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Old Testament Types of Mary

Old Testament Types of Mary

– Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Marian Types of the Old Testament

The following is an attempt to mirror Old and New Testament on behalf of Mary. In our understanding of the Bible there exists continuity between the two Testaments. The Old Testament anticipates, announces, and points to the New Testament. The two relate to each other like promise and fulfillment. Looking from the New Testament back into the Old Testament, we recognize a number of women of importance who prefigure Mary in some aspects of their destiny, personality and vocation. They are given the name type, because they typify in some ways the future mother of Jesus Christ. Mary is their anti-type, not in opposition but in contrast, a contrast which takes its measure from the uniqueness of Mary's mission. She is the mother of the Messiah, whereas her prefigurations in the Old Testament prepare, suggest and intuit his future coming.

There will be sketches of fourteen feminine Old Testament figures, beginning with Eve and ending with Bathsheba. Their portrait, will be followed by a comparison between each of the Old Testament figures and Mary.

Eve | Sarah | Rebekah | Rachel | Leah | Deborah | Jachobed | Miriam | Judith | Esther | Tamar | Rahab | Ruth | Bathsheba | Chosen Daughter of Israel

First Mother of All the Living

Eve's name in Hebrew means "life." She is called Chavvah (in the Septuagint, Eva; in the Vulgate, Heva because she is the mother of all the living (Gn 3:20). Her initial appearance in the Hebrew Scriptures is one of beauty, goodness, wisdom, and life.... The rabbinic writings praise the beauty and adornment of Eve while commenting on Genesis 2:22: "The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from man." For example, Rabbi Chama ben Chanina (260 C.E.) wrote that certainly God first clothed her (Eve) with twenty-four precious decorations (those which describe the women of Israel in Isaiah 3:18-24) and then God brings her to the man. Therefore the Lord through the mouth of Ezekiel applies the following (which was originally addressed to the prince of Tyre) to her:

In Eden, the garden of God, you were, and every precious stone was your covering [carnelian, topaz, and beryl, chrysolite, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, garnet, and emerald]; of gold your pendants and jewels were made, on the day you were created (Ezk 28:13).

You are stamped with the seal of perfection, of complete wisdom and perfect beauty (Ezk 28:12; cf. Genesis Rabbah 18, 1 and 2, 22 and the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 75a).

Later Jewish writings contrast Eve's disobedience with the fidelity and obedience of the Israelites to God on Mount Sinai.... In the New Testament, Eve is never mentioned in the Gospels. Adam is mentioned only in Luke's genealogy (Lk 3:38). Eve is mentioned in two Pauline writings:

"For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere [and pure] commitment to Christ " (2 Cor 11:2-3).

"For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Further, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through motherhood, provided women persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control" (1 Tm 2:13-15).

Both passages emphasize the negative aspects of Eve's role in salvation history. Early Christian writers will contrast Eve's disobedience with Mary's obedience. However, it is only through the comprehensive reading of all texts of the First Testament that we will fully appreciate the greatness of Israel's first mother, Eve, the mother of the living.

Eve and Mary

Parallels are seen between Mary's dialogue with Gabriel and Eve's dialogue with the serpent (Gn 3:17, Lk 1:28-35). The text of Genesis 3:15 is also compared with the scene of Mary at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25-28a).... One could view the process of salvation history from Eve to Mary as a double movement: first the breaking up of the human race into many disparate individuals, and then the gradual concentration of all expectations of salvation in the Messiah born of Mary, the Mother of God. All the eminent women in the Old Testament are concrete and partial realizations of the primal mother from ancient times (Eve) who perdures and extends herself in them. As the new Adam extends himself in the "Mystical Body" of Christ (the ecclesial community of the new People of God), so also does Mary represent all those "children of God, once dispersed, but now brought together" by her Son.

Jesus' words on the cross, "There is your mother" (Jn 19:27), may point to the popular etymological explanation of Eve's name in Genesis 3:20: "The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living." Just as the Church is "the Jerusalem above ... our mother" (Gal 4:26), so also is Mary the mother of believers, who, at the cross, were concretely present in the person "of the disciple whom Jesus loved."



God's loving-kindness for humanity continues with the call of Abram and extends throughout the two testaments in the vocation stories of the followers of Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham is the archetype for responding in faith to God; together with Sarah, this patriarch responds to the divine initiative. Through him God promises the future of the People of God. The testing of Abraham's faith is an important pedagogical and spiritual model for our own pilgrimage and our growth in faith. He was chosen and he freely responded to Divine Providence, to salvation, and to the future of a People. Abraham is rightly called "our Father in faith."

