The Bible is “the bedrock of all Christianity” and women play some very key roles in the stories that it shares. Camille Fronk Olson has worked to highlight these female Bible characters as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Olson discussed some of what she has learned about the women of the New Testament through her studies and work in writing Women of the New Testament. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).
A big reason that Camille Fronk Olson focused on writing about women in the scriptures is that, as a woman, she connected with them in some significant ways. As she wrote:
I . . . recognized that as a woman I saw different details and asked different questions of the scriptural text than my male colleagues. This was particularly evident when it came to stories involving women in scripture.
This is part of why it is so important to listen to women in the Church – they bring different perspectives that can help enlighten our understanding.
In the interview, she shared some of what she observed as general patterns of the women discussed in the scriptures.
I don’t see a common theme or role for Biblical women. What I do see is the capacity of Biblical women to make significant contributions to God’s work even when in very limited or restricted circumstances.
In that way, I guess women are frequently rescuers—often of the men who lead. Even when many women were marginalized in their societies, they seemed to see more, hear more, and therefore learned and could teach more than if they were always in the forefront of the action.
In addition, she discussed how Jesus the Christ interacted with women:
Jesus seems to have viewed women as individuals—rather than an entity that is not a man. For the Savior, women every bit as much as men were individuals with agency to decipher truth, to follow or reject Him, and to minister to others or not.
He spoke directly to women as though He clearly saw them, rather than speaking about them to men. He trusted willing disciples, male and female, with divine truths and gave all those who were willing and believing important and difficult assignments.
His approach appears to have brought out the best in all His disciples.
Women are important in the New Testament.
Unfortunately, we don’t know as much as we might like when it comes to women in the scriptures. As Olson wrote:
Naturally the women we know most about stand out more than those we receive only a glimpse of, such as Mary the mother of Jesus, Elisabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the woman at the well, and the woman who touched the Savior’s hem.
Even then, we know very little about any of them.
They just aren’t discussed in as much detail as we would like.
Still, despite a lack of information at times, there is still a lot we can learn about these women and lives they experienced. Olson observed that:
I found primary sources about women in antiquity most interesting, but also rarer and subject to opinion because they were nearly always written by men. Better understanding the historical and cultural context was extremely helpful. I am a visual learner so being able to appreciate what life would have been like for women anciently engendered more sympathy and less judgmental attitudes when teasing out details of a story. . . .
I love immersing myself into a different time in my attempts to understand everyday life in that era. Therefore, any detail I learned about customs, laws, survival, or examples of women’s lives in the Roman Empire, whether they be Jew or Gentile women, was exciting and meaningful.
Context and information about the lives of women in the New Testament can be meaningful in better understanding them.
For more on women in the New Testament, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk to read the full interview with Camille Fronk Olson.