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Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sando Botticelli, 1490

Handmaids and Other Biblical Women: A Very Short Introduction

A handmaiden (or handmaid) is a female attendant, assistant, domestic worker (servant), or slave.  Norse goddesses (such as Frigga) had handmaidens, as did Biblical characters such as Leah.  Handmaiden was also a common euphemism for a concubine;  a man might use a handmaiden to bear his child if his wife was infertile--an example of this is the handmaiden (Bilhah) of the Biblical character Rachel, each of whom gave birth to one of Jacob's children.  Handmaidens also figure heavily in rites associated with the Wiccan religion.  In Ancient Egypt, the role of handmaiden was important to Egyptian religious practices.  One of the early gods, Atum, was supposed to have brought the world into being through self-fornication.  In subsequent ritual, a priestess would assist the priest in the ceremony, through the use of a carving representing Atum's penis.  These female priests were important within the ritual for they assisted in the creation of the world.  There are numerous references to prostitutes near or within the religious buildings.  This is a mistaken representation of their role, for the priestesses were, as well as of being "handmaidens," performed "sex magic rituals" related to sacred prostitution in the goddess temples.  It was believed that the culmination of the process of sex brought the participants closer to the higher plane where they could gain enlightenment.  In this role, these handmaidens were essential to the religious practices.

Source:  "Handmaiden."  Wikipedia, theFree Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  18 Nov. 2010.  Web.  19 Dec. 2010.  

Web Resources about Handmaidens and Other Biblical Women

Deborah: Bible

Score: 17

Summary: The Jewish Woman's Archive is an organization dedicated to delivering historically and biblically accurate information to interested female scholars and stay-at-home-moms alike. This site includes includes an article about the judge and biblical heroine, Deborah. This article describes the life and actions of Deborah as well as her impact on generations to come. There is a complete bibliography at the bottom of the article as well as biographical information about the author made available via a link. There are several links to other pages on other women and resources such as an encyclopedia, other stories, and an education tab where curriculum and such can be obtained.

Evaluation: Although some of the sources have publication dates that are a little dated, the article was published in 2009 and does not appear to be “behind the times”.  It is written by Tikya Frymer-Kensky who is a professor of Hebrew Bible and the History of Judaism in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, also taught in the Law School and the Committees on the Ancient Mediterranean World and Jewish Studies. Not only is she highly qualified, but her article looks at Deborah in an objective light and approaches her as a historical figure and the strong woman that she proved herself to be. This is a great source because it discusses a woman in the Bible who was a strong female leader and warrior, which often contrasts with many typical views of biblical women. The other resources made available on this site would also be very useful in further research on biblical women.


Score: 16

Summary: This article is about Sarah. She is one of the four matriarchs of the Jewish faith and she played a very important role in the shaping of the lineage of Jesus and the fathers of Isreal. This article is published by the Chabad Organization. The article fully describes the story of Sarah and Abraham. It discusses Sarah's decision to use a handmaid and her impact as a mother figure in the Jewish faith. The Torah and the Bible are referenced several times. There are several links to other information on early biblical personalities and information on the Jewish faith and holidays and so on.

Evaluation: Nissan Mindel is an author for the Chabad Organization. Of course, he has bias in his writing, but it does not cloud or overshadow the story of Sarah and her life. The article was published in 2011 and it cites the Torah and the Bible several times. This article looks at Sarah as a historical figure as well as a matriarch of the Jewish and Christian faiths. This website is also a very good resource for other information in the Bible. This website is very easy to navigate and the article is written in a way that Bible scholars would appreciate it and people who are completely new to researching the Bible or new to the people in the Bible can understand it.

“Gender, Class, and Androcentric Compliance in the Rapes of Enslaved Women in the Hebrew Bible”

Score: 16

Summary: The European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegesis includes an article entitled, "Gender, Class, and Androcentric Compliance in the Rapes of Enslaved Women in the Hebrew Bible." This article goes very in depth into the idea of whether or not “rape” is a term that can be used to describe the activities that went on centuries ago with people of another time and culture. In total, sixty three sources are cited and used to support the author's point of view. The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as well as the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. The article also elaborates on enslaved women and rape in nineteenth-century America. The amount of information presented on this topic is very sufficient.