It is Sarah, Abraham's wife, who brings the promise to fruition and helps Abraham to live out his faith in God. Sarai, the beautiful and dominant wife of Abraham, has her name changed by God thereby signifying her election and vocation to be the mother of Isaac and the mother of believers. Her story commences in Genesis 12 and ends with her burial in the cave of Machpelah (Gn 23:19; 25:10; 49:31).

In the Bible she is described as beautiful, generous in hospitality, faith-filled and gifted with a sense of humor! The New Testament Epistles mention her four times (Rm 4:19; 9:9; Heb 11:11; and 1 Peter 3:6). These passages show how God worked through her to bear a son despite her barrenness; she is the believing wife and mother of the promise; she is also compared to the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal 4:21-30). Her faith and her obedience are extolled in Hebrews 11:11 and 1 Peter 3:6, respectively. Sarah initiates the series of matriarchs of the Hebrew Scriptures (Rebekah and Rachel).

Sarah and Mary

Sarah's only appearance in the reading of the liturgy for masses in honor of the Virgin is in the Mass called "The Blessed Virgin Mary, Chosen Daughter of Israel." This mention of Sarah points to Mary's continuity with the great matriarch who through faith overcomes barrenness. Mary conceives Jesus because of her faith. Sarah's barrenness is ended with the "Lord" saying to Abraham, "Is anything too marvelous for the Lord to do? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son" (Gn 18:14). Mary is told something similar by Gabriel, the messenger of God: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God ... for nothing will be impossible for God" (Lk 1:35, 37).

Mary has Sarah's trait of generous hospitality seen in her visit to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-45). Mary is also blessed by God with a son despite the problem of her status as a virgin. She also is a model in faith seen throughout her whole life in the few events recorded about her in the New Testament.



Rebekah is the second matriarch of Israel. She is described in Genesis 24:16: "The girl was very beautiful, a virgin, untouched by man." Her story is the conclusion of the Abraham saga.

She is the most clever and authoritative of the matriarchs, and yet she epitomizes womanly beauty and virtue, in her conduct (her virginity, her actions at the well), in her energetic speech, in her thoughtful courtesy, and in her self-assurance. " [See: David Noel Freedman, ed-in-chief., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 5 (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 629.]
Rebekah as a woman of Israel, in fact the mother of Jacob who is later called Israel, is presented as virgin the first time she is mentioned in Genesis. As her story continues and she is married to Isaac, we discover she is sterile up to the moment when she prays God to deliver her from this situation. She gives birth to Esau and Jacob, but has a special preference for Jacob. It is through her mediation and cleverness that she wins for Jacob the blessing of the aging and blind Isaac. Jacob has to flee from Esau, thus creating a separation of the mother from her preferred child.

In Paul's letter to the Romans the following theological insight displays Rebekah's role in the history of God's People, Israel:

... when Rebecca had conceived children by one husband, our father Isaac before they had yet been born or had done anything, good or bad, in order that God's elective plan might continue, not only by work but by his call she was told, "The older shall serve the younger" (Rm 9:10-12).
Paul's marvelous commentary on the messianic promise, carried on in a more dramatic way in the history of salvation through Jacob, emphasizes the free election of God through the persons of faith, the great matriarchs and patriarchs of the Genesis account.

Teresa Okure, a Nigerian scholar, perceived a connection between Rebekah's role and that of Mary by pointing out that Rebekah's action of helping Jacob was not ingenuity directed toward personal gain, but it was her cooperation with God in her own way to bring about realization of the divine plan, for God had revealed to her the destiny of her two children before they were born. The mother of Jesus cooperated with God in the final and greatest stage in salvation history.

[See: Teresa Okure (Nigeria), "Women in the Bible," With Passion and Compassion: Third World Women Doing Theology (New York: Maryknoll, 1988) 47-59.]

Rebekah and Mary

Mary's call comes to her through Gabriel and she is named the Virgin Mary. She, too, is eventually separated from her son both in the three days of searching for him and in the year or years of his active ministry. Her role in the messianic promise continues what had begun in her ancestors Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel.

Carol Meyers in her epilogue shows the importance of the biblical women such as Rebekah when she states that women who occasionally appear in leadership roles in the biblical record should not be viewed as exceptions but as representation of perhaps a larger group of publicly active females whose identity was lost because of the male-controlled canonical process; that the female prophets and wisdom figures could not have found their place in the canon if they were not part of an acknowledgment of female worth and authority.

Rebekah is a virgin at the time of her marriage to Isaac. Her single-mindedness, fidelity, and love of predilection for Jacob are qualities that perdure in the narratives about her. She is creative in her manner of helping Jacob to steal the blessing of the firstborn from Isaac (Gn 22:23; 24; 26:6-11; 27). Mary is a virgin in the accounts of Matthew (1:16; 18-25) and Luke (1:26-38). Her blessedness is extolled by Elizabeth (Lk 1:45). Her single-mindedness is seen in the events which relate her to her son Jesus on almost every occasion in which she is mentioned in the New Testament.



