Mining Our Biblical Matriarchs

A workshop on Friday, September 2, 2022 at Chicon 8, presented by Sally Wiener Grotta

The women of the Bible (Eve, Esther, Miriam, etc.) have been amongst the West’s most enduring female archetypes. As lush and varied as any mythology, their stories have been reinterpreted by every generation’s artists, clerics, and political leaders, according to how they expected women to be. However, these archetypes have been largely overlooked by modern spec fic authors. In this workshop, we’ll have fun challenging and toppling common preconceptions about various women of the Bible, as we mine this rich mother lode for SF&F story ideas.

The following are my notes and amplifications. I am solely responsible for their content and any mistakes.

Recall that there are two creation stories. Genesis 1:27 (NRSV):

So God created humans[e] in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

In Genesis 2 we have the story of Eve being created from Adam’s rib, so Adam was clearly created before Eve.

To reconcile these stories, Lilith was supposed to be the woman created with Adam in Genesis 1. She was replaced by Eve in Genesis 2. Lilith refused to be subordinate to Adam. She was considered a rebel and a possible demon. Or perhaps the first feminist. Eve and Lilith are archetypes. Perhaps they were different aspects of a single complex individual, split by men.

Midrash: Reinterpreting the Bible.

In the fall Adam throws Eve under the bus. You can also imagine Eve and Lilith teaming up against Adam.

Eve ↔Lilith ⇔ Adam ↔ Serpent

Rachel ↔Leah ⇔ Bilhah ↔ Zilpah

Bilhah and Zilpah were the slaves of Rachel and Leah and each also bore two sons to Jacob. They have no voice.

Sons of Jacob
Leah Zilpah Rachel Bilhah

Sons inherited and could care for their mothers. Hence it was important for a woman to have sons.

There are many other women in the Hebrew scriptures who could be considered matriarchs, including Sarah, Hagar, Tamar, Miriam, Deborah, Bathsheba, Judith, Ruth, Naomi Esther, Vashti, Rahab, Pharoah’s sister, the Witch of Endor, and others. All have the potential for new stories.

Theme: A barren woman has a child who becomes the patriarch of the next generation.

Laws against summoning spirits were enacted because women did that.


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