :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Stitch By Stitch

My friend taught me how to knit a few months ago and since then I've been knitting in the evenings while my kids fall asleep. The work is repetitive, soothing and gives me lots of time for reflection. My mind wanders but mostly I've been thinking about my ancestors and how performing repetitive daily tasks, like knitting, must have taught them important life lessons. Lessons that in our world of high speed, fast food, and instant messages we seem to have forgotten.

For example, the other day I bought a scarf at the thrift store and pulled it apart for the yarn. Unraveling the scarf only took me about a half hour and it was really fun to see it come apart.


As I pulled it apart I couldn't help reflect on the person who had created it . How long did it take them to make all those stitches? How many times did they mess up and have to start over? Did they have a loved one in mind while they were making it? How would they feel if they saw me pulling apart what must have taken them hours and hours to make in only 30 minutes?

Then I reflected on the little leg warmers that I just knitted for my daughter. They took me at least 12 hours (I'm still a slow knitter) to make. When they were done I had such a feeling of satisfaction and joy, which was in stark contrast to the "fun" I'd had in pulling apart the scarf.


That got me thinking about how creation takes work, repetition, and patience while destruction is easy and quick. The fruits of creation are success, joy, and a long lasting product while the fruits of destruction are... well they aren't any... unless you count"fun". It seems like in our modern world so much of the focus in on doing things faster and easier so that we either don't have to do the hard work required or so we can get the "work" out of the way in order to "play." Don't get me wrong, I love to play as much as anyone, but I can't help but think that our ancestors must have seen the world much differently. They knew that, like knitting, creation is done one stitch at a time over and over again, until one day you have something beautiful and warm. You can't cut corners and you can't rush it. It requires daily work and repetition.

Applying this principle in my life has changed my perspective. I see that creating the person I want to be will take repetition and work-- daily prayer, daily scripture study, daily repentance and daily improvements.

Creating the family and home I want will take repetition and work-- daily family prayer, daily family scripture study, daily cleaning and organizing, daily loving kindness, and daily corrections.

Creating the community I want to live in will take repetition and work-- daily interactions with neighbors and friends, daily honoring my word and fulfilling my responsibilities, and daily living my life in the way I would like to see other live.

I know it isn't always easy to see the pattern, and sometimes I miss stitches and put holes in my fabric, but stitch by stitch I am creating the fabric of my life, my family, and my community. I hope when I am finished it will be something I'm proud to pass onto my posterity.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Many Women Would You Guess Are in the Scriptures?

In the last several days I've heard at least 5 people make the statement " There just aren't very many women in the scriptures."

Every time it has made me want to jump up and down and yell at the top of my lungs

"YES THERE ARE
YOU JUST AREN'T LOOKING FOR THEM!"

I'm feeling an urgent need to set the record straight so that if any of you are ever sitting in a class, reading a blog, or having a conversation with someone who starts lamenting that there aren't any women in the scriptures you can... gently... enlighten them.

First, before I give you the numbers I want you to get a paper and pen (or if you have a really good memory you can do it in your head) and make a guess about how many women you think are mentioned by NAME in the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Then write down how many UNNAMED women you think are in each of these books.

Then write down how many women, named or unnamed, you think are in ALL the books of scripture.

Got it?

If you haven't guessed you should....

I'll give you another minute.

Okay, so here are the numbers that I got from my own study of the scriptures (so please realize that these numbers might be off just a little... but they are as accurate as I could get them with my limited resources)

Old Testament

Named Women: 133

Unnamed Women: 90

Groups of Unnamed Women: 145

Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 319

Total Women: 368


New Testament:

Named Women: 33

Unnamed Women: 28

Groups of Unnamed Women: 16

Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 60

Total Women: 71



Named Women: 3

Unnamed Women: 18

Groups of Unnamed Women: 66

Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 24

Total Women: 87
(Here is a complete list of them)



Named Women: 2

Unnamed Women: 4

Groups of Unnamed Women: 4

Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 20

Total Women: 10



Named Women: 5
(I didn't include women who were also mentioned in the Old Testament)

Unnamed Women: 2

Groups of Unnamed Women: 17

Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 5

Total Women: 24


Grand Total of all the Women in the Scriptures: 556

I am going to be writing this blog for a long, long time.

Please remember though that the "groups of unnamed women" can include anywhere from two or three women to 10,000. Also in addition to the 556 women mentioned specifically in the scriptures there are 428 parables or prophecies that specifically address or mention women.

Does any of this surprise you?

How did you do on your guessing? Did you guess more or less? I'd love to hear how you did.

I know that after I first completed the Women in the Scriptures Challenge I was astounded at all the women who were mentioned. Why had I NEVER heard of any of these women?!

Over the last few years I've began to see that the reason people don't think there are any women in the scriptures is because they aren't looking for them. They are either not reading their scriptures at all and are getting their information second hand through lessons and talks or they are reading their scriptures but aren't stopping to notice and ponder on the people they are reading about.

The other problem that people run into is that they try to compare the amount of women mentioned to the amount of men mentioned in the scriptures. "There may be 556 women in the scriptures but there are three times more men! That just isn't fair!" It is true that there are many more men in the scriptures but that doesn't lessen the beauty that we have LOTS of wonderful women role models as well. What we need to focus on, instead of comparing numbers, is how grateful we should be for the 556 women we DO have. In a day and age when most women didn't know how to read or write, and in some cases were excluded from spiritual life all together, it is amazing that we have as many of their stories as we do. We just need to start paying attention to them and talking about their stories. Just like in real life women are often "invisible" or "below the radar" simply because no one gives them specific attention or includes them in meaningful conversations.