It is from Rachel that the most genuine of the Israelite tribes issue, Hence she is a woman of Israel par excellence since she is the mother of Joseph and Benjamin by Jacob. "The story of Rachel is a story of unparalleled love and devotion in the biblical narrative." [See: Anchor Bible, vol 5, 605.}

Matthew 2:17-18 sees the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah which speaks of Rachel's great sorrow: "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more." This citation from Jeremiah 31:15 refers to the taking of Israel by Assyria in 722-21 BC. Rachel's death in giving birth to her second son (Gen.' 35:16-19). Matthew, who is clearly speaking of the birth of the Messiah Jesus, uses the text from Jeremiah to show that the Holy Family escapes the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem.

Rachel gains God's ear because she speaks of love and of family relationships. There is a healing of blood relationships because she not only speaks of love but has lived out of love and experienced it throughout her life. "Rachel's message to God is to relate to Israel with the love that comes from within the family, the holy family" [Neusner's words].

Rachel and Mary

Rachel overcomes her sterility through the help of God. She is clever in her stealing of the teraphim, or household gods, of Laban, her father; thereby securing her independence and the predominance of the heritage of Israel. Her sorrow is evident in the loss of Joseph, her son. This is recalled by Jeremiah, the prophet (Jr 31:15). She is the beloved bride of Jacob who labored extensively for her hand.

Mary's virginity is blessed through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, and she gives birth to Jesus. Matthew recalls the incident of Rachel's weeping when narrating the slaughter of the Innocents. Mary, like Rachel, is a sorrowful mother who endures the death of her son, Jesus on Calvary.



Leah is an important mother of the Israelites. She stems from Terah of Mesopotamia through Nahor and Bethuel. Her father is Laban, son of Bethuel and brother to Rebekah. Leah is the mother of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulus, and Dinah. The sons of her slave are Gad and Asher who are also reckoned as her sons. Leah through divine Providence is the ancestor of two great figures in Israel, namely, Moses and David. This gift to her is from God despite Jacob's preference for Rachel. The last mention of Leah is Genesis 49:31: "There Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried, and so are Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there, too, I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it had been purchased from the Hittites."

During the patriarchal age the marriage laws were not as strict as those prescribed in Leviticus 18:6-8. How does Leah fit into the Marian tradition? Through the fact that Judah, one of her sons, is the originator of the Davidic lineage. Though she is not mentioned in the genealogy of Matthew 1:1-17 there is a connection through Judah and through her unusual marriage to Jacob. She is the prolific mother of eight of the twelve tribes named after her sons.

Leah and Mary

Leah's fidelity to Jacob is among her strengths. She is the mother of ten sons, the "Leah tribes." Her devotedness to family life and parents is among her virtues. She is a person who is no stranger to self-sacrifice.

Mary gives birth to Jesus who is a descendent of Judah (a son of Leah). Mary likewise is faithful to her family throughout the hidden years and in the public life of Jesus. Her presence in John's Gospel at the foot of the Cross attests to her compassion, her suffering, and her love.



There are two Deborahs mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, the nurse of Rebekah who is buried near Bethel (Gn 35:8) and the prophetess Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth (Jg 4:4-5:31). Judges 5 is the important chapter for remembering her, while Pseudo-Philo offers fascinating information about her in the Tradition of Israel.

Deborah, the prophetess, because of her leadership, courage, and prophetic-call is honored in the victory song over Jabin and Sisera, the Canaanite leaders. The victory song reference is one of the oldest pieces within the Hebrew Scriptures, perhaps going back to the epoch of the Judges (1200 BCE).

Deborah's song consists of 106 lines. It is written or sung not by her but about her. The song is about water and glory--the mediation of God. Yahweh, through a storm, brings about God's glory through the victory. Jael, another woman, finalizes the victory by killing Sisera the commander of the Canaanites. Blessings and curses make up the latter part of the poem. Jael is praised as "Blessed among women" (Jg 5:24).

Deborah and Mary

In a rereading of the Hebrew Scriptures and of Pseudo-Philo, it can be seen by analogy how the Catholic Church has seen similarities in the Virgin Mary to both Deborah and Jael. First, Deborah as Mother of Israel, calls her children to walk in the way of the Torah. (The information primarily comes from Pseudo-Philo.) Mary, likewise, exhorts the servants at Cana to do whatever Jesus tells them (Jn 2:1-5). Deborah is exhorting Israel to glory in the Lord. Water is the symbol or means of victory. This parallels Jesus changing the water into wine, thereby manifesting his glory and his disciples believed in him (Jn 2:11).

