Monday, November 25, 2013

Who Cooked the First Thanksgiving Meal?

John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, my ancestors!
The kids and I read a wonderful book about the Pilgrims the other day for school. It had lots of information about them that I had never learned before, including the fact that only 5 of the 18 women who sailed on the Mayflower survived the first winter!

Just think of that ladies.

That means that there were only 5 women who cooked the first Thanksgiving feast--a feast that lasted three days and fed an entire pilgrim colony and 90 Wampanoag Indian men.  Hats off to those five women! Don't  forget to give them a tribute sometime this Thursday when you are starting to get overwhelmed by the stress of preparing your grocery store turkey with your stuffing from a box and your cranberries from a can.  They had a much bigger job!

One of those five women who cooked the first Thanksgiving meal was Priscilla Mullins, who happens to be one of my great-grandmothers. Several years ago my grandmother's cousin did all the genealogy work and  submitted it to the Mayflower Society, so I am a bona fide descendent! Which is neat.

Priscilla was eighteen when she boarded the Mayflower and traveled with her father,  mother and brother Joseph to Plymouth. During that first hard winter in the New World Priscilla lost both her father, her mother, and her brother to sickness-- making her an orphan and completely alone.

She is recorded as being sweet in temper and blessed with great patience. She was talented at spinning and spun wool and flax for the pilgrim colony, as well as taught school to the children and helped with the cooking. She also happened to be the ONLY unmarried woman in the colony of marriageable age, which obviously made her much desired.

There is a famous poem called the "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that tells the story of Priscilla's courtship. According to tradition the newly widowed Captain Miles Standish, who was the only solider in the colony, wanted to marry Priscilla. He asked his friend John Alden to propose to Priscilla on his behalf, to which Priscilla famously responded, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" So he did, and won the girl. Priscilla and John Alden, who was the cooper (barrel maker) of the colony,  were married around 1622 and would most likely have been the third couple to marry in the new world. They had eleven children and now have thousands of descendants..

The poem from Longfellow (who was a direct descendent of John and Priscilla) was long thought to be a romantic  family tradition, but recently scholars have found that the story had been handed down and was first published by John and Priscilla's great-great grandson in 1814 (source). So there is likely some truth in the story.

Which means that I come from the line of a strong-minded woman-- who even if she was the only available woman-- wasn't afraid to speak her mind and get what she wanted.

That is a heritage I don't mind passing on. Especially if it comes with super-awesome-cooking-thanksgiving- for-a- huge- crowd skills!

Which, by the way my mashed potatoes turn out, I'm thinking it doesn't.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 11, 2013


Detail from "Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph" by  Rembrandt

Her Story:

After Joseph, who had been sold into Egypt, successfully interpreted the Pharaoh's dream Pharaoh rewarded him by making him the ruler over Egypt. Joseph's name was changed to Zaphnath-paaneah and Pharaoh gave him Asenath, the daughter of Poti-pherah the priest of On, as his wife. After marrying Asenath Joseph "went out over all the land of  Egypt" overseeing the effort to save food in the storehouses for the seven years of famine that would follow the seven years of plenty. It was during those seven years of plenty that Asenath gave birth to two sons whom Joseph named Manassah and Ephraim. Manassah, whose name means "forgetting" was the firstborn son, while Ephraim, whose name means "fruitful" was the younger brother.

Together these two sons inherited the promises of the Abrahamic covenant from their grandfather Jacob. Genesis 48 says that when Joseph heard that his father, Jacob was dying that he took his two sons to him to be blessed. Jacob then placed one of his hands upon Manassah's head and the other one upon Ephraim's head and began to give them both the blessings of the covenant. In his old age Jacob had lost his sight, so when Joseph saw that he had placed his right hand upon Ephraim's head he tried to correct Jacob and move it to Manassah's head, since he was the eldest son. Yet, "... his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he [Manessah] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations."  Ephraim was given the blessing of carrying the birthright and in the latter-days it is the children from the tribe of Ephraim who have the privilege to first carry the message of the Restoration of the gospel to the world and to lead the gathering of the ten scattered tribes (Deut. 33:13–17; D&C 64:36; 133:26–34).

