This quarter I am teaching a course titled “Women in the Old Testament.” The purpose of this course is to study the role women played in the social, political, and religious life of ancient Israel. When people talk about the women who appear in the Old Testament, many people think of them as women ruled by their husbands whose main responsibility was to have children and take care of the home.
One thing my students are discovering is that there were many women who exercised political and religious power in Israelite society. These women are unknown to many readers of the Bible because they are mentioned only in passing by the writers of the Old Testament and when they are mentioned, most readers of the Bible do not notice their accomplishments.
One example of a woman of distinction in the Old Testament is Sheerah. Most people have never heard of Sheerah and probably have never read about her. However, she was an important woman in Israel.
This is what the Old Testament has to say about Sheerah: “Their father Ephraim mourned for them many days, and his relatives came to comfort him. Then he lay with his wife again, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. He named him Beriah, because there had been misfortune in his family. His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah” (1 Chronicles 7:22-24).
According to this text, Sheerah was a successful builder of cities. She built three cities: Lower and Upper Beth Horon, two cities located in the hill country of Ephraim (Joshua 18:13-14), as well as Uzzen Sheerah, a city whose location is unknown. This is the only reference in the Old Testament to a woman building cities. Sheerah even had a city named after her and yet very few people have ever heard of this amazing woman. Only a powerful and influential woman would have the means to build, not one city, but three cities.
It is difficult for some people believe that an Old Testament woman could be a builder of cities. This sentiment is expressed by the anonymous writer who wrote the article on “Sheerah” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. This is what this anonymous writer wrote about Sheerah building the three cities: “The verse has been suspected because elsewhere in the Old Testament the founders of cities are men.”
He was wrong (and biased). Women can build cities too.
Note: For another study of all the women in the Old Testament, read my post All the Women of the Old Testament.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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If you are looking for other series of studies on the Old Testament, visit the Archive section and you will find many studies that deal with a variety of topics.