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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Purple

And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.

 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us. (Acts 16:13-15)

In one paragraph, Luke introduces Lydia, the first lady converted through Paul’s preaching in Philippi. Lydia owned a business and a home. She hosted Paul and his companions while they were in Philippi. Scholars have studied her name, her business, and her role in the church at Philippi to enhance Luke’s description.

Person or place?

Commentators say the lady’s proper name may not have been Lydia. She may have been known as the Lydian woman because she came from the region of Lydia in Asia Minor. Although Lydia might have been her proper name, “it seems more likely that it merely means ‘the Lydian,’ and that it was the designation by which she was originally known in Philippi.” [1] Some commentators propose that the lady was actually either Euodia or Syntyche referred to in Phil.4:2.[2]  Luke identified her as Lydia, a common name for women in Phoenicia at one time, and mentioned no other name for her.

Her heritage

Was she a Jew? Based on the words that she was “a worshiper of God,” scholars believe Lydia was not a Jew by birth but was a Jewish proselyte.[3]  Lydia kept the Sabbath. She was among the women who assembled by the riverside and heard Paul preach about Jesus Christ.

Her trade

What did it mean to be a “seller of purple”? Did she sell dye? Purple cloth? Purple garments? Scholars say she could have sold any of these items or a combination of them all and be considered a “seller of purple.” One source suggests she sold cloth and garments of deep turkey red, commonly made in her hometown of Thyatira.

From snails to dye

Spiny dye-murex used to make purple in Pliny's day

Spiny dye-murex used to make purple in Pliny’s day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The remarkable Tyrian purple was made from a secretion of the predatory sea snail, Murex brandaris. Murex snails flourished in the eastern Mediterranean along the coast of Phoenicia. The Tyrians learned a “secret method of extracting the glandular substance from which dye was produced.” The Roman writer Vitruvius stated that Tyrian “purple exceeds all colors in costliness and superiority of its delightful effect.”[4] Because thousands of snails were crushed to produce a small amount of dye, it was expensive. Until the Murex snails were over-harvested, the wealth of Tyre was based primarily on the manufacture of dye and trade in purple cloth.

Commercial centers

Tyre operated a famous dye-works. Purple silk from Tyre was the finest fabric available. Wearing Tyrian purple garments—silk, cotton, or wool—symbolized power. “There was great demand for this fabric as it was used on the official toga at Rome and in Roman colonies.”[5]

Thyatira, a city in the region of Lydia, also operated a dye-works, and it was famous for the color red. Dyers in Thyatira used a red vegetable dye made from madder root. “The waters of Thyatira are said to be so well adapted to dyeing that in no place can the scarlet cloth of which fezes are made be so brilliantly or so permanently dyed as here.”[6] The dyers developed a process involving “sumac and oak galls, calf’s blood, sheep’s dung, oil, soda, alum and a solution of tin” (“Rubia,” Wikipedia). In time the Lydian guilds produced purple cloth that competed with the fabric of Tyre. It was said that the Lydians were “celebrated for their dyeing, in which they inherited the reputation of the Tyrians.”[7]

To summarize, scholars suggest Lydia (the Lydian lady) sold purple fabric that was woven and dyed in Thyatira, from dye manufactured in Tyre.

What do I believe?

I believe Lydia was a wise and influential person. I think she had good business sense and an eye for quality. I imagine she traveled to Tyre and Thyatira on buying trips and related interesting travel stories. I picture her as competent in what she undertook, thorough in following procedures, and a good negotiator.

I believe God is amazing. He created a unique snail which supplied a gorgeous purple that would clothe the mighty (Revelation 17:4) and would figure in the rise and fall of a great empire (Ezekiel 27:7; Isaiah 23:8). He arranged for a seller of that purple to hear Paul preach on the Sabbath. He opened her mind and the minds of those in her household. With them He began the Church of God in Philippi.  ♦ Mary Hendren


[1] “Lydia,” The Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible

[2] “The conversion of Lydia,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

[3] “Lydia,” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary

[4] “Hexaplex trunculus,” Wikipedia

[5] “Note, Acts 16:14,” Robertson Word Pictures, on-line

[6] “Thyatira,” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary

[7] “Note on Acts 16:14,” JFB on-line

P & A Tent Makers

The Jews in Rome were fighting with one another about the person of Jesus Christ. Was He the Messiah, or was He not? To end this religious disturbance, Emperor Claudius issued an edict expelling all Jews from Rome.  “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] banished them from Rome” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, 1981 Edition, p. 481).  Priscilla and Aquila, Jewish Christians, packed up their business and moved to Corinth.

