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Though they are not always the main characters of Bible stories, women play an essential role in the biblical narrative. There are, however, an awful lot of them. So, who is the most important woman in the Bible?

Mary Magdalene

No list of biblical women would ever be complete without Mary Magdalene. She is one of the best known and least understood women in the entire Bible. She is commonly misidentified as a former prostitute or adulteress who repented after an encounter with Christ. In reality, Mary Magdalene was a wealthy woman who was at one point possessed by demons. After Jesus freed her from their control, she became His follower and helped support the disciples with large amounts of her own money.

In terms of importance, May Magdalene plays a small but strong role in the Bible. She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion and was one of the first to learn of Christ’s resurrection. From there, she took the news of the risen Jesus to the disciples. Her role in the Bible, however, is far eclipsed by Christianity’s collective fascination with her. She is portrayed thousands of times in Christian art, is the subject of dubious conspiracy theories and every Christian knows her name. Few women in the Bible are the focus of such a following.

Mary, Mother of Jesus

Mary Magdalene is one of the most popular women in the Bible, but she is eclipsed by the older woman who shares her name. Mary, mother of Jesus, is inarguably the most important and best known woman in the New Testament. She appears repeatedly throughout the New Testament and was almost certainly the most important woman in Christ’s life. Without her, Jesus would never have been born. After His birth, the Virgin Mary was also responsible for taking care of the infant and raising Jesus. She retained a special place in His heart into His adulthood as is shown by the fact that some of His last words are addressed to her during His crucifixion. In terms of modern religion, she holds a unique and venerated position in both Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity that is unmatched by any other human.

Esther

People have wanted to wipe out the Jews since before the word “Jew” existed. The Egyptians tried to destroy the Hebrews before the Exodos. The Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans all tried their hands at ending the Jews. Hitler, of course, made the most infamous attempt at ending the Jewish people with his barbaric Final Solution. Every effort in history thankfully failed to eliminate the Jews. Many times, the exiled, scattered or oppressed Jewish people survived through sheer stubborn perseverance. At other times, the Jewish people owed their survival to a few heroes. One of those heroes is celebrated every year during the Jewish holiday of Purim. That hero, of course, is Queen Esther.

Esther was the adopted daughter of Mordecai and became the queen of Persia. After her marriage, she discovered that Haman was planning to exterminate the Jews. Esther risked her life to convince the king, who did not know she was a Jew, to spare her people. Without her, the Jews might have been wiped out in ancient Persia, and the New Testament would never have come to be. Neither, of course, would any of the myriad of Jewish contributions to culture, science or technology have existed. There would not, for example, be any Theory of Relativity since there would be no ethnically Jewish Albert Einstein. The Second World War might also have gone very differently. The Holocaust would not have had its millions of Jewish victims, though it would still have claimed thousands of non-Jewish lives, but the Allies might have lost the race to develop the atomic bomb. A massive number of the scientists responsible for conceiving of and creating the bomb, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Lise Meitner, Otto Frisch, Rudolf Peierls and Leo Szilard, were all Jewish.

Pharaoh’s Daughter

Long before Esther intervened in Persia, another woman from a royal household saved the Jewish people. In this case, it was the unnamed daughter of Pharaoh in the Exodus. Pharaoh’s daughter is one of a number of important biblical figures who are never given names. Her influence, however, is undeniable. Without this Egyptian woman, Moses would never have survived long enough to lead to the Exodus. Instead, he would have died in the Nile or been enslaved alongside his Hebrew brothers and sisters.

Sarai or Sarah

Sarai, later renamed Sarah, was the mother of the entire Jewish people. Without her, the biblical story would never have happened. There would have been no covenant, no Israelite people, no prophets and no Jesus. She is not given too much attention even in her own story, but Sarah is the reason that the rest of the Bible took place. She is the one to whom God gave one of his earliest miracles, a child in old age. Without that miracle, the people of Israel never come to exist and neither does Christianity or any of the cultural and ethical advances that came from the Judeo-Christian worldview.