24 March 2013

Who is the most blessed woman (according to the Bible)?

Since tomorrow (March 25) is The Feast of the Annunciation of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, I thought I'd ask this question: Who is the most blessed woman according to the Bible?

To Catholics, of course, there is only one answer: Mary

Henry Ossawa Tanner - The Annunciation
And there's good biblical justification for their belief, from the annunciation story in the Gospel of Luke.

You remember this story, right? The one where the angel Gabriel stopped by Nazareth to visit the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and say the rosary with her?

OK, not really. He stopped by to tell her that the Holy Ghost would soon be getting her pregnant the way he did her cousin Elizabeth. But during his visit he did manage to come up with the first half of the "Hail Mary."
The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Luke 1:26-28
So Mary, then, according to the angel Gabriel and the Gospel of Luke, is "blessed among women."

But is she the most blessed of all women? Are there any other women in the Bible that can compete with her blessedness?

How about Jael, for example?

Gregorio Lazzarini: Jael and Sisera
In Judges 4, Jael offers food and shelter to a traveler (Sisera), saying "turn in my Lord ... fear not." Then after giving him a glass of milk and tucking him in, she drives a tent stake through his head.

For murdering her guest while he slept, Jael is called "blessed above women." (Hail Jael, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women....?)
Blessed above women shall Jael ... be, blessed shall she be above women ...
He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples ... there he fell down dead. Judges 5:
So surely Jael is in the running for the most blessed of all women.

Or how about Judith?

Caravaggio: Judith Beheading Holofernes
Judith's story is not found in Protestant Bibles. But it is in Catholic ones, which include the Deuterocanonical Book of Judith.

Here's the relevant story from chapter 13, where Judith, with God's approval and assistance, decapitated the drunken Holfernes while he slept.
They were all overcharged with wine....
Holofernes lay on his bed, fast asleep, being exceedingly drunk...
Judith stood before the bed praying...
Saying: Strengthen me, O Lord ... that I may bring to pass ... that it might be done by thee...
When she had said this, she ... loosed his sword...
And ... she took him by the hair of his head, and said: Strengthen me, O Lord...
And she struck twice upon his neck, and cut off his head...
And ... she ... delivered the head of Holofernes to her maid, and bade her put it into her wallet. Judith 13:2-11
For cutting off the head of a drunken man as he slept, Judith is blessed by God "above all woman."
Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth.
The Lord ... directed thee to the cutting off the head ... Thy praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men ... for ever. Judith 13:23-25
So, I don't know for sure, of course, but I think Judith wins the prize. She is "blessed ... above all women upon the earth."  Whereas Jael is "blessed above women" so I think she deserves the silver. And poor old Mary is only "blessed among women", so she gets the bronze.

Maybe Pope Francis should institute a new feast: The Feast of Judith, Blessed Above All Women and demote Mary to just one of the several blessed women.



6 comments:

Saurabh Ghosh said...

Well-argued, Steve! I'm stealing this one :D

Adam Rasmussen said...

You write about it like it's a secret from Catholics, but Judith 13:18-19 is the responsorial psalm reading at Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and also for votive Masses of Mary, Mother of the Church. Judith can be considered a foreshadowing ("type") of Mary.

Steve Wells said...

Thanks Adam. I didn't know that Judith is a "type" of Mary. Does that mean that Mary also seduced a man and then chopped off his head?

That would make sense, I guess. God is especially turned on by women who behave that way. Jael and Judith were both blessed above women for that. So why not Mary as well?

Do you think murdering a man while he sleeps is a blessed thing, Adam? Does the Catholic church? If so, why? If not, why is Judith commemorated during mass at the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes? What did she do besides murder a man after seducing him (with God's help, of course)?

Dr. Adam Rasmussen said...

The connection to Mary would be that, just as Judith destroyed the enemy of her people, so Mary triumphed over the devil. Both, through faith, played their roles in God's plan of redemption for God's people. I'm not sure why Judith is said to be blessed "above" women and Mary is said to be blessed "among" women, but I wouldn't exaggerate the importance of a preposition.

I can see why some people would find Judith's act disturbing and not want to compare it to Mary, but I don't think what Judith did was wrong, and I question using the word "murder." It's more like a military assassination in a situation of warfare. I'm not a pacifist, so I don't consider this necessarily immoral. She acted to save her people, and I can't imagine ancient peoples viewing that act as evil or calling it "murder."

Also, Judith didn't seduce Holofernes. She intimidated that she would, but it's stated explicitly in the text that she didn't: "I swear by the Lord, who has protected me in the way I have walked, that it was my face that seduced Holofernes to his ruin, and that he did not defile me with sin or shame" (Judith 13:15 NABRE).

If you want to criticize the Bible, go ahead. God knows there's plenty of disturbing things in it, but you should read the text carefully first. Your criticism of Judith is, to my mind, not justified.

Steve Wells said...

Dr. Rasmussen,

I am impressed by your broad mindedness.

You're OK with a woman asking God to help her kill a man while he sleeps. (Judith 13:7)

You're OK with Judith praising God for giving Simeon the sword to kill all the Hivite males while they were recovering from their circumcisions (Gen 34).(Judith 9:2-3).

You're OK with God making Judith even more beautiful to help her with decapitate Holofernes (Judith 10:4).

You're OK with Judith hanging his head on a wall while saying, "Behold the head of Holofernes ... the Lord our God slew him by the hand of a woman. ... God ... cut off the head of all unbelievers this night by my hand." (Judith 13:19, 27)

Because, after all, as you so carefully pointed out, she said she didn't have sex with Holofernes. And that's the important thing.

Sarah Rohret said...

Holofernes was a bad guy about to slay an entire city as he had before. Judith assassinated him. If she were a man, she would be a better known hero like David vs Goliath. She did what many other men have done in war. Why shouldn't she be blessed for doing a difficult thing (she didn't take the assassination lightly at all) that saved many lives?
a little sexist Steve?