Miriam, Esther, and other biblical non-mothers

Lisa Wilson Davison showcases women who thrive despite—and perhaps because of—their childfree state.

I was immersed in More Than a Womb when the news broke about Pope Francis criticizing those who have pets instead of children. “This denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity,” he was reported as saying. Those who immediately pointed out that the pope himself is childless missed the point that men are not judged for lack of children the same way women are. Women’s humanity has long been linked to children, including in the Bible.

Hebrew Bible professor Lisa Wilson Davison showcases child-free women in scripture who thrive despite—and perhaps because of—their state. She opens her book with a personal story about criticism she received from a local newspaper reporter questioning her choice to remain child-free. The reporter referenced Psalm 127:3—children are “a heri­tage from the Lord”—so Davison pointed to the more ambiguous material that follows in the psalm. “Obviously the newspaper reporter did not realize or remember that I teach the Hebrew Bible for a living,” Davison writes. Readers of More than a Womb will be grateful that she does, because her expertise and insight create an engrossing experience.

Davison writes in her introduction about how churches can be especially negative, however well-meaning they are, to those of us who aren’t mothers. She uses the word motherize to describe “the process by which a woman who is not a mother is made to become like a mother so that others feel more comfortable.” She names the practice that some churches have of presenting all women with flowers on Mother’s Day because they want to recognize all women. While the church I serve as rector does not indulge in this custom, I have often been greeted with “Happy Mother’s Day” in church despite my child-free status, followed by comments such as “You are a mother to us all” or “You are a mother to your dog.” I look forward to using Davison’s term motherize in writing and casual conversation in the future when confronted by such annoyances.