Good and Bad Women in the Bible

Nixon, Naomi Jane (2005). Good and Bad Women in the Bible. BPhil thesis The Open University.



This study considers the division of women in the Bible into either ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’. This dichotomy obscures the fact that real women are a mixture of good and bad, and thus female readers of the Bible are denied realistic female role models and may be perceived as either ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ in the same way that biblical women are. Four women who display elements of this trend are analysed in detail, both in their stories and in the interpretation of those stories.

Ruth in is a heroine in her story and clearly her role must be that of a ‘Good’ woman. However, the demands of the ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ woman dichotomy mean she is cast as pure and unphysical since she is good. Her extraordinary assertiveness is reread as loyalty, her sexual forwardness becomes innocent obedience, and her pragmatism is interpreted as faith.

Gomer, wife of the prophet Hosea, is confused with Israel, the errant wife of God, in both the text and in commentary on it. Her own story is stifled as a result, and her humanity is exchanged for symbolism. Her guilt is paraded, while her extraordinary husband is compared to God.

Jephthah’s daughter is the nameless child who is sacrificed to complete a bargain. She is an unusual heroine but nevertheless her silence is called obedience and her death is celebrated as a national festival, yet her name is forgotten.

Delilah is the villainess of Samson’s story who defeats this strong leader from Israel and hence is a ‘Bad’ woman. Delilah’s victory seals her reputation: her frank questioning is called wily; her nationality is assumed to be that of the enemy and she is cast as the seductress extraordinaire, even though the text is silent about her sexuality.

The polarised conclusions of commentators analysed in this study are shown often to be simplistic or far-fetched. The study concludes by asserting the belief that the acknowledgement of the complex nature of these biblical women would help Christian women accept the complexities within themselves.

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