These genealogies of the tribes of Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Asher seem to have been compiled from the family records kept by each tribe. They include some scribal notes, such as “According to the family records of their households, they had 36,000 troops in the units of their fighting force, since they had many wives and children.”
But one statement stood out to me. It begs more questions than it provides answers, but it captured my attention and made me wonder about our understanding of the place of women in ancient Israelite society. Verse 24 tells us of Ephraim’s daughter or granddaughter: “His daughter was Sheerah. She built both Lower and Upper Beth-horon and Uzzen-sheerah.”
A woman who built three cities within a few generations of the patriarchs? I had to dig a little deeper to learn about Sheerah. With a little help from Google, I found I’m not the only one with questions about Sheerah. I found some very interesting articles and a great sermon by Wil Gafney about her at http://www.wilgafney.com/2012/05/20/she-built-a-city-sheerah-the-biblical-city-builder/. I’ll share a few key points, but I highly recommend reading his entire sermon.
We know that Ephraim was one of two sons born to Joseph and his Egyptian wife, Asenath. His children were bi-racial and their mother was the daughter of a pagan priest, Potipherah. God not only welcomed these into the family of Israel, but the Bible tells us that on his deathbed, Jacob/Israel took Ephraim and Manasseh on his lap and adopted them as his own, giving them all the birthrights of his own sons. From that moment forward, their offspring were treated just as the other tribes of Israel.
We also know a little more about these cities, particularly Upper and Lower Beth Horon. Their names have significance and reflect something about the builder. "Beth" is Hebrew for "House," just as Bethlehem is "House of Bread." Upper and Lower Beth Horon are named for the Egyptian/Canaanite god, Horon, illustrating the impact that her mother or grandmother had on her. Uzzen-Sheerah means “Listen to Sheerah” demonstrating that she was a woman of authority and power within the community.
These cities feature prominently in the story of Joshua’s Long Day. It was as the enemy approached Beth Horon that God hurled hailstones on them and more died from the hailstones than from Joshua’s army (Joshua 10:11). Solomon later rebuilt the cities, and we know from historical study and accounts that these cities were built in the later Bronze or early Iron Age and survived for over a thousand years. Even now, three thousand years after Sheerah built them, their foundations can still be seen on the mountainside, and Palestinian villages exist on the ancient sites.
Sheerah's legacy remains, but is linked forever to her pagan lineage rather than the godly legacy of her father and grandfather.