Aemilia Metella Interviews Tabitha – Part 1

The woman they could not keep down

Three women jumped up and down on the jetty and waved in my direction. I looked around at the other passengers on the ship and none of them waved back, so I supposed they were for me. I picked up my bag and walked down the gangplank onto Joppa’s stone jetty to be greeted with a warm and surprisingly strong hug from a lady of indeterminate age. Her scarf slipped onto her shoulders to reveal a full head of silver hair.

She let me go and said, “You must be Aemilia Metella!”

The two other women greeted me similarly, and I felt welcomed to Joppa. “Come with us.” They said in unison.

“Which one of you is Tabitha?” I asked.

They looked at one another and giggled like young girls.

“We’re not Tabitha.”

“No, we are here to take you to Dorcas,” said the third.

The older lady took the bag out of my hands. I tried to take it back, but she refused, and I had to let it go before the strap broke. They led me towards the marketplace, where sellers shouted out their wares to passers-by and turned into a narrow alleyway. Then stopped by a blue door with an outline of a fish engraved on it. A symbol that this was a house where believers in Jesus met. One of my accompanying ladies pushed the door open.

I looked around the courtyard, as busy as a hive of bees. A woman carrying a basket of bright red wool walked towards another woman standing tall with a spindle full of a continuous thread of red yarn, spinning violently to the floor. Weaving frames lined the walls, as others passed a spindle through to create a piece of brilliantly coloured red and yellow cloth. Sitting with their heads together, a woman patiently showed another how to pass the spindle back and forth across the frame.

“She’s here. Dorcas! We have Aemilia Metella.” The lady carrying my bag shouted.

A slim young woman with brown hair turned her head and then said an encouraging word to the woman she was teaching before walking towards me.

“Welcome Aemilia, to my home and our workshop. I’m Dorcas,” she said.

“Hello, I’m here to interview Tabitha,” I said.

She took my hand and laughed. “I’m Tabitha! It often causes some confusion. Tabitha is my Hebrew name and I sometimes go by Dorcas for my Greek-speaking friends.”

“Why Dorcas?” I asked.

“Because Tabitha means gazelle, and Dorcas is the Greek word for a gazelle.”

Some women look like their names and Tabitha, or Dorcas is one of those. Her dark brown eyes under thick eyelashes reminded me of a gazelle, and her black hair tumbled on her shoulders. I knew she was a widow, but I didn’t expect her to be so young.

“I see you have met Daphne, Melia and Selena,” Tabitha said.

The lady with my bag put her hand up. “I’m Daphne.”

“I’m Melia,” said another

“I’m Selena,” said the third.

“There are a lot of women here. Who are they?” I asked.

Tabitha replied, “They are all widows like us. Aella!” The woman spinning looked up. “Let the spindle turn a few times before tweezing out the wool. That’s better, well done.”

She took me inside where it was cool and Selena poured me a cup of wine. “You must be tired after your journey,” she said. “Would you like to rest before talking to us?”

“I have so many questions and they are spinning around as fast as the spindle in the courtyard. I don’t think I could rest.”

“What do you want to know?” Tabitha asked.

“Tell me about the ladies outside.”

“They come to us, and we train them to spin and weave and then provide them with the tools to run their own business in their homes. Being a widow is very hard, as I can tell you from my experience. You are not only grieving for a lost husband. But in addition, you still need to provide for your family and children who have lost their father. Some families, like my own, look after widows well, but others are not so fortunate.”

“What happened after your husband died?”

“He ran a small clothing business inherited from his father. I tried to carry on as he had, spending all day, except the Sabbath, spinning or weaving, but could not fulfil the orders, so we lost business. I was in danger of going bankrupt and losing my home. My family helped as much as they could and would not have seen me homeless, but I wanted to prove that I could do it myself. One morning on my way to the market, I was praying for a way to make the business work. I was coming home with the fish and vegetables for our dinner when I met Daphne.” She reached out and took hold of Daphne’s hand.

