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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Esther, Queen of Persia

Setting:  Esther’s story occurs during the rule of the Persian Empire (559 BC-330 BC) approximately:

  • 50 years after the decree of Cyrus in 538 BC announcing that exiled Jews could return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1);
  • 40 years after the temple was rebuilt; and
  • 30 years before the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem, which is detailed in the book of Nehemiah.  [See Halley’s Bible Handbook.]
Der Wiederaufbau des Tempels zu Jerusalem unte...

Der Wiederaufbau des Tempels zu Jerusalem unter Esra und Nehemia. Feder in Schwarz über Spuren von Bleistift auf Velin. 14,8 x 14,3 cm. In brauner Feder monogrammiert “JSC” und mit schwarzer Feder datiert “d. 3 Apr. 47”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is helpful to read Ezra, Esther, and Nehemiah
as a unit to get the feel for the unfolding of momentous historical events during this period of time.

Timeline (Archaeological Study Bible, Esther, p 714):

586 BC  Fall of Jerusalem

539 BC  Persia’s conquest of Babylon

538 BC  First return of exiles to Jerusalem

486-465 BC  Xerxes’ reign in Persia

479 BC  Esther’s reign in Persia

458 BC  Ezra to Jerusalem

445 BC  Nehemiah to Jerusalem

445 BC  Jerusalem’s wall rebuilt

Map showing extent of Achaemenid Empire 559 - ...

Map showing extent of Achaemenid Empire 559 – 330 (BC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A working schedule

Now with a couple of weeks logged in, I wanted to let you know the working plan for future posts. New material will post on the home page Mondays through Thursdays with additional information on the other pages as it applies or is relevant.

New URL

There is a new URL for this site: https://womenfromthebook.com/. It is my understanding that any attempts to connect via the old WordPress URL will automatically link to the new address.

Coming next week….

Next week we’ll take a look at the life of Queen Esther from a different angle.There is a back story to her statement, “If I perish, I perish” and I hope you will find the next posts (including another Q &A) interesting and revealing.

Until next time…

Thanks for checking in…nothing beats a journey of discovery in the company of friends!

 

Memory Checker Update

In a recent post, “Also Known As,” I mentioned there are at least six New Testament personalities who had their names changed, had nicknames, or were known by two names. Here is my list:

  • Simon/Peter (Matthew 4:18); Cephas (John 1:42)
  • James and John/ Boanerges or Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17)
  • Joses/Barnabas (Acts 4:36)
  • Tabitha/Dorcas (Acts 9:36)
  • Simeon/Niger (Acts 13:1)
  • Saul/Paul (Acts 13:9)

Memory Checker Challenge

There are at least seven individuals in the Old Testament with name changes. What are their other names?

Abram (Genesis 17:5)

Sarai (Genesis 17:15)

Jacob (Genesis 32:28)

Naomi (Ruth 1:19-20)

Daniel (Dan. 1:6-7)

Hananiah

Mishael

Azariah

Can you think of more?

What’s in a name?

Wikipedia estimates there are 2600 proper names mentioned in the Bible. Whole studies have been done on Bible names and their meanings. The general consensus is that proper names emanated from such things as national heritage, religious influences, family characteristics, physical characteristics, or the names of natural objects such as plants and animals.

What about Tabitha, who is generally known as Dorcas?

English: Gazella dorcas neglecta (Dorcas gazel...

English: Gazella dorcas neglecta (Dorcas gazelle) in the Zoo de Madrid, Spain. Español: Gazella dorcas neglecta (gacela dorcas) en el Zoo Aquarium de Madrid, España. Galego: Gazella dorcas neglecta no Zoo Aquarium de Madrid, España. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sources agree that the name Tabitha is the Aramaic form of the Hebrew name which means a “female gazelle.” The gazelle was regarded in the East, among both Jews and Arabs, as a standard of beauty. The word properly means “beauty.” Luke gives Dorcas as the Greek equivalent of the name.