In the victory song, Jael, the wife of Heber, is praised: "Blessed among women be Jael, blessed among tent-dwelling women" (Jg 5:24). We read in Luke the beatitudes bestowed on Mary by Elizabeth (Lk 1:45), by Gabriel in the Annunciation (1:28), and also by the unknown woman in the crowd (Lk 11:27). Deborah is seen as Mother of Israel in spirit; Mary is the Mother of all believers represented by the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25-27).

There is also the similarity of the Holy Spirit resting upon both Deborah and Mary. Deborah is a remarkable leader who has the gifts of prophecy and wisdom. Her decisions result in victory for Israel at the hands of another courageous woman, Jael. Deborah, in her Canticle (Jg 5) shows total confidence in God and attributes the victory to God's power over the foreign kings.

Mary does not enter into the realm of judging and prophesying nor is she a leader in time of war. She does display a similar gift of practical wisdom and in her Magnificat Canticle sings of the power of God over Israel's enemies. Mary compares with Jael in sharing a similar macarism: "Blessed art thou among women."



Jochebed, the mother of Moses, Miriam, and Aaron, is considered as a "Mother of Israel" in the Jewish tradition. She is a Levite and is mentioned in the genealogies of Exodus 6:20 as the wife of Amram and as the mother of Moses and Aaron. In Numbers 26:59 she is described as "of the tribe of Levi, born to the tribe in Egypt."

A. Serra presents the dismissal of Jochebed by her husband Amram from the Haggadah Sotah 12a (200-300 CE). This story tells of the decision of Amram and all Israelites to cease having children because of the persecution of Pharaoh. Miriam, his daughter, convinces him to take back Jochebed secretly. Upon this renewal of their wedding ceremony Psalm 113:9 is sung. Miriam, true to her prophetic calling then foresees the birth and destiny of Moses, her brother. She says, "My mother will give birth to a son who will be the savior of Israel" (Sothah 12b-13a). After the child's birth, it is Miriam who saves Moses from the waters of the Nile and has Moses' own mother, Jochebed, nurse him for the daughter of Pharaoh.

There is within the Haggadah many similarities to Matthew's Annunciation to Joseph (Mt 1:18-25): We see this in the parallels to Joseph's struggle whether to be husband to Mary of Nazareth, the prophetic announcement of the birth by a divine messenger, and the miraculous circumstances in which Mary conceives. In the Haggadah, Jochebed becomes youthful again and gives birth to Moses at 130 years of age! She also bears Moses with minimal pain and without any signs of having been pregnant. This quiet birth of Moses conceals him from the Egyptian spies.

Matthew's account about the virgin birth is within the same theological framework and is at least two hundred years earlier than the Jewish Haggadah. Within this tradition is the Apocrypha of Baruch (100-150 CE): "Women will no longer suffer during their pregnancies, and the anguish of child-bearing will be spared for the fruit of their womb" (Apoc. Baruch 73:1-7; 74-1).

Jochebed and Mary

Jochebed is the mother of Moses the savior and liberator of Israel. Jewish tradition has her miraculously giving birth to him without pain. She also protects him from Pharao. She is considered as the Mother of Israel.

Mary is the mother of Jesus who is the Messiah and Savior in Christian belief. She gives birth to Jesus miraculously and together with her husband Joseph protects him from the murderous hands of Herod.



Undoubtedly, the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary was given to her by her parents honoring the great person of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron (in the Old Testament). She, under Moses, her brother, was a prophetess, a leader of the people who brought them through the Red Sea and through the desert. Probably a desire for rebirthing the People Israel ... led Joachim and Anna to bestow this name, likewise the same for the parents of Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Mary the mother of James, the mother of Mark.
Her name signifies "lady princess" or, if named after the place called Meribah, "waters of bitterness." Most likely Miriam, the sister of Moses, is the only person in the Hebrew Scriptures to have such a name excepting a Judahite who possesses a variant of this name. St. Luke uses the Septuagintal form of Miriam in his Gospel. O. Bardenhewer maintained there are at least sixty-seven different etymologies connected with the name "Miriam"!

Most likely the name describes a woman who is stately, hence, princess, and likewise, beautiful. If the name Miriam is seen as Egyptian, then the meaning of "dear" or "cherie" is best in translation. If we accept de la Potterie's interpretation of kecharitomene in Luke 1:28, then it would refer to Mary as being a woman graced by God and one who is also graceful and beautiful.

Miriam is considered a prophetess in Judaism. She also sings the victorious song about God, the deliverer of her people during the Exodus:

"The prophetess Miriam, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, while all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing; and she led them in the refrain: Sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea" (Ex 15:20-21).

