What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again – I believe every phenomenon, no matter how modern, can be traced back to its ancient roots, and the subject of childfree women is no different. Researching my book, I knew I’d find what I was looking for in The book. And indeed, I wasn’t surprised to discover that the childfree women were some of the most interesting, independent and fully-realized characters in the bible.
Miriam: The Great Prophetess
The great prophetess and leader of the people of Israel in its years of wandering the desert.
Today, she is considered a feminist icon, most memorable for her role in the parting of the Red Sea – after the Israelites made it safely to the other side, we see Miriam standing proudly on the shore, holding a tambourine (which in Hebrew is called a Miriam drum to this day), leading the victory celebration.
It was Miriam who was responsible for saving baby Moses, her brother. Her prophetic powers were recognized when she was still a child, and they grew stronger over the years. We know she was a beloved leader, because when she was stricken with leprosy and sent to quarantine outside the camp for seven days (in a not-so-pleasant story), the Israelites waited for her to heal before they continued their journey.
Jewish traditions found it difficult to reconcile the fact that such an eminent Hebrew prophetess and leader was unwed and childless, which is probably why some biblical commentators argued that she was in fact married to Caleb son of Yefuneh and bore him three children (even though the timelines don’t add up and there’s not even the tiniest reference to this unlikely marriage in the bible).
Lilith: The First Woman
So, let me dispel a common misconception – the first lady of the bible wasn’t Eve, but Lilith.
Lilith’s story appears in the Jewish apocrypha, and it’s fascinating. As it turns out, God created man and woman at the same time – Lilith and Adam. But they just couldn’t get along; soon after their creation, they started fighting about… equality.
Lilith was a strong, assertive woman who wasn’t willing to give in to Adam, who in turn couldn’t accept such independent and unruly behavior from the woman by his side, and banished her (some say it was the other way around, and that it was she who ran away from him). Fleeing to the great abyss, she meets Samael, king of demons, and becomes herself a powerful demon.
In Jewish mythology, Lilith is considered a demon who has two primary roles: to seduce men, and destroy babies (even today, any case of crib death is considered the work of Lilith, and amulets designed to protect babies against her wicked ways are still in abundance). Although Lilith is controversial, there is also a view that holds her as a symbol of female empowerment, independence and passion, in contrast to Eve, who symbolizes domesticity and motherhood.
The Witch of Endor
The witch King Saul consulted with before waging war against his enemies; she was a wise woman who engaged in subversive activities, since in those times it was forbidden to summon the spirits of the dead, and it was Saul himself that imposed that ban. Having driven out all the diviners from Israel, he visits the Witch of Endor in disguise so she wouldn’t recognize him.
The Witch of Endor successfully summons the ghost of Samuel the Prophet like Saul asked, but the prophecy he’s given is devastating, and predicts his downfall.
The Witch of Endor is the biblical version of every witch throughout history – wise but lonely women living outside society, who didn’t follow the straight and narrow, and instead chose an unconventional path.
Michal: Wife of King David
Michal was no other than the bible’s first princess. Daughter of Saul, the first Hebrew king, Michal was married off to King David as a reward for defeating Goliath, but it wasn’t a happy marriage. She spent most of her life torn between her loyalty to her husband and her loyalty to her father.
Michal was barren, childless – her infertility perceived as a form of divine punishment for having mocked David for dancing fervently during a religious ritual.
Some bible commentaries claim that Michal was childless because “the root of her soul was male,” and she engaged in male prayer rituals.