It is fortunate that their tent making business was portable and could be set up in elsewhere. Tent making at that time was a respected and profitable business. Priscilla and Aquila appear to have been joint owners of the business, and it is likely they set up shop in central Corinth.

How large was their shop? Historians say that prosperous tent makers hired subcontractors: weavers, leather workers and assemblers. After a time in Corinth, their shop probably expanded and employed a number of workers. Expositor’s Commentary states that Priscilla and Aquila “owned a tent making and leather-working firm, with branches in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1981 Edition, Vol. 9, p. 481).

What kind of tents did they make? Several kinds of tents were commonly made at the time: black goat hair tents, small leather tents for soldiers, woven linen canopies for shade, and umbrellas. Consistently the commentaries mention goat hair tents, and if their tent making business produced goat hair tents along with leather/skin tents, they would have employed leather workers, spinners, weavers, and those skilled at sewing woven panels into tents.

Goat hair tents are still manufactured today (“The Goat Hair Tent”). Commentators state that the skills required to make today’s woven tents are the methods that have been passed on from craftsmen in ancient times.

However, the kind of tents manufactured by the business is not what’s really important in their story. The tent making profession linked Priscilla and Aquila with the apostle Paul and opened for them a remarkable interval of Christian service. Paul met them when he applied to work as a journeyman tentmaker in their shop. He came to Corinth on a missionary journey and planned to support himself as a tentmaker. What a God-ordained association: Paul was led to tentmakers, Christians, who were probably converted in Rome. Theirs must have been a productive friendship as Paul refers to them as “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3).

Nowhere in Paul’s letters does he ever mention concern for how the couple functioned as business partners, how they treated him or how they served as hosts of the churches that met in their homes. When Paul left for Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila went with him. Commentators suggest they left Corinth to open a branch in Ephesus. They may have left as a business decision, but they traveled with Paul. Scripture does not give the reason they relocated to Ephesus or what financial aid they gave Paul in his ministry there.

Priscilla and Aquila remained in Ephesus four or five years and hosted a congregation of believers in their home (1Cor. 16:19). They were probably present or involved in helping Paul during the riot provoked by Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 19:21-41). Paul may have had this frightening episode in mind when he wrote that Priscilla and Aquila “risked their own necks for my life.”

While in Ephesus, they met the great Jewish orator, Apollos, who spoke fervently from the scriptures about God’s way and the baptism of John. They quietly instructed him about the essentials of the Christian way so that Apollos was able to speak with greater accuracy and completeness.  Apollos later became an apostle and an eloquent preacher of the gospel.

Commentators such as Richard Longnecker (Expositor’s,  p.481) suggest that Priscilla may have had important Roman connections. She may have been a citizen. Aquila may have been a freed slave or of lower social standing than his wife. Her name may be first because of her social standing or her financial backing of the tent making business. We don’t know.

We do know that Priscilla and Aquila returned to Rome after Claudius died and hosted a church of believers in their home. We know their names are always linked together in business, in marriage and in Christian service. They were an exemplary couple who fulfilled the roles God prepared for them. They made an inestimable contribution to Christianity by supporting the work of the apostle Paul, by caring for believers, and by preparing Apollos for his powerful ministry.♦ Mary Hendren

***

Tradition holds that Priscilla and Aquila were both martyred; however the accounts of their martyrdom are vague, sketchy and contradictory.

Bible women and the workplace

Women’s Work

Today it is not uncommon to ask a new  acquaintance, “Do you work?” This usually provides a hook for further conversation. The obvious answer is yes, for all women work carrying out the necessities for daily life. The subtext of the query is, are you employed and what do you do?

Working for survival

Working away from home for money is rather a modern concept in the history of women. After all, it was only during and after World War 2 that women began to figure prominently in the workplace in the United States. For thousands of years women (and children) of the world have worked in the home and alongside men in their fields or businesses in order to keep family and community alive.

How good is the pay?

