The issue of female representation in the Bible and its portrayal of women and womanhood, in general, are considerably controversial issues, mostly due to the perception of gender roles and sex-based prejudices that were common at the specified time slot. While there are key women in the Scripture, their role is typically relegated to that one of a mother and a nurturer, which, while being crucial, still undermines the potential that women have shown over the course of the human history. In her article “7 Mark 7: 28: ‘Even the Dogs Under the Table Eat the Children’s Crumbs’ – Women, Food, and Learning,” Claudia Setzer examines the perception of women and womanhood in the Bible and comments on the connection between the perception of a woman. Namely, the author draws parallels between the attributed function of a nurturer to a woman and the mentioning of food in the Bible, proving that, when considering food-related rituals and tasks, the Scripture elevates the status of a woman and allows her to gain greater agency in the Christian narrative.
Furthermore, the author relates the specified idea to the narrative of the Syrophoenician woman and her Samaritan mother, providing a factual support for the specified claim. At this point, the author provides a crucial distinction between the traditional perception of a woman in the Biblical context and the representation of womanhood in the story of the Syrophoenician woman. Namely, Setzer mentions the importance of the concept of “logos” as the defining aspect of the Syrophoenician woman’s image. According to the author, “For the Syro-Phoenician woman, it seems her logos is the act that heals her daughter” (Setzer 105). Thus, Setzer reinforces the role of literacy and learning as one of the cornerstone aspects of the Syrophoenician woman’s image, thus marking its departure from the traditional representation of a woman as a nurturer. Indeed, remarkably, the specified change occurs without the context of food and allows transferring to a new development in the character and image of the Syrophoenician woman.
Moreover, the reasonable and wise retort that she made to Jesus when being denied immediate help first indicates that the perception of women changes toward them gaining the skills of a speaker and a negotiator, which represents a stark contrast to the traditional image of a nurturer: “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs “ (Mark 7:24-31, New International Version). The fact that the Syrophoenician woman is not linked to food or any kind of meal-related themes in the narrative, as well as takes initiative and uses her eloquence to convince Jesus to help demonstrates an important development in the representation of women in the Biblical narrative.
Finally, Setzer comments on the issues of ethnicity and gender in her exploration of the Syrophoenician woman’s representation in the Bible. Specifically, the author mentions that the Syrophoenician woman is traditionally identified as non-Jewish, obviously due to the hint at her actual cultural and ethnic legacy in her very name, “Syrophoenician” meaning that she was a Phoenician from Syria (Forger 134). Therefore, although the status of a mother is the main characteristic of the Syrophoenician woman in the Biblical narrative, her overlapping characteristics also serve a vital role in characterizing her. Namely, the fact that she took the initiative to approach Jesus to ask Him for help while not being a part of the Jewish community portrays her as a rather decisive and even fearless person. The described perception of a woman as someone taking initiative to change her life and help her daughter can be considered as the essential change in the Biblical narrative surrounding women as solely food providers.
Connecting the interpretation of the role of a woman as primarily that one of a nurturer, Setzer links it to food and meals in her work, proving that the perception of women in the Bible becomes increasingly more positive once the events associated with food are mentioned and the role of women as those that provide food and offer nurturing are described. Thus, the author delineates the primary outlet for promoting female agency and emancipation in the Bible. Proving that women’s function as cooks and, in a more general sense, nurturers was prioritized at the time, Setzer specifies that the role of a woman in the Bible expands beyond the one of a food provider.
The standpoint from which Setzer explores the image of the Syrophoenician woman has provided an important vantage point for reconsidering the way in which I originally perceived the specified Biblical character. Although the Syrophoenician woman used to represent the embodiment of a traditional concept of a woman as she is usually depicted in the Christian philosophy, she no longer has the same meaning to me (Malcolm 174). Specifically, the Syrophoenician woman has gained personal agency and a significant amount of independence in my perspective, mostly due to the deviation from the traditionally prescribed role of a woman that is linked to food or meals (Setzer 99). Although some of the questions concerning the role of the Syrophoenician woman in the Scripture, such as whether prioritizing her needs was ethical, remain open, I tend to see her as a much more independent and emancipated person now.
Forger, Deborah. “Interpreting the Syrophoenician Woman to Construct Jewish-Christian Fault Lines: Chrysostom and the Ps-Cl Homilist in Chrono-Locational Perspective.” Journal of the Jesus Movement in Its Jewish Setting, vol. 3, 2016, pp. 132-166.
Setzer, Claudia. “7 Mark 7: 28: ‘Even the Dogs Under the Table Eat the Children’s Crumbs’ – Women, Food, and Learning.” The Gospels in First-Century Judaea, Brill, 2016, pp. 97-106.
The Bible. New International Version, Zondervan, 1983.