In the Lucan Infancy narrative the Magnificat is attributed to Mary with a few minor manuscripts ascribing it to Elizabeth. Both hymns have several themes in common. Mary glorifies God as her Savior, while Moses or Miriam sing about the glory, kabôd, of God; both identify God as Lord and Savior. Abraham is the father in faith of both women, both exalt God in their triumph over the mighty ones; Pharao is cast down just as the proud and mighty ones are in Mary's Magnificat. The powerful right hand or arm of God is outstretched for both singers. The mighty works of God are extolled; God's steadfast love has saved and liberated Israel, the people. These parallels are more easily seen in a contextual reading of the "Song of the Sea" in the Septuagint with Mary's Magnificat in the Greek of St. Luke. Luke not only used this earliest version of the Hebrew text but also imitated its style, expression, and vocabulary.

The flight into Egypt by Mary and Joseph to avoid the tyranny and violence of Herod is a reversal of Moses; Miriam's, and Aaron's flight from Pharao. Mary of Nazareth, however, touches the same Egyptian soil as her matronymic Miriam (Mt 2:13-15).

The fact that there are seven distinct texts which speak of Miriam attest to her as a woman leader in Israel. The prophet Micah extols her: "For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, from the place of slavery I released you; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam" (Mi 6:4).

Miriam and Mary

Tracing the attributes of Miriam, the sister of Moses, we discover the following: she is a leader, a prophetess, a mediator, an initiator, a servant. a nurse. a caring person, a model of discretion and timing, a negotiator, and a woman who secretly and effectively works behind the scenes in the salvific history of the people.

The Catholic Tradition uses such attributes for Mary of Galilee in the Church's devotional hymns and litanies. The biblical sources for such expressions are taken from the Cana event (Jn 2:1-11) and from the Annunciation and Visitation accounts (Lk 1:28-45).



Judith is the heroine of the deutero-canonical book with the same name. She exemplifies the ideal woman of later Jewish piety (150-100 BCE). In many of the events of her life she fits the description of a woman who was a Pharisee. In her victory over Holofernes she resembles Deborah and Jael in their victory over Sisera. She describes herself in Judith 11:17: "Your handmaid is, indeed, a God-fearing woman, serving the God of heaven night and day."

In her religious observance Judith is a righteous person. She observes the prescriptions of the Torah, is a chaste widow, observes the feasts and even eves of the feasts as well (8:6). She observes the laws of ritual purification and cleansing (12:2, 9, 19; 16:18). " ... she is a model of Pharisaic religion. It is no wonder that her devotion is blessed; she is rich, she is beautiful, she is held in high repute by all 8:7-8 though it may be noted there is no mention of her having children. The story centers round her courage, her initiative, her selflessness 13:20 . . . . " [See: Reginald C. Fuller, gen. ed., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, rev. and updated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1969) 404.]

Judith represents the entire faithful people of Israel. This is especially seen in her final hymn (16:1-17). Judith belongs to the poor of Yahweh (tapeinoi) (6:19; 13:20; 16:11). Scholars say, "The spiritual physiognomy of Judith is undoubtedly that of the poor in spirit." In her actions Judith "serves as a paradigm for human liberation. Judith upholds the fundamental truths that faith does not depend on visible results (8:17-27) and that God's might is not in numbers" (9:11).

Judith and Mary

In Mary of Nazareth there are similarities to Judith's absolute trust in God as one of the anawîm or poor ones; there are the ritual observances to the laws of purification and celebration of the feasts, especially Passover. Both are exemplary in their prayer-life and in their religious participation.

In the liturgical readings of masses in honor of Mary, the blessing of Judith is similar to the angelic salutation of Luke: "Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth" (Jdt 13:18). Frequently in song and response the praise of Judith is celebrated also in Mary: "You are the glory of Jerusalem, the surpassing joy of Israel; You are the splendid boast of our people" (Jdt 15:9), and finally from her own hymn (Jdt 16:13-14):

"O Lord, great are you and glorious, wonderful in power and unsurpassable. Let your every creature serve you; for you spoke, and they were made, You sent forth your spirit, and they were created; no one can resist your word."



Esther is the heroine and is the paradigm for a fully liberated woman who places all her confidence in God. Through prayer and fasting she is able to challenge the evil perpetrated by the Persians and to intercede for her people Israel before King Ahasuirus. Esther was involved in the fate of the Jews. She was subject to the decree to annihilate her people, although she may have been exempt due to her status. She joined the fast of the Jews for three days in preparation for going to the king resolute that if she would perish, she had to do what she had to do to save her people! There is both resignation and freedom inspired by courage in her fasting and a certain measure of confidence that the public outcry will be successful. [See: John F. Craghan, "Esther: A Fully Liberated Woman," The Bible Today 24 (1986): 6-11.]

Contemporary celebrations of the Book of Esther take place on the Jewish feast of Purim wherein the children reenact the scenes of the book while dressing in all kinds of costumes. The archenemy of the Jewish people, Haman, is usually dressed in a black costume. In the celebration of Purim the two main ethical ideas are self-sacrifice and divine intervention. These two concepts are the themes which form the book of Esther. [See: C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (New York: Schocken, 1974) 99-101.]

