The ordinary and extraordinary women of the Bible are many things — villains, virgins, witches, saints, and everything in between.
From Eve’s doomed decision to eat the apple of knowledge in the Garden of Eden to Mary’s miraculous pregnancy, the Bible’s cast of ladies has had an indelible impact on countless people’s ideas about women and femininity and on the larger course of history as the whole.
But despite the enduring infamy of their stories, women in the Bible actually aren’t given that much time to speak at all, let alone to make a case for their actions.
Spanning 66 books (depending on which version you use), the Bible is not exactly known for its brevity. The King James Bible clocks in at about 783,187 words (via Wordcounter.net), and the Catholic Bible’s word count stretches even higher — but it turns out that women’s words make up only a tiny fraction of that total.
Women’s words make up only 1% of the Bible
According to Facts, women speak a startlingly spare 14,056 words in the Bible, comprising about 1% of the text in its entirety. That word count was the result of a 2014 study by Episcopalian priest Rev. Lindsay Freeman, who spent months poring over the New Revised Standard Version in search of women’s voices (via LindsayHardinFreeman).
Freeman’s study also found that a mere 93 women are mentioned in the Bible, with only 49 actually being named (per Facts).
It is likely that the lack of women’s voices in the Bible was not an accident, as women were not exactly empowered (at least in the modern sense of the word) at the time of the Bible’s creation, despite the prevalence of their stories.
“We have for whatever reason overlooked the witness of women in the Bible for all these thousands of years and all the contributions they’ve made to the faith and to world history,” Freeman told the Huffington Post, adding that women in the Bible experience “tremendous trauma,” much of which has remained unexplored and unspoken.
Which women speak the most in the Bible?
The woman who speaks the most words in the Bible is Judith from the Book of Judith, who utters 2,689 words. Judith’s story, which appears in some versions of the Old Testament, tells the tale of a widow who uses her feminine wiles to trick an Assyrian general, thereby liberating Israel from its oppressors (via Britannica).
Meanwhile, though she technically has the most individual speaking parts of any woman in the Bible, Jesus’s revered mother Mary speaks only 191 words.
Other major players include Abraham’s wife Sarah, who speaks a total of 141 words, and the Book of Genesis’s infamous Eve, who is granted only 74 words. Meanwhile, the woman who has the longest conversation with Jesus out of anyone in the Bible is a nameless Samaritan who speaks 151 words total, per the Daily Mail.
The text also isn’t always shy about its often less-than-rosy views of women. For example, in some interpretations of 1 Corinthians, Paul proclaims that women “should remain silent” in church. However, times have changed — largely thanks to the efforts of women such as Freeman, who sees immense value in collecting the stories of women in the Bible, scarce though they may be.
“We have cried over these stories, we have laughed over these stories,” Freeman said. “Our faith has been increased.”