It is likely that if Old Testament women received pay for their labors it was in the form of rations of food and grain, thereby shoring up reserves necessary for survival until the next growing season.

Insignificant job?

Much of a woman’s time anciently was spent tending a family, and growing, cooking, and preserving food. If she was not diligent in carrying out her responsibilities, the results could be deadly.

Carol Myer, a Professor of Religion at Duke University, comments in her book Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context: “The amount of labor needed for processing food and cooking would take up most of the women’s time.  However, just because the women worked mostly in the home to provide food did not mean that it was an insignificant job.  Actually, it was a very important job…because it meant that women were in charge of rationing the food that the family had.  If the woman could not ration the food appropriately, then the family would starve come winter.”

New Testament times

By the time of the first century, women had ventured further into arena of  business and commerce.  Author Lynn H. Cohick observes, “We must not imagine women, especially poor women (who with poor men made up the vast majority of the ancient world), tucked away in their homes, secluded from economic activity. Inscriptions, epitaphs, and visual art all suggest the active presence of women in the economy of the ancient world” (Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 2009, page 241).

Bible examples

English: Pharaoh and the Midwives, miniature o...

English: Pharaoh and the Midwives, miniature on vellum from the Golden Haggadah, Catalonia, early 14th century, at the British Library, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are a few examples of women who worked in various positions within their communities:

  • Nehemiah 3:12 Shallum and his daughters “made repairs” during the rebuilding in Jerusalem.
  • Judges 4:4, 4 Deborah functioned as a judge.
  • Exodus 1:15, 16 Shiphrah and Puah were midwives.
  • Proverbs 31 contains several examples of a woman skilled not only in managing a home but one who was knowledgeable in the world of trade, real estate, and commerce.

***

In the next posts, Mary Hendren will visit a couple of New Testament women known for their commercial ventures. Much discussion of women during the first century focuses on these two, Lydia and Priscilla, as they are the prominent examples of businesswomen of the time.

Next week: Bible women in the world of commerce

We’ve wrapped up our look at Jezebel and her world. It was quite a journey, and undoubtedly there is still more to learn. For the time being, though, I’ll have to put her in my “To be Continued” file.

Next week WomenfromtheBook investigates women and the world of commerce within the unique social contexts of their day. The Woman’s Study Bible lists ten types of businesses that involved women from both the Old and New Testaments. Can you name any or all of them?

Mary Hendren takes us into the world of two businesswomen, Priscilla and Lydia, and gives us fascinating insights as to how they functioned in the world of commerce.

Thanks for stopping by. This journey is so much nicer in the company of friends.

English: Autumn fallen leaves of Zelkova serra...

English: Autumn fallen leaves of Zelkova serrata 日本語: 枯葉 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Evil meets its end

In the last post, Israel’s decline into Baal worship accelerated at Jezebel’s behest. What was the attraction that kept luring Israel into idolatry?

It’s about weather

For one thing, Baal was associated with weather, and his consort, Asherah, with fertility. Since rain was essential for survival, keeping in Baal’s good graces was imperative to staving off drought and famine.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “The worship of Baal in Syria-Palestine was inextricably bound to the economy of the land which depends on the regularity and adequacy of the rains. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, which depend on irrigation, the Promised Land drinks water from the rain of heaven (Deut. 11:10–11). During the summer months the rains cease, but the temporary drought is no threat unless it is abnormally prolonged. Figs and grapes ripen during the dry season and the grain harvest also takes place before the rains resume. In a normal good year, when the rains come in due season, there is no hiatus in productivity, for the land yields its increase, the trees produce their fruit, the threshing overlaps, the vintage overlaps the sowing, and there is food aplenty, prosperity, and peace (Lev. 26:4–6). But not all years are good, and in a bad year, or a series of bad years, when the rains fail, the skies become like iron, the land like brass, and man’s toil is futile for the earth will not yield its increase (Lev. 26:19–20). A series of bad years, which were apparently believed to come in seven-year cycles (cf. Gen. 41; II Sam. 1:21), would be catastrophic. Thus in any year anxiety about the rainfall would be a continuing concern of the inhabitants which would suffice to give rise to rites to ensure the coming of the rains. Thus the basis of the Baal cult was the utter dependence of life on the rains which were regarded as Baal’s bounty.”