In the celebration of Hebrew feasts the five scrolls are read. They are called the Five Megillot. Esther, however, is considered to be the "Megillah" par excellence. "Unless another of the five is indicated, Megillah is taken to mean the Book of Esther." [See: Rufus Learsi, Israel: A History of the Jewish People (New York: Meridian, 1966) 120.]

Esther and Mary

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is similar to Esther in prayer and in her intercessory power with God. She also advances the good of both the Jewish and of the Christian people in her role as Queen Mother.

Three selections from the Book of Esther are used in the Mariology of the early Christian writers and in the Catholic liturgy (Est 2:16-18; C:12, 14-15, 25, 30; and 8:3-8, 16-17).



Tamar, "Palm Tree," is the first woman named in the genealogy of Matthew: "Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar" (Mt 1:3). The source for the mention of Tamar is Genesis 38. Judah, because of the death of two of his sons who were married successively to Tamar, fears for the third son Shelah. He sends Tamar away childless as a widow. Tamar, through a creative and deceptive disguise, has Judah, her father-in-law, solicit her as a prostitute. Before consenting, she makes sure she has several signs of Judah, his seal, his stick, and a cord, so as to vindicate herself and assure his pledge. She conceives. After first condemning Tamar, Judah realizes he is the offender of God's law: "She is more in the right than I am, since I did not give her to my son Shelah" (Gn 38:26). She gives birth to twins, Perez and Zerah. Perez is the ancestor ofDavid (Rt 4:18f), and, hence, of the eventual Messiah.

The entire story is illustrative of the law of the levirate:

"When brothers live together and one of them dies without a son, the widow of the deceased shall not marry anyone outside the family, but her husband's brother shall go to her and perform the duty of a brother-in-law by marrying her. The first-born son she bears shall continue the line of the deceased brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel" (Dt 25:5-6).

Tamar and Mary

Why does Matthew start with Tamar in his genealogy? Because it is from the messianic line of Judah that David will spring. Tamar also demonstrates the anomalous situation of her being a widow and needing intervention from God to redeem her and to clarify her righteousness.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is likewise in an anomalous situation through a pregnancy which did not come about from Joseph her fiancée. Just as Tamar was vindicated as righteous before God, Mary, too, is seen to be innocent. Joseph discovers this through a dream.



Just as Tamar is not condemned as a prostitute when she sought justice from the family of Judah who was pledged to provide for her, neither is Rahab (Jos 2) who is praised for her faith, her ingenuity, and her hospitality, one of the greatest virtues extolled in the Scriptures. She is revered both in the New Testament (Heb 11:31; Jm 2:25) and in later traditions in Christianity (1 Clement 12:1) and in Judaism (Mek Ex 18:1; Midr. Ruth 2:1).

Her unusual sexual status is probably one of the reasons Matthew includes her in the genealogy of Jesus. "She is neither virginal daughter nor non-virginal wife and hence represents a danger to the patriarchal social structure, but as professional harlot she is also an endangered woman in the hands of this same system." [Footnote: Wainwright, Feminist Critical 164]

"The woman who is outsider to the patriarchal culture generally and outsider to the ethnic culture of Israel is incorporated into both (6:25). The 'profession of faith' of Rahab (Jos 2:9-11) is linked closely to her securing a promise of safety from the spies (vv. 12-13) and hence it would seem that the ancient text is already hinting at the power of God which is associated with the extraordinary initiative taken by Rahab in the face of the powers of the patriarchal world."

Wainwright points out that there is no male descendent from her and yet she is mentioned in the genealogy. Her faith and assistance to God's chosen one, Israel, may be the link in the genealogy from which the Messiah springs.

R. E. Brown asserts it is because of the fact of the irregular marital status of the women that they are included in the genealogy rather than the fact of their sinfulness or their being foreigners.

The fact that she gains for herself and her family a place in the history of Israel is another factor in Matthew's inclusion of her in his genealogy. She is a woman open and sensitive to the power of God and creative in her use of God-given gifts. As such she is worthy to be noted among the mothers of Israel. Though bound within the patriarchal structure of her culture and society, she goes beyond them by her faith, her creative instincts, and her reading of the signs of God's activity in Israel's warriors. Rabbinic literature extols her as the Mother of Israel from whom eight priests and eight prophets descend.

Rahab and Mary

There are several points of convergence between the stories of Rahab and Mary; these help us gain a greater understanding of both women, and the faith that has linked them in the biblical tradition: sexuality is an issue in both stories; both women ran the risk of punishment (death); both were the means through which God took possession of the land and of human hearts; both were signs and exemplars of faith (Heb 11); both were mother to the household of faith.



