Biblical Archaeology Review 39:1, January/February 2013

Biblical Views: Biblical Widows—Groveling Grannies or Teaching Tools?

By Robin Gallaher Branch

Widows. Are they not just an elderly, cranky, lonely and poverty-plagued group in the Bible always clamoring for justice? Well, sometimes. But they’re not all wizened whiners. And at least two—Abigail and Judith—are beautiful, financially secure and sexually desirable.

Throughout the Biblical text, widowhood signals a new season, a new time in a woman’s life. Lacking the protective care of husbands and grouped together with the fatherless, poor and resident alien, widows come under God’s protective care (Deuteronomy 24:17, 21; Ezekiel 22:7; James 1:27). Significantly, God commands that they not be oppressed (Zechariah 7:10). Jesus rebukes teachers of the law specifically for devouring widows’ houses (Mark 12:38, 40), a striking condemnation of the premeditated, predatory greed that targets this vulnerable group. Indeed, the poet of the Book of Lamentations captures this sense of vulnerability by using the word “widow” to describe Jerusalem after Nebuchadnezzar razed the city. Gone is her resemblance to a queen; vanished are her protectors, lovers, friends. Slavery, affliction and harsh labor await her in exile (Lamentations 1:1–3).

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