If one were to judge gender roles solely on the Bible, it may appear as though women play a less significant role than men. However, by reexamining history and looking at events through the eyes of females opposed to men, new suggestions about the actual role of women during this time period emerge. In Judith Margolis’s work “A Woman's Voice in a Man's Mouth: The Sarah Paintings of Richard Mcbee,” Margolis analyzes the paintings of Richard Mcbee, which aim to recreate the story of Sarah and Abraham from Sarah’s perspective. Richard Mcbee believes that “we are trained not to notice or hear the women...but when I start looking, they aren’t in the back seat. They are the engine; they energize the story and drive it forward!”[i] Mcbee’s painting includes dialogue from Sarah as the incidents are occurring, showing that she was in control of much of what was happening. When Abraham conceived a child with Hagar instead of Sarah, Mcbee argues the plan all along was Sarah’s, captioning the painting pictured below: “I tried for ten years to have Abram’s child, to no avail. I was barren. So I gave him my maidservant, the Egyptian Hagar, to provide Abram with an heir.”[ii] This caption shows that instead of Sarah being thrown to the side for a woman who was not barren, Sarah chose to give Abraham Hagar, allowing her control over Abraham and his actions. A later painting by Mcbee shows the events of Abraham instructing Sarah to bake cakes for their guests after Abraham’s covenant of circumcision with God. In traditional Scripture, this interaction simply as Abraham instructing Sarah to prepare the food for the guests, Mcbee’s painting and captions show how underestimated Sarah’s capabilities are. The below painting, from Sarah’s point of view, is captioned: “After Abraham circumcised himself as God had ordered, three strangers arrived. My husband ordered me, as if I didn’t know what to do, to make fine cakes for the new guests.”[iii] This caption suggests that Sarah’s capabilities are greatly undermined by the men of her time. Men did not think her capable of basic tasks, such as knowing when to bake for guests. The depiction Mcbee offers of Sarah finding out she would be able to conceive a child at the age of ninety is opposite of that which is remembered in Scripture. Genesis 18:12 recalls Sarah response of being told she would have a child at the age of 90 as by her laughing “to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’” She later denies her laughter in the passage, out of fear for the Lord. However, by looking at the events from Sarah’s perspective, Mcbee believed Sarah’s laughter was not out of fascination or fear of the Lord, but rather laughter at her own misfortune of her master plan failing. The painting for this particular event is captioned with Mcbee’s interpretation of what he believed Sarah would say: “Then these strangers told my husband that I, ninety years old, would give birth to a son next year. I laughed. Was my strategy for Hagar to give Abraham an heir a mistake?”[iv] This shows that Sarah did not want to have a child, but instead wished that her plan for Hagar to bear a child had worked the way she wanted to. By looking at the captions alongside the paintings, Mcbee presents the idea that there is a possibility women had much more say. While Sarah may be remembered now as a figure that was not even capable of bearing a child or keeping her husband to herself, this interpretation places modern concerned on the biblical text, allowing the reads to imagine a woman capable of much more than she was expected and knew how to get what she wanted. As quoted by Mcbee: “I believe we don’t have a misogynous religion, but we have a misogynous history.”[v]
[i]Margolis, Judith. “A Woman's Voice in a Man's Mouth: The Sarah Paintings of Richard Mcbee.” Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues, no. 22 (Fall 2011): 3. [ii] Margolis, 7. [iii] Margolis, 7. [iv] Margolis, 7. [v] Margolis, 3.