Carol Meyers, General Editor of Women in Scripture (2000 “Tabitha”) comments: “The name [Tabitha] itself appears to have originated as a nickname, rather than as a proper name. Its use is attested in rabbinic traditions thought to date to the late first century C.E., where it appears to have been common among the slave population; it is possible that Tabitha herself was either a slave or a freedwoman of slave origins” (160).

Meyers’s comment peaked my curiosity, but since she does not cite her specific source regarding rabbinic traditions, and I have not been able to verify this, it remains just that—an interesting but thus far unsubstantiated possibility.

How flax was made into linen on the frontier

I wish there had been YouTube in the New Testament times.  Just think what we could learn!  I found this video helpful to demonstrate how labor intensive the process of turning flax into linen was, even as late as the 1700s. Imagine what it must have been like during Dorcas’s time.

Dorcas: exploring her service and her craft

Was Dorcas a poor widow or a woman of means?

The scriptures don’t say if Dorcas supported herself by weaving and did charitable works on the side, or if she had enough means to serve the widows without earning a living.

That she was “full of good works and charitable deeds” might mean she was free to devote herself full-time to doing good, or it may indicate she was fully committed to doing good deeds with the time available to her.

That the widows mourned her death and showed Peter the things she had made “while she was with them” may indicate she, too, was a widow and among a group of widowed ladies who encouraged and supported one another.

Whether Dorcas owned a weaving business or made garments for charitable purposes, she practiced her craft. The Holman Bible Dictionary under the topic of “Cloth and Clothing” states that the “Book of Proverbs depicts a woman who spends much time spinning and weaving of fabric.”

Unger’s Bible Dictionary states, “The making of clothes among the Israelites was always the business of the housewives, in which women of rank equally took part” (p. 319).

In her hometown of Joppa, would Dorcas have been known as a “weaver” or a “seamstress”?

Dorcas would have been known as a weaver.  Weaving was common in Israelite homes—primarily the business of women. Families made their own fabrics for garments, sails, tents, covers and curtains. Widows who owned looms were known to support themselves by weaving.

A garment such as a tunic could be woven without a seam. Jesus’ tunic is described as seamless (John 19:23-24). His tunic was woven without a seam and valuable enough that the soldiers casts lots for it. The cloak they divided into four parts. Christ’s cloak may have been constructed by seaming together four smaller woven panels. The word “divided” is used rather than “ripped” or “torn.”

Iron needles were common, so weavers were able to sew larger garments from smaller panels of fabric woven on a household loom.

Did men and women wear the same kind of clothes?

Men and women wore tunics under their outer garments. Their cloaks differed slightly in materials or length, but both men and women wore loose, flowing attire. The word translated “garment” in Greek also means apparel, cloak, clothes, robe, dress and vesture (Strong’s 1440). Illustrators and commentaries describe a tunic as the garment worn under the outer cloak, which may have sleeves.

The main distinction between the dress of men and women had to do with veils and headdress (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 320).

Was Dorcas a member of a weavers’ guild?

Scripture doesn’t say if Dorcas was an independent weaver or a guild member. It is likely that weavers’ guilds existed in large towns. Holman’s Online Bible Dictionary states that weavers were professionals and specialists in particular types of work:  weaving, designing and embroidering.

Whether or not Dorcas belonged to a guild, she was probably acquainted with all aspects of her craft. Scripture states that she made “tunics and garments,” the ordinary clothing worn by poor widows. She may have produced festive and decorative garments, too, but attention is called to the everyday clothing she made.

The most popular home loom in Dorcas’ time was a “warp weighted loom.” Threads were attached to a horizontal beam at the top of this small vertical loom. The threads were held to the ground by stones or hunks of clay called “loom weights.” The weaving proceeded from top to bottom (Holman On-line Bible Dictionary, “Spinning and Weaving”).

What were clothes made of?

The most common fibers used in clothing were linen from the flax plant and wool. Flax grew wild in Palestine and was domesticated in Galilee, Egypt, and Syria.  Cotton grew in Egypt on tree-like plants and was expensive. Cotton and silk were used in clothing for the wealthy.

