She [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
I understand that sitting at someone's feet in this context can be like a student listening to a Rabbi. Mary was probably sitting together with the disciples (who were apparently present, according to verse 38).
So my question is - how unusual was it for Mary to sit with the (male) disciples at Jesus' feet? Would it have been common for women to sit with men listening to a Rabbi?
My understanding is that Jesus was really challenging the view of woman in the current society even having a serious conversation with a woman. And he, as you note, did have woman disciples:
Some time afterward he went on through towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Cuza (Herod's household manager), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources. (Luke 8:1-3 NET)
In this context it is interesting to see what happens when Jesus has that famous chat with a woman in Sychar and the disciples later returns:
Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman. However, no one said, "What do you want?" or "Why are you speaking with her?" (John 4:27 NET)
I don't think it was only because she were a Samaritan they were "shocked". A popular teacher, Rabbi Eliezer, from around the time of Jesus is famous for saying:
- "Instructing a woman in the Law is like teaching her blasphemy"
- "Let the Law be burned rather than entrusted to a woman"
- "A woman's wisdom is limited to the handling of the distaff"
There were other Rabbis who did think it was advisable to teach to woman. But it was not the mainstream thing to do.Tweet