Speculations About Her:
  • There is an apocryphal book called "Joseph and Asenath" which details the story of Asenath's conversion to the God of Abraham. The book is thought to have been originally written in Greek and to be a Jewish work composed sometime between 1 BC and 2 AD in an attempt to explain why Joseph would have married a woman outside of the covenant, let alone the daughter of a pagan priest. Wikipedia gives this summary of the contents of the book: 
"Aseneth, a virgin who has rejected numerous worthy suitors, falls in love with Joseph when he, as vizier of Egypt, visits her father. Joseph, however, rejects her as an unworthy idol worshiper. Aseneth then secludes herself in her tower, repents of her idolatry, confesses her sin, and embraces Joseph's God. Begging for God's acceptance, she then receives an angelic visitor (looking like Joseph), who assures her that her prayers are answered and that she is now a new creation. There follows a strange and extended ritual, where in order to confer on her immortality, the angel shares with Aseneth a magical honeycomb, and is told of her heavenly counterpart Metanoia (Repentance).

The honeycomb, which the angel marks with a cross, causes a swarm of bees to surround her, and some return to heaven though others die. The meaning and significance of this episode of the bees is uncertain, and appears to have some sort of connection to initiation rites of mystery religions. There may also be a connection with the otherwise mysterious name of the prophetess Deborah, literally bee, from one of the oldest parts of the Book of Judges. It is uncertain whether the involvement of a cross indicates a Christian influence or not.
Aseneth, promising to love, honour, and obey Joseph, is now seen as a potential wife by him, and the two marry and she bears him Ephraim and Manasseh. Then in the final chapters of the book, Pharaoh's son, in love with Aseneth himself, attempts to seize her, persuading Dan and Gad to assist him and kill Joseph. However, Benjamin, Joseph's loyal brother, foils the attempt, and Pharaoh's son receives fatal wounds. Aseneth forgives Dan and Gad, and Joseph and she go on to rule over Egypt."
  •  Another Jewish tradition claims that Asenath was really the daughter of Jacob's daughter Dinah, conceived during her rape by Shechem. Jacob's sons wanted to kill the baby but Jacob stopped them. Instead he put a gold plate around her neck with the story of her birth and sent her away. An angel orchestrated it so that she was found by Potipherah, the priest of the Egyptian city of On, who took her as his daughter. In this way, Jewish tradition claims, God provided Joseph with a bride of his own lineage even though he was living among pagans in Egypt. (source)

My Thoughts:

In some ways Asenth is the forgotten matriarch. We often talk about the faith of Sarah, the strength of Rebekah, or the patience of Rachel and acknowledge their  important role in establishing the house of Israel. Yet somehow Asenath is always forgotten. Perhaps it is because we know so little about her, or perhaps it is because she doesn't fit the stereotypical "matriarch" mold that she makes us uncomfortable.

One of the big questions about Asenath is why, after all the painstaking work God went through to ensure that Issac and Jacob married women among their own people that He then allowed Joseph, the birthright son of the Abrahamic covenant, to marry an Egyptian woman. Yet not just any Egyptian woman, an Egyptian woman who was also the daughter of a pagan priest. Scholars even think that Asenath's name in  Egyptian means "she who belongs to Neith (the goddess)".  It is likely that she had been taught from her youth to worship and sacrifice to the Egyptian Gods. Not exactly the type of woman you'd think God would entrust his covenant to, and certainly not the type of woman one would imagine to become a matriarch of the house of Abraham.

Yet she was.

In fact, for many Latter-day Saints who have received their patriarchal blessings and know they are from the lineage of Ephraim, Asenath is their matriarch. She is their link-- their branch-- in the family of Abraham.

So how do we explain Asenath?

In my opinion, some of the apocryphal "Joseph and Asenath" narrative seems a bit too fantastic to be authentic. Even so, I think that the overarching message of the book is true-- that  Asenath underwent a powerful conversion to the true gospel and the true and living God. We don't really know what Asenath's conversion story was, yet I think that the fruits of her life-- evidenced through her two sons--indicate that she was a woman who understood and taught her children to make and honor covenants with God.

She was fully converted.

