6 Silent Women In The Bible, And What They'd Say If They'd Been Given The Chance

A feminist furore has erupted this week over the fact that of all the words spoken in the Bible, only 1.1 percent are said by women. The stats are pretty terrible — only 93 women talk, and the biggest loudmouth is the Virgin Mary, who speaks a whopping 191 words. That's barely enough to make up a series of Tweets. It's a disparity we've all known about for a while, with Irish author Colm Toibin even publishing an award-winning book called The Testament of Mary (otherwise known as "Mary trying to get some words in edgewise"), but having it laid out in bare numbers makes it even more shocking.

And it's not for lack of female characters or great stories, either. There are many brilliant women in the Bible who get a few lines to themselves — Deborah, the female leader in the Old Testament who's both a judge and leads a successful rebellion against Israel's oppressors, gets to sing an entire song about how awesome she is, with some harmonizing from a dude — but the Bible is also crowded with high-achieving ladies who have either minuscule amounts of dialogue, or none at all.

This, even if you're not religious in the slightest, is a massive shame, because women who get up to this kind of stuff would definitely have something to say for themselves. Here are six of the most undeservedly silent Biblical women, and what they'd probably yell if they'd been given the chance.

1. Athaliah, The Ruler

Athaliah was one of the players in the supremely bloodthirsty struggles over the crown of Judah in the Old Testament. And when I say bloodthirsty, I seriously mean it. When her husband the king died and left her son in charge, she became the highest-ranking woman in the country — but her son and all 70 of her male relatives were murdered in an incredibly bloody coup. Athaliah escaped, because who thinks about women when it's murdering time, am I right?

But Athaliah took her chance, wrestled her way to power, and reigned as queen for six or so years, until (obviously) she was murdered too. (The Old Testament puts forward the idea that she had all her male relatives slaughtered so she could get the crown.)

What she she'd say: "Well, I'm very sorry you spent so much time killing all those royal men, but as you forgot me, and the crown is right here on my head, I rather think you had better shut up now."

2. Joanna, The Disciple

Joanna was both badass and thoroughly ignored. She was one of Jesus's earliest disciples, a rich aristocrat he'd cured of a mysterious illness, and she threw up her life of nice throw cushions and peach-scented baths (I'm projecting) to follow him around. When he died, she, Mary Magdalene, and the mother of James the disciple went to his cave to clean his body, because dudes don't want to touch icky bodily fluids. They discovered him gone, and some angels hovering being mysterious. When they went back in a panic to tell the guys, NOBODY BELIEVED THEM.

What she'd say: "No, seriously, he was NOT THERE, why is it so hard for you idiots to believe this, JUST GO AND LOOK FOR YOURSELVES I AM DONE HERE."

3. Miriam, The Overlooked Sister

Miriam was Moses's older sister, and saved him from death as a baby: she put him in the famous floating basket where he was discovered by the Pharaoh's daughter. She was also a prophetess who could hear God just as clearly as Moses did, so she thought — reasonably enough — that this made them equals.

Unfortunately, it didn't. She was equal enough to lead a massive celebratory dance by Hebrew women after Moses parted the Red Sea to lead them all from Egypt, but when she dared question Moses's choice of wife, God actually struck her down with leprosy for a week.

What she'd say: "Let me get this straight — I save your ungrateful life, follow you everywhere, can hear God just as loudly as you do, but if I dare raise a teeny tiny objection to your choice in lady-friend, I'm covered with festering sores? Sure, that seems completely fair."

4. Anna, The Prophetess

Anna is kind of sidelined, but she clearly knew how to make an entrance. According to the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus was presented at the Temple of Jerusalem as a baby, Anna — who was either 84 years old or had been a widow for 84 years, depending on translation (but either way was extremely old) — appeared, and apparently saw that the baby was seriously special, and promptly started yelling happily about it.

What she says isn't mentioned, probably because she appeared after a prophet called Simeon (male, obviously) had had a long soliloquy about how awesome the baby was, and everybody was tired out from listening to that.

What she'd say: "This baby! This baby is the BEST BABY. This baby — oh, this prophet over here already told you how special he was? That's great, LET ME TELL YOU AGAIN."

5. Rizpah, The Concubine

Rizpah, a concubine in the court of King Saul, had a hell of a life: in the chaotic environment of coups and counter-coups for the rule of Judah and Israel, she bore Saul two sons, and then possibly had an affair with a rebel pretender to the throne, Abner. (The text is unclear about whether Rizpah consented to this or not.)

Abner lost, but Rizpah and her sons survived — until Saul's kingdom collapsed, and all his heirs, including her boys, were condemned to death. Their bodies were left on an open hillside rather than respectfully buried, but Rizpah raised hell: she kept a vigil over the bones for nearly six months, until finally they were buried properly.

What she'd say: "You kill my only sons and you can't even bother to make a hole in the ground for them nicely? Like it's so difficult? I'll show YOU difficult."

6. Priscilla, The Preacher

Priscilla is only mentioned in passing, but she must have been a seriously tenacious woman. She and her Roman husband Aquila were Jews who'd been exiled from Rome for their beliefs, and worked as tentmakers together in Corinth. They made friends with Paul the disciple, gave him work in their shop (pictured somewhat romantically above), and travelled around with him when he decided to leave.

More remarkably, though, it's clear that Priscilla in particular was a missionary, one of the earliest on record. She set up a church in their new home in Syria, told off a preacher who didn't know enough about the word of God, and is mentioned, along with her husband, as "saving Paul's neck" in some mysterious incident that everybody knows about but nobody explains.

What she'd say: "Yeah, I saved Paul's life once. But it's one of those stories where if I told you I'd absolutely have to kill you."

Images: National Portrait Gallery, Tate Online, Bildindex der Kunst, Wikimedia Commons