Evaluation: Susanne Scholz is a well respected author and is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. She is clearly an expert on this topic and this area of study. The idea that the activities in the Hebrew Bible would be classified as rape is an interesting point an there is much scholarly evidence to either support or refute this point of view. The article was published in 2004, making it not very current; however, the overall premiss of the work is still relevant and interesting. Scholz is very extensive in her investigation into this topic and her article will without a doubt answer any questions regarding rape in the Hebrew Bible.


Score: 15

Summary: The offers several resources on a varied collection of people both in the Bible and the Torah. This particular article is on Hagar, the handmaid of Abraham and Sarah. This article gives biblical data, information on Hagar in rabbinical literature, a critical view of Hagar, and information on Hagar in Arabic literature. It is published on a site that is commercial. There are several links to resources on other people in the Torah or Bible and both the Torah and the Bible are cited frequently. The authors of this article also cite several other works including several commentaries on Genesis.

Evaluation: As previously stated, this website is commercial, but the actual article is written by two very credible experts in this field. For example, Solomon Schechter is the President of the Faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York City. The article offers many different views of Hagar and explores several aspects of her story. Updated in 2011, this article references many thoughtful sources. The information about Hagar in Arabic literature is especially unique and interesting. This adds variety to the descriptions of Hagar. This would be a useful and unique source for further research on Hagar and other handmaids.


Score: 15

Summary: The provides information on many, many people in the Bible and the Torah. One of these articles is “Rachel”. The reason two websites about Rachel is that this one includes information on Rachel and Leah as well as historical information on Rachel and her legacy. This site offers biblical data on Rachel, information on Rachel in rabbinical literature, her self-abnegation, and her “mourning for her children”. There are several links to other sources and articles on other people in the Torah and Bible.

Evaluation: Even though this is a commercial site, the article is written by two highly esteemed members of the jewish community. The article links to their biographical information and titles. The article was posted in 2002, which makes it quite dated, but information in the article more than likely would not change with time. The article is very scholarly and provides the reader with an abundance of information on Rachel and also includes information on Rachel and Leah and their relationship and story. All references are cited in either the Torah or the Bible. Also, the links to pictures are clearly marked and cited accordingly. This cite is a wonderful resource for information on women and all people in the Bible or the Torah.


Score: 14

Summary: The Jewish Woman website offers articles on several women in the Bible. One of these women is Rachel. An article posted on this website offers several views of the woman that Rachel was and what can be learned from her story. The purpose of this article is to basically teach a lesson through the story of Rachel, her desire for children, and her legacy as a mother figure for centuries to come. The article uses an anecdote at the beginning to outline the lesson of the story and then goes on to describe Rachel' story and her life. The author focuses more on Rachel as a real person than a historical figure and uses the tone of a novel instead of the tone of a historical piece of work. There are citations at the bottom of the article for the reader to investigate further.

Evaluation: Chana Weisberg is the author of this article. She is a noted author and lecturer in the Jewish community and she has also served as the dean of several female religious institutions over the years. She is certainly a qualified expert on this subject. Her take on the story of Rachel is not objective and her purpose in writing this article is to basically teach a lesson. The article would not be described as particularly scholarly, but it looks at the story of Rachel in a different light and really tries to capture the spirit of the story as well as the lesson in it. It explains her life very well and uses simple language that is clear and easy to understand. Updated in 2011, this source provides a unique perspective that the reader can either accept or reject, but regardless the reader will learn more about Rachel and her story.

Women of the Bible

Score: 14

Summary: This site is an encyclopedia of women mentioned in the Bible. No matter how small or large the role any woman played, if she was mentioned, she has an excerpt on the WebBible Encyclopedia site. In total, there are 188 names listed and linked to a short explanation of who they were, who they were married to or what role they played. The site also provides links to other categories such as Queens, profits, books of the Bible, places and even animals in the Bible. There is also a link to explore whether the Bible supports gender exclusive language. Each entry that is posted is cited with specific passage numbers and links to online versions of the Bible. The site offers much variety.

