I remember when I first read Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice as a middle school or high school student. I was awed by the intelligent and cunning way that Portia saves Antonio from losing a pound of flesh to Shylock. It was the first time I remember reading of a woman using her intellectual and verbal skills to achieve an important end.
I thought of Portia in connection with R. Geoffrey Harris’ reminder in Mission in the Gospels of the many “wise women of the Bible who overcome dismissive male attitudes by the use of wit, cunning and intelligence – qualities much admired in the Middle East in Jesus’ time.” In the New Testament, the Syrophoenician woman in Mark’s Gospel overcomes Jesus’ reluctance to heal her daughter since she is not part of the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel. In the Old Testament, Esther uses skill and diplomacy to persuade the king to kill Haman, who has plotted to destroy the Jews in Persia. A woman “maneuvers King David into changing his mind about the banishment of Absolom.” Ruth and Naomi plan and manage Ruth’s future with Boaz. And so on.
We aren’t often enough reminded of these women. But they are there. They are part of our history. We, particularly the women among us, could benefit from remembering their deeds and from remembering that the blood of all the Ruths and Naomis and Esther’s, and all of our soul sisters who have come before us, flows through our veins.