Women Warriors and Prophets of Israel (55+)

In biblical tradition, men are typically the receivers of prophecy. Nevertheless, the TaNaKh (Hebrew Bible) is replete with stories of extraordinary women who were both receivers of prophecy and remarkable leaders of Israel. Who were these women warriors and prophets?

We will explore texts about the lives and characters of these women to gain a deeper understanding of their roles as foundational figures in shaping Jewish identity. We’ll examine the nature of biblical prophecy as it relates to women by delving into several iconic figures: Miriam and Deborah, leaders and receivers of prophecy; Shifrah and Puah, slaves who dared to defy Pharaoh; Huldah, the forgotten prophet; and Yael and Judith, warriors within the enemy’s camp.

Note: Back by popular demand, from spring 2015.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Compare the prophetic experience of women in biblical tradition with that of men
  • Identify key women who played significant spiritual and/or historical roles in Jewish biblical tradition
  • Explain some of the significant spiritual and/or historical roles played by women in TaNaKh
  • Compare and contrast the roles these women played with the roles of women in your own spiritual tradition

Learning methods

You will learn through lecture with time for questions and answers (may vary from class to class). For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: The nature of prophecy and its women receivers

All prophetic books in TaNaKh are named for men. Very few women are identified by the title “neviah”—prophet—yet Jewish tradition identifies many women as receivers of prophecy. In this introductory session we will examine the prophetic experience as it typically applies to women in Biblical tradition.

Week 2: Shifrah and Puah the rescuers

Who are these enigmatic women? Appearing only in the opening passages of Exodus—their story is relatively brief—yet they had a profound impact on the survival of the Israelites in Egypt. Their faith was unwavering, but were they prophets or quiet warriors? We will examine their stories and legacy.

Week 3: Miriam, the first woman prophet

Miriam is the first woman in the Torah to be specifically identified with the title, “neviah.” Legends abound about her role in the Exodus story. She is a central figure in both traditional Jewish texts and contemporary feminist exegesis. We will explore Miriam’s significance in biblical, midrash, and contemporary contexts.

Week 4: Deborah: Judge, warrior and prophet

Deborah was both judge and national leader of pre-monarchy Israel. She endures as an inspiration to Jewish women to this day, yet her status as judge and national leader is the subject of debate in classical rabbinic texts. We will examine her role as both a political and prophetic figure.

Week 5: Yael and Judith: Women of war and faith

We will examine two stories—one biblical, one apocryphal—of women caught up in Israel’s battles and delivering deadly blows to the enemy. We will discuss their stories within the context of women in battle in ancient times and examine how their actions are interpreted and understood in rabbinic tradition.

Week 6: Huldah, the forgotten prophet

Were it not for this woman, the Torah would only contain four books. Nevertheless, many are unfamiliar with her story; no biblical book is named for her. We will explore the life and times of court prophets in the ancient Israelite kingdom and the singular role of this lesser-known woman.

Books, materials and resources

There is required reading for this course.

A copy of the Bible is necessary for this course. A version that includes commentary is helpful. No specific edition is required; however, we recommend editions of JPS TaNaKh: The Holy Scriptures (Jewish Publication Society), especially those that come with commentary.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

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