Ten badass women of the Bible

There are many badass women featured in the Bible, so an assignment to choose 10 should be simple. It’s not. The term has many shades of meaning, and it would not surprise me if others came up with an entirely different grouping of strong-minded, gritty, gutsy ladies. Here's my list. Who is on yours?

"She talked back to Jesus, irritated his disciples and became an effective evangelist despite her succession of five husbands and counting. The label badass applies."

1. Eve

Eve rises to the standard. She was not pale skinned and compliant as renaissance artists often portrayed her. When lying on the moss among brilliant hibiscus, her ebony skin glistened in the filtered sunlight. Her eyes, her hair, her lips, her breasts—she was a beauty. And she was brainy. She asked questions, interacting with the serpent while Adam stood by mute. She overstepped her bounds and ate the forbidden fruit—all for knowledge—all for a good Ivy League education. She and Adam were banished from the Garden. She had babies—the oldest boy killing his younger brother. She knew sorrow and she is the mother of us all.

Young girl with floral wreath on her head holding an apple in one hand and a snake in the other. Foliage forest on dark background. Temptation of Eve.

 (iStock)

2. Sarah

Sarah, wife of Abraham was also a gutsy, strong-minded lady who stood her ground with husband Abraham, the great patriarch. But her strong-mindedness did not necessarily translate into strength of character. In fact, she behaved shamefully to Hagar, her live-in maid, whom she ordered to sleep with Abraham in order to give her a son, heir to the patriarchal line. She took the child Ishmael as her own until her “womb was opened (at age ninety no less) and she bore baby Isaac.  She resented Hagar and soon thereafter banished her and Ishmael to the desert to die.

3. Rebekah

Rebekah, Sarah’s daughter-in-law, was another badass woman. She, like her mother-in-law, was a looker and equally strong-minded. She bore twins, Esau and Jacob, favoring the latter (and younger twin) who turned out to be just as sneaky and duplicitous as she. He trafficked in pottage, trading a bowl of it for the birthright that belonged to his starving brother. Later, prodded by his mother, he stole Esau’s blessing by tricking old man Isaac into believing he was Esau.

4. Rachel

Rachel, Rebekah’s daughter-in-law, was another one of those beautiful, ballsy, badass wives. Second and favorite wife of Jacob, she competed in the game of baby-making with her cross-eyed sister Leah. Both sent in subs (their maids) and Leah won, but Rachel gave birth to Benjamin, youngest and favorite son of his father. Later Jacob, on the outs with his father-in-law, snuck away in the dead of night with the wives, maids and kids. In the morning when the old man realized the household gods were also missing, he raced to catch up with the caravan. Sneaky Rachel got by with grand theft by hiding them under a pile of Persian rugs, sat on the pile and told Dad she couldn’t move because she was having her period.

5. Jael

Jael is not a well-known biblical name. If we’re looking for a woman who made her mark as arguably the best judge in Israel, Deborah fits the bill. She was also a faithful prophet and army commander. But Jael was a badass on steroids. She hailed from outside the camp of Israel and served as a holy turncoat, aiding Israel in its military campaign by bringing down Sisera the enemy commander. He trusted her when she invited him into her tent and offered him warm milk. And though the Bible doesn’t say, she also may have plied him with one skin after another of her sweet raspberry wine. After he fell asleep fully inebriated, she nailed his head to the ground with one fatal spike. 

Jael Kills Sisera 1) Sacred-biblical history of the old and New Testament. two Hundred and forty images Ed. 3. St. Petersburg, 2) 1873. 3) Russia 4) Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Jael  (iStock)

6. Ruth

The impoverished and widowed Ruth was far more badass than we usually imagine. With her widowed mother-in-law Naomi she hatched a plan. After she was all perfumed and manicured, she snuck out in the dark and lay at the feet of wealthy Boaz, merry with wine, on his threshing floor. The text doesn’t explicitly tell us what happened but in the morning he was determined to marry her. At an appropriate time later—and who’s counting the months—she gave birth to Obed, who would become father of Jesse, father of David.

7. Bathsheba

Bathsheba is the one, not Ruth, with the bad reputation. Beautiful Bathsheba, a sex object in the eyes of the polygamous King David. Some say she was a teasing temptress, taking a bath and exposing her nubile naked body on her veranda below the Palace porch. Perhaps. The text is not entirely clear. But knowing David, she was just as likely the victim of rape. David knew her husband was away serving in the army, and she would be one more woman he could seduce. When she later reported to the King she was pregnant, he took care of the problem by ordering her husband to the most dangerous position in the front lines, and then took the widowed Bathsheba as his wife. She was an assertive badass woman who later fought to make her son Solomon first in line of succession.

8. Queen Vashti

Badass Queen Vashti knew how a queen should behave. She refused to do a strip tease in front of the inebriated King Ahasuerus and his drunken cronies. Good for her. For daring to act like a sovereign should, the king put her out of the palace, determined to find the most beautiful lady in the land. All dolled up, Esther took Vashti’s place—very capable but too perfect to be a badass herself.

9. Samaritan woman

The Samaritan woman is for my money the most interesting, but un-named, badass woman of the Bible. When Jesus was taking a high-noon break at the well outside Sychar, she showed up.  She talked back to Jesus, irritated his disciples and became an effective evangelist despite her succession of five husbands and counting. The label badass applies.

10. Mary

Jesus’ mother Mary was equally assertive. Like most mothers, she was perturbed when her twelve-year-old son stayed back in Jerusalem, failing to join the crowd heading back to Nazareth after Passover. Later she gathered his siblings and together they headed out to bring Jesus home for an intervention. Word on the street was that he needed serious therapy. The label fits her. But who would dare use any other term than Blessed?

Ruth A. Tucker (PhD, Northern Illinois University) has taught mission studies and church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Calvin Theological Seminary. She is the author of dozens of articles and eighteen books, including "Katie Luther, First Lady of the Reformation."