In world religions, women have been in combat for centuries

Jan 24, 2013

The Pentagon announced Thursday that women can serve in combat positions. But take a look through history -- and religious traditions -- and you'll see that female fighters are nothing new. 


Credit Alexis Grimou [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When news of the Pentagon's plan made it the mainstream on Wednesday, the popular publication Christianity Today took a brief look at warrior women of the Bible. One woman who merits mention in the article appears in a few faith traditions: the widow Judith. When her city was under siege by the Assyrians, she cut off the head of Holofernes, the Assyrian general. Though the Book of Judith is apocryphal – the Roman Catholics consider it part of the Old Testament, but Jews and Protestants don't – some Jewish traditions have come from her story.

Looking to Greek mythology, we see Athena as the goddess of, among other things, warfare. In the Norse tradition, Freyja is the goddess of love and fertility, but also battle and death. Sekhmet is the Egyptian goddess of war, and she is also associated with healing and medicine. 

In Hinduism, the goddess Durga was created to slay the buffalo demon Mahisasura. The goddess Kali is also often associated with war. 

A website devoted to Women's History Month (which is celebrated in March) has a long list of female fighters from the Middle Ages, including Princess Sela of Norway, a pirate; Nusaybah bint Ka'ab, who fought in defense of Islam; and Fastrada, one of the bare-breasted Saxon women who fought Charlemagne's forces. 

This article was published in partnership with Columbia Faith and Values.