The linen industry at the time of Christ was highly esteemed (Jewish Encyclopedia, “Flax”). The finest linen came from Egypt and Syria, but Galilee produced a very acceptable quality of linen. Flax fibers are stronger than cotton although less elastic. Of golden color and lustrous, the flax fibers when woven into linen repels insects and dirt. When properly prepared, linen resists shrinkage and is cool to wear. The production of linen, however, was labor-intensive.

“Flax was planted in…November and gathered almost four months later. It had to be separated from its seeds, bunched, retted, laid in the sun, and immersed in water to bleach and soften it for crushing. The flax fibers were beaten out of the woody portions, and it was drawn by a comb like implement into thread for weaving on looms” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 778).

Likely Dorcas spun her own thread from the prepared flax, as there are many biblical references to spinning thread. The prepared, flax fibers were gathered loosely and twisted by hand to make thread or twisted on a spindle, a hand-held twirler that draws out the thread (Prov. 31:19). The earliest drawings of spinning wheels come from China and Baghdad in the 11th century (Wikipedia, “Spinning Wheel”), so Dorcas did some form of hand spinning.

After the fibers were spun into thread, the women loaded their home looms with the threads and wove them into fabric. Linen panels were sewn into loose fitting cloaks.  Linen threads were woven as one-piece into tunics, scarves, and headdresses.

The natural linen fabric was cream, ecru, and shades of beige. The festive garments were dyed purple, blue, and red. Natural dyes from plants, insects and marine life created a variety of colored fabrics. Skilled clothiers decorated white festive garments with shells, stripes of colored material, gold, silver and jewels.

What does this background add to our understanding?

The widows greatly valued the clothing Dorcas made for them. Hers was a labor of love. Working with flax, the primarily fabric of her day, was labor intensive. If she supported herself by weaving, the garments she made for the poor were done with the time she had after regular work.

If she didn’t run a clothing business, her weaving efforts were still significant. The widows acknowledged that by showing Peter the things she made.

Scripture does not say that her good works and charitable deeds were limited to making garments.

Tomorrow a behind-the-scenes look

Tomorrow Mary Hendren, a good friend and fellow writer, provides a behind-the-scenes look at Dorcas’s charitable deeds. You might be surprised to learn what all was involved.

Mary, an avid student of the Bible and the wife of a minister, is a  mother and grandmother. She says, “I am interested in gardening and volunteer at the Corpus Christi Botanical Garden. I enjoy photography and reading books about history and travel.”

Meet Dorcas

Acts 9:36-43

36 At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha , which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. 37 But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. 39 Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha , arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. 43 So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner. NKJV

Preface

The Church of God was in its infancy, growing daily as the apostles preached and members spread the word in their own communities. It also faced great persecution from threatened Jewish authorities, often at the direction of a man named Saul (Paul).

When the astonishing word of Paul’s conversion spread, those who had fled for their lives reacted first with fear and disbelief, and then pure relief. It was the mid 30s AD, and “… the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).

Her city

While the Bible doesn’t refer to a specific church at Joppa, it does mention disciples and saints who lived there (Acts 9:38, 41). It is an ancient city with a history. Joppa was part of the territory assigned to Dan; it was the delivery port for wood floated down from Lebanon for Solomon’s palace and temple (II Chron. 2:16); and it was the ancient seaport from which Jonah tried to run from God (Jonah 1:3). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAuST_p03h0&feature=related

Even pirates roamed its waters from time to time. Josephus mentions Joppa’s rough shores contributing to shipwrecks and death (The Wars of the Jews, Book 3, Chapter 9:3)—a likely cause of widowhood for some in Joppa. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pejcOWYE2fU

Her story

To the eye of a casual observer, Joppa probably looked and functioned like any other city of its size. But within its hustle and bustle, a disciple named Tabitha* (Dorcas in the Greek) earned a reputation for doing good works and charitable deeds. Was she a philanthropist who supported local widows out of her own resources, or did she belong to a community of widows that was active among the disciples at Joppa? Whichever the case, the Scriptures record that she made tunics and garments as at least part of her charitable deeds.

