History, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in…I read it a little as a duty; but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars and pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all- it is very tiresome (spoken by Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen).This is the account of the families of Shem, Ham, and Japeth, the three sons of Noah. Many children were born to them after the great flood. (Genesis 10:1)
31 more verses follow in this chapter, naming the sons, grandsons, great grandsons, and so on. Then these words in summary:
These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood. (Genesis 10:32)
I don’t need to name the obvious, but I will: no women show up here. Jane Austen would not be pleased: 32 verses of genealogy and the naming of those who re-populated the earth after the flood with no mention of the women who were obviously around in order to make this happen. But they are there. Without them, this chapter would not exist. Women are between the lines, between the generations – creating, carrying, birthing, bleeding, nurturing, nursing, growing the men and women whose stories will now be told.
I feel a mild level of frustration that none of these women are named; but I get it. And, more important than the cultural realities of genealogical recording of the time, they are hardly silent or absent.
Still, the silence and lack of naming continues. Women unheard and unnamed remains frustrating and incredibly angering in any context in which such exists. But just as in Genesis 10, it hardly means that women are silent or absent. It’s critical that we learn to/choose to read between the lines.
We live in a culture that painfully objectifies and sexualizes women, where human trafficking is the third most profitable criminal activity, following only drug and arms trafficking with an estimated $9.5 billion generated in annual revenue and $4 billion attributed to the worldwide brothel industry. These women remain unnamed but it does not mean they do not exist. Indeed, it is my work, our work, to name them, to end their (and our complicit) silence, to speak on their behalf. And, in so doing, speak on our own behalf and that of all women who have gone before us – including the wives and daughters of Noah’s descendants.
In addition to issues of social justice affecting unnamed women, I wonder about its continuing reality in my own life. What does it means for me to continue to bring forth life – to create, carry, birth, bleed, nurture, nurse, and grow – in a world that may not ever hear my name? On one level, it’s painful, frustrating, angering. On another, between the lines, I know that I am in the text, frankly, that I am actually writing the text in my own story and in my advocacy on behalf of my daughters’ and other unnamed women – past, present, future – regardless of whether I make it into the genealogies, the publishing world, the limelight of Oprah.
Genesis 10 shouts to us – inviting us to hear the voices of generation upon generation of women. I imagine a microphone attached to each one and the power of allowing their voices to be heard, their names to be called, their lives to matter. Maybe I am that microphone, whether named or not. Maybe when I read Genesis 10 that’s what matters: that I hear their voices and then let them be seen, honored, celebrated. And my theology would tell me that such has already happened, is happening; that God hears them/us. That God sees them/us. That God names them/us.
Between the lines or not – we exist, we speak, we roar, we live, we matter.
Life on the planet is born of woman. (Adrienne Rich)