Holy Gadoly: Great Women Leaders
Bonnie St. John with her daughter, has written a book called How Great Women Lead. She also has an amazing story of her own. But this leads to the problem of how “great women” are translated from Hebrew into English. What happens to the “great women” of the Hebrew Bible. Here is a brief translation history of a woman who was gadol in Hebrew or “great,” in 2 Kings 4:8.
And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread. King James
One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. ESV
One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. NIV 2011
But what about men who are gadol? What does Bible translation do for them?
Now the king’s sons, being seventy persons, were with the great men of the city, which brought them up. King James
Now the king’s sons, seventy persons, were with the great men of the city, who were bringing them up. ESV
Now the royal princes, seventy of them, were with the leading men of the city, who were rearing them. NIV 2011
It may seem a detail, but great men morph into “leaders” and a great woman morphs into a “wealthy” or “well-to-do” woman. If you have a firm belief that women are not really “leaders” this is a helpful transition. This also reinforces the notion that men are one thing, and women are something else. Of course, nothing wrong with being wealthy, but nonetheless, women need to be represented as the leaders that they were. Examples of women who were leaders in the Hebrew Bible are Deborah, the judge, and most likely Jael as a judge also; and the wise woman of Abel and the wise woman of Tekoa, both clearly the leaders of their community.
The Bible continues to be used as a well from which one can draw stories to illustrate issues of our day. Malcolm Gladwell has just written David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Women also should be able to draw on the Hebrew Bible as a source of leading women, of women who come out from under as David did. We should think of Esther, not as a beauty queen, but as a politician and saviour of her people. She was clever and calculating and successful.