Evaluation: Because this site is like an encyclopedia, there are no authors listed. It is sponsored by Eden Communications, who is a well respected publisher in the Christian community. The site was updated in 2011, making it current. The lack of authorship and presence of bias are the only weaknesses of this site. Otherwise it is a wonderful resource on a variety of topics and especially for all the women in the Bible. It gives very brief descriptions that could be referenced very quickly if need be. The use of citations makes the information given factual in that it was taken straight from the Bible. A very useful tool and place to begin when researching the women of the Bible.

Exploring Ruth

Score: 13

Summary: The purpose of the article, “Exploring Ruth”, is to assist a reader in the exploration of the book of Ruth in the Bible. It covers several aspects of the story and book of Ruth, such as reoccurring themes and an outline of the book. Many citations are given, so it would be easy for a reader to follow along and use this site as a resource. This article is posted on a site sponsored by Grace Communion International, whose purpose is to “proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Their mission is “living and sharing the gospel. The cite also includes several links to other pages about women in the Bible and how to read stories that include these women. There are many links to other historical books of the Bible also listed.

Evaluation: Although there is no specific author given, the information is posted by a credible, well known Christian organization. This of course means that there is bias included, but it does not interfere with the helpful nature of this article. The purpose of this article is to assist a reader with the reading of the book of Ruth and to provide a base knowledge on the character of Ruth and her story before the reader begins. This site succeeds at both of these purposes. The article also has many citations included with a disclaimer that all scripture, unless otherwise indicated, was from the NIV version of the Bible. The article and site were updated in 2011, which leads the reader to believe it is current and relevant information. Even though the article includes bias and does not have an author that is specifically stated, it is still a good resource.

What Does the Bible Say About…Concubines?

Score: 11

Summary: This site answers the question, “What does the Bible say about concubines?” Concubine in this instance is used as a synonym for handmaid. It offers many passages where the reader can check the accuracy of the information given and further reading if the reader is interested. The answer to this question is very concise and simple. It can be understood by readers with any level of Bible knowledge or understanding. Also offered are several links to other articles and answers to other questions about the Bible. Audio files are also offered. This article's purpose is to inform the reader of the biblical answer to what the Bible says about handmaids and concubines.

Evaluation: Timothy O'Hearn is the author of this article. No biographical information is given on him, yet his writing is based on scripture that he cites throughout the article. Although the article contains some bias, the answer is mostly based on historical precedent and current opinions among biblical scholars in the Christian community. The cite is low scoring because of the lack of credentials of the author and because of the fact that it was last updated in 2005. Even though this was six years ago, information taken directly from the Bible does not change with time. What does change with time are interpretations. It is likely that in the last six years some information on this subject that is more up to date has come along; however, this cite is still credible and useful. The answer to a relatively simple question should be simple. This article is very concise and easy to understand. It would clear up any confusion concerning whether handmaids conflict with the Christian faith or are condoned by it.

Bible Top Ten: Heroines

Score: 11

Summary: Elizabeth Fletcher authors the site “Bible Top Ten: Heroines.” This site provides information on some of the most significant and heroic women of the Bible. It briefly gives a run down of who they were, what their story is and how they impacted history and Christianity or Judaism. Some of these women are generally well known and others are more obscure. For example, the story of Ruth is included. She has a book in the Bible named after her and her story is fairly popular. Also described is the story of Jael. She is lesser known, yet she still played an important role in the Bible. Fletcher also provides links to websites with further information either on the heroine's story or someone with whom heroine was involved. Furthermore, there is a link to the homepage where information on other people in the Bible are described and other resources are offered.

Evaluation: A former religion teacher and author of the book Women in the Bible: A Historical Approach, Elizabeth Fletcher is not well known and her webpage is personal and not sponsored by any organization or business; however, she appears qualified and knowledgeable about what she writes. Her information is not always directly cited, but she offers links to websites where the information is either directly cited or cited in general throughout. This cite offers a wonderful variety of simple information about biblical heroines. It provides readers with a base knowledge they might not possess. The access to further information about people in the Bible is also a valuable resource. Although there is no mention of when the cite was last updated, the information provided is unlikely to change seeing as it was pulled directly from the Bible. Overall, this source may not be absolutely credible, but it is very helpful and easy to understand.

Content created by Rachel Brooker.