Why were women so fearful in the presence of Jesus?

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Reading through the book of Mark, I began seeing many stories of healing. Two particular instances stood out to me in reading.  Mark 5:21-43 and Mark 7:24-30 . The first story refers to a woman suffering from a perpetual bleeding problem, and in her desperation to be healed she approaches Jesus in a crowd. However, she only touches the hem of his robe. The next story shows a woman who comes to Jesus in desperation for the sake of her child. Then she references herself as only worthy to take the scraps from the table.  Why did the woman feel as if she could only touch the hem of his robe? Why does the woman see herself taking scraps from the table. Why were they so fearful?  I believe it is based on culture.

During the Greco-Roman Empire, women were viewed vastly different than they are now in Western Culture. I believe that the culture influenced the way women saw themselves and reacted to men.  First, women were viewed mainly inferior to men . “As the great Roman orator Cicero wrote, “Our ancestors, in their wisdom, considered that all women, because of their innate weakness, should be under the control of guardians.” (http://www.dartmouthapologia.org/articles/show/118) Not only were women considered weak, but in government affairs most women had no voice including the right to vote.  According to most sources,  ancient Roman families were ruled strictly by the eldest male. Some of the prescribed roles women had during these times were to bear children,  to teach the culture to the children, and to submit to the male figure in her life whether that was her father, brother, or husband. All of these roles were accepted as a typical view of a women during  this time period; however, exceptions to these roles could be seen in certain aristocratic or upper class women’s lives. However, it was frowned upon for women to receive much education. They learned only enough to pass the Roman culture to their children.(http://www.moyak.com/papers/roman-women.html).

I am a part of an international community at my University, and I am friends with a young man from Jordan. I asked if I could interview him as a viewpoint on this subject, simply because he understood the culture more than me. Given that modern day Jordan is not the only place Christ walked it is very close to the majority of places that are referenced in the New Testament. The interview was very interesting because his answers were in contrast to what I thought they would be.

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How were women treated during the Roman Empire in what is now modern day Jordan?

Salem: “Before the Roman Empire’s rule in this land, people viewed women in illogical ways according to today’s standards. It was almost a primitive or extremist view and a treatment of oppressing women. However, during the time of Roman Empire in modern day Jordan, Palestine, and Cyprus the men and women lived in relative peace and minimum oppression of women.” ( He added that this was strictly his view looking back to the roots of his culture.)

How has the view or treatment of women changed now in Jordan and surrounding areas?

Salem: “Well, this is connected to my last answer. After the Roman Empire or the time of Jesus, politics and political parties began working toward controlling society. They often used religious establishments as their route to infiltrate society and to manipulate people. With the rise of political parties, the views and treatment of women is slowly returning to that of  the primitive or extremists.”

How are women viewed and treated in Jordan today?

Salem: “ Now, women are typically seen in the role of a housewife, but not because she has been oppressed. Simply, because of the great number of refugees that are settled in my country, work is hard to find. The opportunity to find a job is decreasing rapidly because of the large competition of workers applying. Mainly, women are treated and viewed like the women here in America or in the UK. We have a very modern society, but always remember there are exceptions.” (Again he added this was strictly his viewpoint).

Overall, women in the Roman Empire in what is modern day Jordan, Palestine, and Cyprus were treated and viewed as inferior to men according to the research I read. In contrast, my Jordanian friend Salem offered an interesting opposing viewpoint on the matter. Either way, the women in these two particular stories were fearful to break a culture norm of inferiority toward men.

What makes the Wise Man wise?

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“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,  saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”- Matthew 2:1-2 (ESV)

Growing up in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt, I have heard the story of the Christ birth innumerable times over the years. However, upon dissecting the story through a new lens, I began questioning the story that I was taught. Who exactly were the “wise men”? Where did they come from? When did they arrive? Why all these questions? After all the childhood Nativity Story revealed all the answers to these questions. Right? Let’s see what some quick research has to say on the matter.

Who exactly were the “wise men”?

The particular word for “wise men” in Matthew 2:1-2 is translated from the Greek word magos or plural magi. This passage in Matthew contains the only use of this particular form of magos or magi in the New Testament. During the ancient times, magi were considered very knowledgeable men who focused in occult studies such as astrology and dream interpretation. (http://www.ldolphin.org/magi.html) Now, these were extremely intelligent men, and the text depicts their knowledge of astrology through their journey following a star to Jerusalem. Also, a reference to their interpretation of dreams is made shortly following the mention of their meeting Jesus.  “being warned in a dream not to return to Herod…” Matthew 2:12a. So, these wise men were not necessarily kings (probably nobles), but they were magi.

Where did these magi come from?

Searching for ancient magi and their geographic areas of origin proved to provide interesting results. According to the scripture Matthew 2:1-2  the wise men or magi came from the “east”. Well, in this time where exactly was “east”?  With Jerusalem to the extreme west of  known civilization in the Roman Empire, one would see the vast Persian, Syrian, and Parthian Empire to the extreme east of known civilization.(See Map Below) During these ancient times magi practiced their learned skills mostly in the Persian and Parthian Empires east of Jerusalem.  Likewise, in the Parthian culture it was custom to present gifts to a king (http://www.ldolphin.org/magi.html ). These magi were priests in the Parthian Empire during the time of Christ. These men who saw “the star” began a long journey to Jerusalem, and more than likely the men carried quite the entourage with them when they travelled.  I believe Steve Collins says it best, “If one Parthian leader traveled with so large a caravan on routine business within Parthia, how large was the caravan of the Magi — a whole delegation of Parthian nobles carrying great treasures to worship a “new-born king?” It was large enough to frighten the whole city of Jerusalem! The Wise Men coming to Jesus were not bringing just a few samples of gold and other precious things that they carried in their personal saddlebags. They were coming to worship a royal-born child, so they likely had a whole train of pack animals loaded with “gold, frankincense and myrrh!”  (http://stevenmcollins.com/html/Parthia%20Excerpt.html)

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When did the magi arrive in Jerusalem?

I had always assumed from the stories, movies, wooden displays, and yard decorations that the “wise men” arrived the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and they worshipped him in a manger. However, the research has prompted me to change my thinking on the event. Most likely these magi were from the Parthian Empire which lies approximately 1000-1200 miles east of Jerusalem. (http://www.ldolphin.org/magi.html)  With camels as the primary form of transportation and with the massive entourage these magi would have brought with them,  this journey would have taken months to complete. Also, as I read the text more closely, Matthew refers to “Jerusalem” and also “ the young child” not to Bethlehem or the baby. Highly revered throughout both the Roman and Parthian empires, these magi would spare no great gift from the “King of the Jews.” I found no solid proof of extensive preparation, but I would believe the magi took necessary steps to assemble and provide the best for this newborn king.  Two of my sources agreed, the journey alone from Parthia  would have taken months for the magi to complete not including preparation. After the research and reading the text, there is no evidence to place the magi at the manger the night of Jesus’ birth. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09527a.htm)

To conclude, the Nativity Story that I had believed to be true was shattered during this small amount of research.  The “wise men” were magi from the Parthian Empire. They were not named as kings in the text, but they most likely were considered nobles throughout the empires.  From the Parthian Empire, these magi traveled a very long distance to reach Jerusalem. The trip concluded with the magi finding not a baby Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem, but the young Christ child with his mother in Jerusalem.