Then “it came to pass in those days that she was sick and died” (Acts 9:37). The disciples in Joppa knew Peter was in nearby Lydda, some ten miles away. Knowing of the miracles that often accompanied his preaching, they sent two men to the Apostle imploring him to come to Joppa quickly.

Arriving a few hours later, grief-stricken widows greeted Peter, mourning the loss of their beloved friend. Clearing the room where she lay, Peter prayed and said, “Tabitha, arise.” She opened her eyes, her life restored! Word of the miracle quickly spread throughout the environs, and “many believed in the Lord” (verse 42).

Afterwards

Peter remained in Joppa for a time and another miracle occurred—the vision that led to the opening of salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 10). And though the church at large continued to grow, rumblings of discontent and fears of sedition troubled the land. Jewish unrest grew under the tightening control of the Romans, making confrontations inevitable and frequent. Military forces moved down the coast of Palestine, burning and destroying cities as they went. In the fall of 66 AD, an army was ordered to take the walled city of Joppa by surprise, and keep it, if possible.

Meeting with no resistance, Josephus records that “soldiers fell on them, and slew them all, with their families [some 8,400 residents by his account], and then plundered and burned the city” (Wars of the Jews, Book 2.Ch.18,10). And so the place that had witnessed the mighty works of God a few decades earlier was no more.

The Bible is silent as to the fate of Dorcas and the rest of the saints in Joppa. But her story continues to bear witness, to any who might care to read, of the miraculous power of God and, of a woman who ministered, not with words, but with charitable deeds.

*Referred to as Dorcas throughout.

Dorcas: The Historical Backdrop

The birth of the church

Fifty days after Jesus’ last Passover, a tremendous miracle occurred. On the day of Pentecost His disciples gathered together, waiting as instructed for “the promise of the Father.” First they heard a sound from heaven as of a “rushing mighty wind,” and then tongues of fire sat upon each of them filling them with the Holy Spirit. Devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem were drawn to the source of the commotion, astounded to hear the disciples proclaiming the wonderful works on God in the listener’s own language.

This event marked the beginning of the New Testament church and the spreading of the Gospel message . It also marked the beginning of a concerted effort by Jewish authorities to stamp out this movement before it gained traction.

Reactions to Peter’s powerful sermon recorded in Acts 2 didn’t help matters.  Three thousand were baptized (verse 41). Jewish authorities watched and fretted as the apostles continued preaching and 5000 more believed (Acts 4:4). Multitudes in Jerusalem became disciples, including priests (Acts 6:7). And eventually converts became churches that spread throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31). Something had to be done!

Futile efforts

To start with, the Sadducees, angered by what Peter and John were preaching, had them arrested. This only served to galvanize the believing multitude and fueled its determination to stay together and care for one another’s needs (Acts 4:32-37).

The Sadducees and the high priest, indignant at the signs and wonders done by the apostles and at the continuing increase of converts, again had the apostles put in prison. God responded by miraculously setting them free (5:19-25).

The Jews’ frustration and outrage grew murderous, and human lives were on the line.

The first martyr

Stephen, one of seven men selected to administer the care of poor widows, was full of faith and power, and did great wonders and signs among the people (6:8). He also was a powerful speaker and apologist, which ultimately led to his stoning and death. His martyrdom signaled the beginning of great persecution on the church, often at the hands of a man named Saul (Paul). Relentlessly he wreaked “havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (8:3).

A change in direction

God had other plans for Saul. Acts 9 contains the account of God’s intervention and Paul’s conversion. His misguided, hurtful zeal quenched, Paul himself began to further the spread of the Gospel, giving welcome relief to the persecuted fledgling church. The Bible says, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (9:31).

And Dorcas?

It is possible that Dorcas was among those converted during this time. The Bible doesn’t say.

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