I wouldn't be surprised if she did in deed, like the Joseph and Asentah narrative suggests, receive a visit from a heavenly being and receive divine instruction from heaven. God had a lot riding on Asenath. It was through her and Joseph's lineage that  the Abrahamic covenant had to be passed on in order for God to keep his promise to Abraham. God needed a woman who would teach her children and prepare them to receive and honor the blessings and responsibilities of His covenant.  He couldn't just leave things to chance. Several times in the scripture we read how, when God really needs to get someone to shape up, he provides them with sudden, unexpected, and miraculous conversions, like those of Paul and Alma the younger. It is beautiful to think of Asenath as being a female recipient of such a miraculous conversion experience. That just like Paul or Alma she turned her life around 180 degrees and became a strong, holy woman of God; a powerful force for truth that has echoed down through the ages to all of her posterity.

It is significant to me that one of the missions given to the tribe of Ephraim is to carry the message of the Restoration of the gospel to the world and to lead the gathering of the ten scattered tribes (Deut. 33:13–17D&C 64:36133:26–34). The children of Ephraim are to seek out those who are wandering in darkness and bring them to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and help receive their baptismal covenants.

 How fitting it is then that the mother of that tribe would be a convert herself.

Asenath is a beautiful reminder that whether we are born into the gospel or we are converted later in our lives, we each have the same privilege before God. God is no respecter of persons; and no matter your past--even if you happen to be the daughter of a pagan priest---he can build great and marvelous things through you.

"Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph" by  Rembrandt
Questions to Think About:
  • I love how Rembrandt depicts Asenath in this picture (above). How do you think she prepared her sons to receive the Abrahamic covenant? How do you think she felt when she saw her younger son receive the birthright instead of his older brother? 
  • What parallels do you see between her story and the stories of the other matriarchs, especially Rebekah's? 
  • Why do you think Asenath is the forgotten matriarch? 
  • How could Asenath's story be an example to new converts? What value do you see in her experiences? 
  • Have you ever witnessed someone undergo a miraculous conversion? How did it strengthen your faith? 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


For real.

I have been working on it for the last few months, but didn't know if I could tell anyone about it. But, since I just signed the contract that says they are going to publish something I write... or take a pound of my flesh... I figure I can let the secret out of the bag.

Several months ago Cedar Fort Publishing contacted me to see if I'd be interested in writing a book about Women in the New Testament. Even though I was a bit overwhelmed at the time (still am) I said I would. You see, for several years I've been getting inspiration for a book on women in the scriptures. Just a few months before they contacted me I'd even started to keep a detailed list in my scripture journal of all the women in the New Testament. I didn't know why, except that it seemed like a good idea. So when they asked me to write a book I knew that I shouldn't pass up the opportunity.

I am hoping this book will be a beautiful glimpse into the lives of the women of the New Testament. I want people to realize that these were REAL women, with real lives and real problems; there isn't a single problem modern women face that these women didn't also wrestle with. Okay, maybe they didn't have to worry about their cell phones falling out of their pocket into the toilet and other such technology related issues. But the big ones-- heartache, disappointment, marriage, children, divorce, abandonment, health problems, family feuds, birth, death, covenants, politics, priesthood, apostasy, old age, war-- they knew about those.  I hate it that so many of these women have been forgotten. I am hoping that I can intrigue people and inspire them to open up their scriptures and learn more about God's amazing daughters.

It is also going to have amazing art work. My talented friend Mandy Williams has been working on taking photographs of over a dozen women from the New Testament. She has been sending me her rough drafts and they are just amazing. It is going to be so awesome to see all these women all put together in a book. The photographs just make their stories come alive. I am really excited about it.

Though, we might be a bit crazy undertaking this together seeing as we both just had babies and we both have four children under the age of seven! Oh, and are both homeschooling. Maybe we are crazy (somedays it sure feels like it) but it is also miraculously coming together. Which sort of feels like a miracle. I think these women want their stories told. 

I already have several of the chapters written but I would love some help from you. What type of things would be valuable to you in a book about New Testament women? Which women would you like to see me write about (and see artwork of)? What type of information has been the most helpful for you on my blog, history, word origins, personal stories, gospel applications, etc? How can I get men to read it? 

I'd love some feedback. Some of the women I am including in the book I have already written about on my blog (which makes it easier) but many of them I haven't. I still have a lot of work to do! Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

So, if it is quiet around here the next few months just know I'm still working... and you'll be able to read it, beautifuily laid out with amazing art work, this time next year! 

Either that or I'll be one pound of flesh lighter.