6 Times Women in the Bible Had to Use Their Bodies to Get What They Want

1. Tamar: Genesis 38

Painting by Arent de Gelder

Judah and Tamar (1667) by Arent de Gelder

Tamar was a widow. She went to live with her father until Judah’s son, Shelah, was old enough for her to marry. Shelah became grown, but Tamar and Shelah were not married. When she found out that Judah, her father-in-law, was going to sheer sheep, she wrapped herself up and put on a veil. Judah thought she was a prostitute, and asked to have sex with her. Tamar said only if he gave her his signet, cord, and staff. He obliges then they go on there way. Three months later, Tamar is pregnant, and Judah is furious and wants her to be burned. She brings out the signet, cord, and staff, and Judah acknowledges that he was in the wrong.

Tamar did not have agency to do anything about her place in life. Her only option was to use her body to get the protection she needed. 

2. Rahab: Joshua 2

The Harlot of Jericho and Two Spies by James Tissot

The Harlot of Jericho and Two Spies by James Tissot

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Joshua and some other Israelites had come to scope out the city in preparations for the attack of Jericho. The men had come to her which implies sex. The king of Jericho found out and sent orders for Rahab to turn the men over. Instead, she hid them. The men then granted her safety after the Israelites took over Jericho.

If we want to give the Israelites the benefit of the doubt and say that they protected Rahab because she protected them, we could. However, I am a bit more skeptical. Rahab used her body in the way she knew how in order to gain protection because she was soon to be a foreigner in her own land. 

3. Bathsheba: 2 Samuel 11

Bathing Bathsheba (1654) by

Bathing Bathsheba (1654) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, an officer in King David’s army. While Uriah was away, David saw a women who was very beautiful, Bathsheba. He summoned her, and they had sex.

Now, let’s pause for a second. One could say, “Why didn’t Bathsheba refused to have sex with David?” But I don’t think it was that easy. Kings tend to ruthless. She probably would have been killed for not sleeping with David.

Bathsheba gets pregnant, so David brings Uriah home to try to get him to sleep with his wife. Uriah refuses, and goes back to the front lines. David orders Uriah to be killed in battle. Then David takes Bathsheba as his wife, and her son becomes an heir to the throne.

Bathsheba used her body to further her placement in society. Why was she forced to use her body to gain her place?

4. Hagar: Genesis 16

Hagar Leaves the House of Abraham (1615-1617) by Peter Paul Rubens

Hagar Leaves the House of Abraham (1615-1617) by Peter Paul Rubens

Hagar was the servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Because Sarai was barren, she offered Hagar to her husband to fulfill God’s promise. Hagar conceives and looks on contempt, so Sarai dismisses her. Hagar runs away, and an angel of the Lord tells her to return to Sarai. The angel also said that her offspring would be greatly multiplied.

Now the question is: Why did Sarai feel that the only way to fulfill God’s promise was to use someone else’s body? Why was it that Sarai felt that the promise of God rested on her shoulders and her body?

5. Ruth and Naomi: Ruth

Boaz pouring Six Measures of Barley into Ruth's veil (1645) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Boaz pouring Six Measures of Barley into Ruth’s veil (1645) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Ruth and Naomi are in Judah after living in Moab for many years. Both women are foreigners and husbandless. They are in need of protection. Naomi knew someone from her late husband’s side of the family that was rich named Boaz. Ruth and Boaz become acquainted. Naomi then devises a plan in which Ruth was to ask for Boaz to marry her while he was drunk. Ruth and Boaz get married.

Naomi used Ruth’s young body to gain protection for themselves in Judah. Ruth laid next to Boaz. While the Bible does not suggest any sort of sexual interaction, Ruth uncovered his feet and laid next to him while drunk. She used her body to gain protection.

6. Mary Magdalene

The Penitent Mary Magdalene (1595) by Caravaggio

The Penitent Mary Magdalene (1595) by Caravaggio

In the Bible, Mary Magdalene did not explicitly use her body to get what she needed. Historically, it has been said that Mary was a prostitute. Why is it that Mary has to be sexualized to gain her place in history? Couldn’t she just be one of Jesus’ disciples?

While some of these stories may be seen as trickery, we must remember that these women did not have any other option to make a place for themselves in the world. In all of these stories, the women were either vulnerable or were foreigners. They did not have many choices other than to use their body. Having someone else’s kid can give a women protection in the ancient world. Why is it that women feel that using their body is the only way they can get what they want? How does this still happen in the world today? How can we change this?


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