Ruth is placed among the "Mothers of Israel." Targum on Ruth, 2, 12 translates: ". . . you are one who has arrived . . . . protected under the shadow of the Majesty of God and under God's glory, and thanks to this reward you will be liberated from the judgment of Gehenna because you have a place among Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel and Lia; that is among the mothers of Israel." (Rabbah Ruth 5.5 at 2:13; Pesikta of Rob. Kohaha 26, 1.)

Ruth is personified as Israel while Boaz her husband symbolizes God. The rabbinic literature parallels her relationship with Boaz to that of Israel in relationship to God apart from whom there shall be no other god (cf. Ex 20:3) and Israel is to glorify God (cf. Ex 15:2). This is intimately bound up with the Covenant between God and Israel which is similar to Ruth's spousal covenant with Boaz. From such a covenantal union springs the Anointed One, the Messiah.

The Church, too, in its earlier tradition continues the typology showing Boaz as a figure of Christ while Ruth images the Church. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Mary also is seen to be symbolized in Ruth. Peter of Celle (1115-1182) sees a parallel in Ruth's words, "I am Ruth, your handmaid," with Mary's, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).

Both Ruth and Mary are active respondents to God in their life stations. As such they represent their people Israel in its primordial covenant response on Sinai. Ruth anticipates the response, "All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do" (Ex 24:7). Ruth says to Boaz, "Why should I, a foreigner, be favored with your notice?" (Rt 2:10), and to Naomi she says, "I will do whatever you advise" (Rt 3:5). Mary, too, has been looked upon with favor: "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). Mary affirms this in her own canticle, "For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on, will all ages call me blessed" (Lk 1:48). Mary, too, like Israel on Sinai responds to God's call saying, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). Both women have been looked upon with favor and both respond to this affirmatively. Ruth is named among the mothers of Israel in the final verses of the book!

One last reflection concerns the paradox of God working within human history. Ruth's situation of being a foreigner without progeny is transformed through her loving-kindness (hesed) towards Naomi. In turn, Boaz acts as go'el or redeemer in order to restore the name of Elimelech for Naomi. Phyllis Trible shows that Ruth becomes the wife of Boaz but it is God who gives her the power to conceive. This, too, is suggested by Matthew in the paradox of Mary who is the last woman to be mentioned in the genealogy: "Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah" (Mt 1:16).

Ruth and Mary

At the center of Mary's canticle is the loving-kindness of God. The Hebrew word hesed is at the basis of this disposition of God. In Elaine Mary Wainwright's study hesed is also at the heart of the story of Ruth. Wainwright says, "The Book of Ruth also celebrates the [hesed] of the woman (Ruth 1:8; 2:20; 3:10) and even though the innuendo of uncovering the feet of Boaz raises questions regarding the anomalous situation this action creates, there is no language of sin in relation to Ruth throughout the book."[See: Wainwright, Feminist Critical 64 (cf. 166-168). David Daube, The New Testatment and Rabbinic Judaism (London: Athlone, 1956) 27-36. J. Massingberd Ford, "Mary's Virginitas Post-Partum and Jewish Law," Biblica 54 (1973): 269-272.]

This, too, is the evaluation we have with texts in Luke surrounding the Virgin Mother of Jesus. The traditions of both Synagogue and Church keep the sinlessness of both these mothers of Israel, respectively.



In Matthew's genealogy, without mentioning her name, (1:6) Bathsheba is described as the "wife of Uriah." Bathsheba is essential to the genealogy in Matthew. The purpose is seen in what at first is an irregular marital union with David. After Uriah's death she is the wife of David, and in a certain sense "Queen Mother" or Gebirah, giving birth to four other sons after the death of her first son. Solomon succeeds David through her influence and that of the prophet Nathan (1 K 1:11-37)

A queen mother (gebirah) fills a clearly defined role in a number of ancient and modern societies. The omphalos-myth, pertaining to the earth with its life giving center and symbolized by the mother-goddess (divine mother), was suppressed by Old Testament prophets and historians. Her presence appears only in a modified form as wisdom (Pr 1-9). A role remained for Judean queen mothers which corresponded to a position of seniority in the court (lady counselor) and fit the motif of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs. Bathsheba was not given a title of gebirah but did occupy a position from which she functioned as counselor and as a source of wisdom, and with a concern as to succession and stability of the kingdom upon David's impending death. In an effort to secure the throne for her son she appealed directly to David. As queen mother she may have also performed as counselor in political and judiciary affairs at court and as mediator between political factions in the nation. Her son Solomon did indeed give hearing to her counsel which demonstrates the regard to which the position of queen mother was held in Jerusalem. ". . . the queen mother was a lady counselor' whose role was reflected in the motif of Lady Wisdom' in Proverbs." (Anchor Bible, vol. 5, 585)

In the Jewish tradition contemporaneous with the formation of the New Testament, Bathsheba is seen as a noble woman of Israel. As Queen Mother, Gebirah, she had great influence both with David and his successor Solomon. As with the other women in the genealogy, Bathsheba is seen within the history of salvation for Israel and within the action and plan of God. Thus, Bathsheba is also be a key woman figure who helps in understanding the final woman to be mentioned, Mary, the mother of Jesus. Bathsheba, too, is involved in the action of the Spirit and in the history of salvation.