Whatever it takes

Slavish adherents participated in fertility rites (temple prostitution), and offered human sacrifices in hopes of blessings. “Corrupt, sensual practices involved in the worship of Baal were observed throughout the country, as Jezebel demanded that her god be considered equal to Israel’s God. Her insistence on the equality of Baal with God brought her into direct conflict with Elijah, the prophet of God” (The Woman’s Study Bible, topic “Jezebel”).

Who is the God of rain?

Clearly the Lord God of Israel had had enough (1 Kings 16:33). He answered the effrontery of this vile couple in no uncertain terms. First, He sent Elijah to Ahab with an ominous message: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Jezebel responded by ordering the massacre of the prophets of the Lord (18:4).

In a second meeting with Ahab, Elijah (by God’s instruction) issued a challenge: Gather the children of Israel, the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table (18:18-19), and let’s see whose God/god is God. The rest of the chapter chronicles dramatic events confirming the power of YHWH. Israel, convinced by His miracles, proclaimed,“the Lord, He is God!” (v 39), and Elijah summarily dispatched the odious prophets of Baal (v 40). In His mercy, the true God of rain ended the distress of a three-year drought.

The queen was not amused

Frustrated and incensed by the humiliating failure of her priests, Jezebel continued on a murderous course. She threatened Elijah’s life (to no avail), and schemed to take Naboth’s vineyard for her husband, a plot that ended in the murder of an innocent man (1 Kings 21:1-15). The latter spelled the demise of both Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah’s ensuing message to Ahab was grim: “Thus says the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick your blood, even yours” (v 19).  Three years later he was dead, just as Elijah had foretold.

So ended the life of a wicked man, one of whom the Bible records, “But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up” (v 25).

Like father…and mother

Ahab’s son Ahaziah assumed the throne, and stubbornly continued in the way of his parents, serving Baal and provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger (1 Kings 22:52-53). Two years later he suffered injuries when he fell from an upper room. Instead of turning to YHWH, he called on Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to come to his aid. The Lord charged Elijah once more with a message: Because of his idolatry, Ahaziah would fail to recover and die (2 Kings 1:15-17).

Soon after, Jezebel’s vile atrocities ended when some of her servants threw her out a window to her death. Ravenous dogs consumed her body leaving only her skull, feet, and the palms of her hands—a violent end for a violent woman (2 Kings 9:30-37). There are no indications that she ever flagged in her devotion to her impotent god.

A woman of infamy

Jezebel is mentioned once more, this time in the book of Revelation:  “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:20-23).

Opinions vary about this figure: She was a literal person of the time; she personified false prophets who troubled the current church and used the same tactics as Jezebel of old; and there are questions of prophetic ramifications. If nothing else, this is one more testimony of God’s uncompromising condemnation of idolatry and all its trappings. It also illustrates how long an infamous example can last.

 Jezebel through several lenses

Jezebel holds a certain fascination for Bible students and scholars. Some even champion her as courageous as she stubbornly pushes her agenda and when she meets her death. For most, though, she represents the embodiment of evil. Her name lives on today and has its own entry in most dictionaries as an offensive term for a women regarded as sexually immoral or manipulative (Encarta Dictionary online) or any woman regarded as shameless, wicked, etc. (New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd college edition).

What a sorry legacy.

Meet Jezebel: a woman on a mission

Aftermath

Sixty years had passed since the rending of the nation of Israel into two quarreling kingdoms. The ten tribes wrestled with the instabilities of a succession of kings, three of whom died by violence, while Judah enjoyed few dynastic changes. Sticking with the Davidic line afforded a sense of continuity. Israel struggled with confusion caused by adulterating their religion with paganism; Judah adhered to the precepts handed down since Abraham and Moses.

Best laid plans

Israel not only had internal turmoil, threats loomed from outside its borders—especially from the Aramean kingdom of Damascus. Omri, Israel’s sixth king, attempted to seal alliances with neighboring Tyre, by arranging a marriage between his son Ahab and Jezebel, the Tyrean king’s daughter (Bright, 238).

The match might have improved things on the commercial and military front, but it also set in motion a religious crisis which threatened dire consequences for the Kingdom of Israel. I Kings 16:31 captures the outrageousness of this action: “And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him.”