It made me sad when recently I was watching a movie clip on 2 Kings 22 (in which the temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt and the scriptures re-discovered) that the story of Huldah was totally skipped over. It wouldn't have taken the film directors more than 5-10 seconds to include her, but they didn't. It made me wonder if they had even noticed her when they were reading the scriptures. It is my sincere hope that as more people-- men and women-- start opening their scriptures and looking for the women that flood their pages they will start

TALKING,
WRITING

and BEARING TESTIMONY

about these incredible women and sharing their stories.

So next time you hear someone complain "There just aren't very many women in the scriptures" I want you to tell them...

Open your scriptures...
READ THEM...
because the women are there,
just waiting to be discovered.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lydia

"She Worketh Willingly With Her Hands" by Elspeth Young

Acts 16: 14-15, 40

Background:

During Paul's third journey he and Silas are in Troas when Paul has a vision. In his vision Paul sees a man from Macedonia who pleads with Paul, "Come over to Macedonia, and help us." (vs. 9). Immediately after having this vision Paul and Silas travel to Phillipi, the capital city of Macedonia, and seek for people to teach (vs. 10-12). They find their first success among the women who are gathered at the river outside of Phillipi (vs. 13).

Facts About Her:
  • She is a "seller of purple" which has reference to her work as a merchant (and perhaps maker) of purple dye used to dye cloth (vs. 14);
  • She is from the city of Thyatria, which is located in the middle of modern day Turkey, but made her home in Phillipi which was a big trading city;

  • She gathers with other women outside of the city walls of Phillipi near the river side "where prayer was wont to be made." (vs. 13);
  • She is described as one who "worshiped God" and "whose heart the Lord opened" even before she heard Paul's message (vs. 14);
  • She hears Paul and Silas preaching to the women gathered at the river and "she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." (vs.14);
  • She and her whole household are baptized, making her the first Christian convert on the European continent (vs. 15);
  • After she is baptized she opens her home to Paul and Silas and tells them "If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. (vs.15)"
  • Later, after Paul and Silas have been beaten (vs. 16-23), thrown in prison (vs. 24), survive an earthquake that opens the doors of their prison (vs. 25-28), and convert and baptize the prison keeper and his whole household (vs. 29-36) they return to Lydia's house before they continue on their journey to Thessalonica (vs.40).
Speculations About Her:
  • Ann N. Madsen in her article "Cameos: The Women of the New Testament" said this about Lydia,
    "A seller of purple, she may have been named Lydia because she came from Thyatira, a city in the district of Lydia in Asia Minor that was famous for its exports of purple dye, a highly prized item during this period. An inscription discovered in the ruins in Thyatira commemorates the Dyers' Guild. Perhaps Lydia had learned the proper use of purple dye as a member of that very guild."
  • Her home was most likely used as the meeting place for the church in Phillipi and perhaps Paul had Lydia in mind when later in his epistle to the Philippians he wrote, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. Always in every prayer of mine for you making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now" (Philip. 1:3—5)
  • She was probably a very well-to-do woman, seeing as the author of Acts identifies by her trade as a "seller of purple" and that she has a "household". It may be that she was unmarried or a widow seeing as there is no mention of her husband.

My Thoughts:

The thing that stands out to me the most about Lydia's story is how she had been prepared, long before Paul and Silas arrived in Phillipi, to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. The scriptures tell us that she "worshiped God" even before her conversion and that the Lord had opened her heart. I think she fits perfectly the description given in Doctrine and Covenants 123:32,
"For there are many yet on the earth... who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it..."
She was a seeker of truth and had prepared her heart and mind to receive it. In fact I can't help but wonder if it was her prayers and her desire for the truth that prompted the Lord to send Paul a vision of " a man in Macedonia... saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us." Even though the messenger of this vision was man I think it is very likely that Paul and Silas's appearance in Phillipi was in direct answer to Lydia's prayers. Especially seeing how quickly and readily she accepts the gospel. I don't think it was any coincidence that she was Paul and Silas' first convert on the European continent. Also her readiness to invite Paul and Silas into her home and her urge for them to "abide there" indicates that she had already made "room' in her heart and in her home for God and His messengers.

I think there is a great lesson to be learned from Lydia's example. She teaches us the value of cultivating our faith and having an inquiring mind and an open heart. She also shows us how being in the right place (like the river where women were praying) and being surrounded by the good people helps us be in the right place at the right time to hear God's messages. Her story also makes me wonder if I have made "room" in my heart and in my home for God's word and for His prophets. Like Lydia, am I quick to recognize truth and welcome it into my home and my life? Or do I wait for a huge tragedy, like the earthquake that converted Paul and Silas's prison keeper, before I am willing to accept God's message?

And finally I think her story shows us the value of each soul to God and his willingness to answer our prayers. I don't doubt that Lydia's prayers were one of the reasons Paul and Silas were sent to Phillipi. Her soul was precious to God and her worth great in his eyes. The Lord heard the deepest desires of her heart and answered them, probably in ways greater than she ever imagined. I think her story is a beautiful testament of God's love for his children, especially his daughters, and the degree to which He is willing to go to save just one soul and bring truth to just one of his children who are ready and willing to hear truth.

Questions to Think About:
  • Why do you think that the women who were gathered at the river to pray are some of the first people Paul and Silas seek out to teach?
  • One can only imagine the anxiety and fear that Lydia must have felt when Paul and Silas were thrown in jail. How do you think their miraculous escape from prison and the conversion of the prison keeper strengthened her faith?
  • Have you made room in your home, like Lydia did, for the prophets of God? Do they "abide", figuratively, in your home? If not, what changes can you make in your life and in your home to give them room?
  • What similarities to you see between the story of Lydia and the Shunamaite woman in 2 Kings 4?