Bathsheba and Mary

In any comparison of Bathsheba with Mary, the mother of Jesus, the notion of "Queen Mother" perhaps can help with understanding that the theme came from the Hebrew Scriptures and later developed into the Queenship of Mary through devotion and liturgy. How may we understand Mary's Queenship in light of the Queen-Mother tradition? It has been said that some 'powerful women' of the Hebrew Scriptures are types of Mary. Verses from Esther and Judith in particular have been used in reference to Mary in the Church's liturgy: "You are the glory of Jerusalem, the surpassing joy of Israel; you are the splendid boast of our people" (Jdt 15:9). The verse may express the sentiments of the Christian community.

The Queen-mother plays an active and assertive role in relation to her son. She is totally concerned with their kingdom. In a sense, Mary can be said to be responsible for her son's kingship by reason of her motherhood and real concern for the reign of God (Lumen Gentium, 56). It would be difficult to prove, however, that Mary was aware of any royal character to her assent at the time of the Annunciation. Mary did not seek the throne for her son as did other 'queen-mothers'. On the contrary, she served the mystery of the redemption "in subordination to Christ" (Lumen Gentium, 56). Her service was one of self-effacement as was her son's. Both lived an experience of kenosis.

The queen-mother had powerful influence in the kingdom. This power flowed from her status as mother of the king. If we compare this to Mary's mediation, we can see the relation of her mediation to her maternity. Mary's role is relative to the activity of Christ. She never ruled in Christ's place as would the queen-mother.

The role of Mary, like that of Christ, is not to be understood in terms of domination, except over evil. Her rule, like Christ's, is based on humility and obedience and is characterized by faith, hope and love. This is how she and Christ relate to the members of the faith.[See : George Francis Kirwin, "The Nature of the Queenship of Mary," diss., Catholic U of America, 1973, 320.]

Mary's activity as queen-mother is her present role: she is faithful to God; she identifies with the community of those who follow Christ. Her influence is captured in the words, "Do whatever he tells you." Mary's influence is felt within the communion of saints. Her intercessory power is the same as any creature before God. Her maternal intercession, her "manifold intercession," (Lumen Gentium, 62) is what is close to and expressive of the Gebirah theme. One ancient song that praises Mary as queen, as mother, and as mediator is the Salve Regina:

Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope
To you do we cry, poor banished Children of Eve.
To you do we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
your eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this exile
show us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O clement, O living, O sweet Virgin Mary.


Chosen Daughter of Israel

During Advent, the Roman Catholic liturgy celebrates the plan of salvation by which the merciful God called the patriarchs, united them to himself in a covenant of love, established the Law through Moses, raised up the prophets, and chose David and Bathsheba as the ones from whose line the Savior of the world was to be born. The books of the First Testament, in foretelling the coming of Christ, "gradually bring to light the figure of a woman, the Mother of the Redeemer" (Lumen Gentium 55): she is the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom the Church proclaims as the joy of Israel and the noble daughter of Zion.

Our Lady "is by nature the daughter of Adam;" in believing the message of the angel she conceived the Son of God in her virginal womb: "she is by faith the true child of Abraham;" "she is by descent the branch from the root of Jesse, bearing the flower that is Jesus Christ our Lord" (Quoted from the Preface of the seasonal Mass, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Chosen Daughter of Israel)

In her sincere obedience to the Law and her wholehearted acceptance of God's will, she is, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, "exalted among the humble and poor of the Lord, who trustingly hope in him for salvation and from him receive it. After the long period of waiting for the fulfillment of the promise, in her at last the fullness of time is reached, and a new order of providence is begun, when the Son of God takes from her a human nature in order to free the human family from sin through the mysteries of his earthly life." (Lumen Gentium 55).

We invite you to pray with the Church the following prayer from the seasonal Mass, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Chosen Daughter of Israel:

Lord our God,
to fulfill the promises you make of old
you chose the Blessed Virgin Mary,
the noble daughter of Zion;
grant that we may follow her,
whose humility won your favor
and whose obedience brought us your blessing.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


All About Mary includes a variety of content, much of which reflects the expertise, interpretations and opinions of the individual authors and not necessarily of the Marian Library or the University of Dayton. Please share feedback or suggestions with


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