By Ann Spangler
Like entrées on a menu, some words simply sound more delicious than others. I’m not talking about words like “butter” or “gelato” or even “chocolate,” but about sharp, pungent words that you can sink your teeth into. Words like “wicked,” for instance. Mix it with words like “women” and “Bible,” and the resultant phrase might remind you of that first mouth-watering bite of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
The apostle Paul’s protégé Timothy once remarked that all of Scripture is both “God-breathed” and “useful.” Surely that’s reason enough to reacquaint ourselves with these ancient stories. To give credit where it’s due, I’ve attempted to rank the Bible’s most disreputable women in order of wickedness, providing a brief refresher on what each one did to make the list.
10. The Woman of Samaria
The Jews and Samaritans had formed a mutual hatred society long before Jesus encountered this woman by herself at a well. Jesus surprised the woman by starting a conversation and then by disclosing his knowledge of her multiple love affairs and revealing himself as the Messiah. Though she was probably the neighborhood floozy, she became the first evangelist, convincing everyone in her town to come and see the “man who told me everything I ever did.”
Married to the prophet Hosea, she abandoned him to pursue relationships with multiple lovers. Her prodigal lifestyle eventually led to financial ruin and she was forced to sell herself into slavery to satisfy her debts. Despite her betrayal, Hosea rescued her by settling her debts and welcoming her home. A prodigal wife who learned the meaning of true love, her story served as a lived-out parable, poignantly expressing God’s love for a people who had committed spiritual adultery by worshiping multiple gods.
8. Lot’s Wife
She lived in Sodom, a city of legendary wickedness. When an angel told Lot and his family, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back,” she ignored the warning and was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot’s wife was probably guilty of more than a fateful glance backward. Most likely she abandoned her fleeing family to return to the city, thus sharing in its destruction.
7. The Witch of Endor
Also known as the medium of Endor, this woman made her living by attempting to conjure the dead to predict the future. Since necromancy was strictly forbidden by King Saul, she risked death whenever she practiced her craft. Ironically, the same king who forbade the practice, visited her home in disguise the night before he died in an attempt to divine whether he would prevail against his arch enemies—the Philistines.
The wicked girlfriend of a legendary but foolish strongman named Samson, she made a bargain with his enemies, who promised her cold, hard cash for the secret of his superhuman strength. After wheedling the secret from her lover, she told them his strength would vanish the moment they cut off his hair. While Samson lay fast asleep with his head resting on Delilah’s lap, the Philistines snipped off his hair. When her unfortunate boyfriend awoke, they gouged out his eyes and took him captive to Gaza.
5. Potiphar’s Wife
She was a high-ranking Egyptian woman, who fell for a good-looking Hebrew slave named Joseph. Enraged by his refusal to jump into bed with her, she accused him of attempted rape and had him thrown into prison. After Joseph’s release, he became one of the most powerful men in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.
The granddaughter of Herod the Great, she married two of her uncles, Herod Philip I and Herod Antipas. An ambitious and ruthless woman, she hated John the Baptist for thundering against her marriage to Herod Antipas, whom she had married after divorcing his half-brother Philip. Unable to persuade her husband to murder John, Herodias arranged an elaborate birthday party in Herod’s honor. Then she asked her daughter Salomé to perform before Herod and his guests. Herod was so pleased by the young girl’s dance that he vowed he would give her anything her heart desired, up to half his kingdom. Consulting her mother, Salomé shocked Herod and his guests by asking for the most stomach-turning gift imaginable—the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
She was the daughter of Ahab and probably also of Jezebel, the Bible’s most wicked queen. Married to the King of Judah, she grew paranoid after his death, murdering her grandchildren to secure the throne. Thanks to a conspiracy, this ruthless queen was finally overthrown and executed just outside the temple in Jerusalem.
A Phoenician princess, she was married to Ahab, one of Israel’s worst kings. She worshipped Baal, who was heralded as the bringer of rain and prosperity. In order to force conversions to her storm god, she murdered many of Israel’s prophets but was eventually made a laughingstock by Elijah and his God. Though this wicked queen came to a very bad end, she spent the last few moments of her life combing her hair and applying makeup so she could look her best when her servants threw her out of the palace window, feeding her body to the dogs below.
The original baddie, she made the fatal-for-everyone mistake of listening to the serpent’s lie that God wasn’t telling the truth about the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. After taking a bite, she offered it to Adam and the two were ejected from paradise. According to the story, giving in to the original temptation let death and suffering loose in the world. Though Eve may have eventually turned her life around, I’ve ranked her first in the order of wickedness because of all the evils she and her husband unleashed on the world.
However you rank them on the scale of wickedness, the stories of these women are dramatic and fascinating. They make delicious reading for anyone interested in how that most ancient of books, the Bible, has shaped and formed the history of our world.
Reprinted with permission from BibleGateway.com. Ann Spangler is the author of many bestselling books, including Wicked Women of the Bible. All images courtesy of Wikimedia.org.