Baal, right arm raised. Bronze figurine, 14th-...

Baal, right arm raised. Bronze figurine, 14th-12th centuries, found in Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Tanakh renders the passage this way: “Not content to follow the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as wife Jezebel…and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar to Baal in the temple of Baal …Ahab also make a sacred post. Ahab did more to vex the Lord, the God of Israel, than all the kings of Israel who preceded him (vv 31-33).”

Who was this woman Jezebel?

Carol Meyers, general editor of Women in Scripture (2000), shared some interesting observations (see heading “Jezebel 1”):

  • Jezebel was a royal princess.
  • She was probably well educated and efficient.
  • Jezebel was no doubt the chief wife and co-ruler with Ahab.
  • She might have acted as her husband’s deputy for internal affairs.
  • She had her own “table,” that is, “her own economic establishment and budget.”
  • She had her own prophets, or possibly controlled a pagan religious establishment.
  • She was the enemy of Yahweh’s prophets and had them killed (I Kings 18:13).
  • Her handling of the Naboth affair seems to indicate she had legal
    English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Na...

    English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    knowledge of Israel’s law. For instance, she made sure the necessary two witnesses brought fatal false accusations, thereby convicting an innocent man. (See I Kings 21; Deuteronomy 17:6.)

  • She was not shy to take the lead and exert her power.

All sources agree Jezebel was totally immersed in the culture of Baal worship and had a zealot’s zeal to spread it throughout her new kingdom. The united tribes were historically drawn to paganism. Now Jezebel planned to make the cult of Baal the official religion of the court. Israel’s penchant for inclusivism paved the way for her evil efforts.

The Lord God had other plans.

Jezebel: Setting the stage

Tares in Israel

Seeds for the destruction of a unified Israel silently germinated. Their roots, tiny fibers really, spread throughout a polluted soil of discontent even before the death of King Solomon. While his governing policies projected success for his so-called “Golden Age,” reality for most was a life of hardship, poverty, and slavery. The state faced a chronic financial dilemma: costs outran income. His massive building projects, his army, and the lavish expenditures within his bureaucracy resulted in a runaway national budget, compelling him to take drastic actions. The once wise king now imposed oppressive taxes, introduced forced labor, and increased frustrations and privation. Noxious seedlings prepared for full-bloom revolt.

Languishing independence

Independence among the tribes of Israel languished. According to John Bright, in his book, A History of Israel (1972), “tribesmen who had once known no central authority and no political obligation save to rally in times of danger (which could itself be compelled, if at all, only by religious sanctions), were now organized in government districts, liable to heavy taxes and conscription for military service [and manual labor]. The tribal system was broken; the effective basis of social obligation was no longer Yahweh’s covenant, but the state” (page 219).

Paganism welcome here

An influx of foreign laborers like the Canaanites changed the national dynamics on many fronts—especially with regard to worship. Solomon did not help matters as he took 700 wives and 300 concubines, and welcomed paganism into his kingdom. I Kings 11 contains the record of his shameful actions—going after the heathen gods Ashtoreth, Milcom, and Chemosh. This would prove to be the undoing of Israel and eventually Judah.

Revolt and division

The United Kingdom of Solomon breaks up, with ...

The United Kingdom of Solomon breaks up, with Jeroboam ruling over the Northern Kingdom of Israel (in green on the map). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only Solomon’s strong hand held the monarchy together. The northern ten tribes’ alienation grew, along with their determination to be free of oppressive control. By the time of his death, the internal pressures for independence and the pulls toward idolatry were so extreme that the kingdom split in two—the northern ten tribes (Israel) under the leadership of the arrogant Jeroboam, and Judah (the tribes of Judah and Benjamin), led by Solomon’s son, Rehoboam.[1]

Judah held exclusively to the worship of YHWH, the God of Israel, while the ten tribes worshiped not only YHWH, but welcomed, in the spirit of inclusiveness, deities from pagan cults, particularly Baal. This divide would be a source of contention and strife for years to come.

Now the stage is set for the story of Jezebel.


[1] Rehoboam’s mother, Naamah, was an Ammonite princess (I Kings 14: 21, 31), and his favorite wife was Maacah, a worshiper of Asherah (15:2, 12), which included pagan rites of sacred prostitution and homosexuality. (Bright, page 236)

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