Daphne sighed and closed her eyes as if it was easier to remember. “I, too, was praying for a way out of my desperate situation, but never for one moment thought that God would intervene as mightily as he did. You see, I was utterly destitute and had to resort to begging on the street. My husband had died of food poisoning, and everyone said it was my fault and that I had poisoned him. But it wasn’t. I know how to keep food safe and what to avoid. Even my own children sided with his parents and threw me out of the house. We are now reconciled, but I will not return to their home because I’m happy here.”

Tabitha took up the tale. “Realising that I had bought too much food, I invited her to join me for supper. It was then that she told me she could spin wool. So, shortening a very long story, Daphne came to live with me, and we spent many a day laughing, joking and telling stories as we worked. Soon I was getting more orders out. That’s when Melia came along.”

Melia sat up. “Oh, is it time I told my story?”

“Yes, please,” I answered.

“My story is like Daphne’s, except I’m much younger,” Daphne laughed at Melia’s outrageous remark. “I’m from a poor family and have always struggled to get by. Each day wondering where our next meal would come from, or whether we could afford fuel for the fire to cook with. My husband’s death only made it much worse. I knew Daphne from the synagogue and asked her for help because I had heard how generous she was. She introduced me to Tabitha and after teaching me to spin and weave, she gave me a loom and helped me set it up at home. What a difference it made; I can tell you. Both my daughters now work at home, and I help here, passing on my good fortune. Tabitha not only taught me to weave, but taught me about Jesus, and now we are all believers in him.”

“What about you Selena?” I asked.

Tabitha turned to her. “Do you want to tell your story, Selena? You don’t have to.”

Selena smiled at me. “I want to tell Aemilia my story. I’m even happy for her to write it down and tell others. People need to know the desperation some women fall into through no fault of their own. I was married, but we were never fortunate enough to have children. After my husband died, his family wanted me off their hands. Their treatment of me would have disgusted my husband. They tried to make me marry my husband’s ancient uncle, and I knew he wasn’t a good man, so I ran away. I got by for a while selling pieces of jewellery, but eventually, I sold my last piece and the only thing left to sell was my body. After being with a man one afternoon, he abandoned me in the gutter with a black eye and three broken ribs. Unable to move, I lay there until a gentle hand touched me and gave me a drink of water. It was Daphne. She brought me here and tended my broken body and broken soul, and when I was ready, taught me to spin and weave. I would now be dead without Tabitha’s place. Not being of the Jewish faith, I hadn’t heard of Jesus or understood his salvation. But my friends showed me what true faith means and I’m now a believer.”

I turned to Tabitha and said, “I hadn’t realised that there were non-Jewish women here.”

“Yes, about half are not Jewish. Every woman here has needs, which go beyond the basic financial and practical needs of food and a home. We are all scarred and need Jesus’s healing touch.”

“I was the first,” said Selena. “But not the last.”

“Selena is fantastic!” uttered Melia. “You should see her in action.”

“Is she a good weaver?”

Melia laughed, “No… I mean, yes. Yes, she is an excellent weaver, but I meant she is what we call an evangelist. She cannot stop talking about Jesus and what he did to save her. Most of the women here, even the non-Jewish ones, now believe in Jesus.”

I felt I had enough background information about Tabitha and wanted to know about that fateful day. The day she died.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Old Jaffa Wikipedia

http://vroma.org/vromans/bmcmanus/spinning.html

I was praying for a way out of my desperate situation

ttp://vroma.org/vromans/bmcmanus/spinning.html

I would now be dead without Tabitha’s place

We are all scarred and need Jesus’s healing touch

Naples National Archaeological Museum, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

The story of Tabitha, or Dorcas, is found in the Bible in the book The Acts of the Apostles chapter 9 verses 36 -43. She is a very interesting character, more so than the short eight verses imply, and is the only woman in the Bible who is called a disciple. But, it is not only the story of her, but of her friends also. I was so carried away with their collective story that I must tell it in two parts. Part two will be available next month.

Spoiler alert-If you can’t wait that long to know what happened next, you can read it in Acts.

Susan Sutherland is the author of Leaving Bethany, a historical Biblical fiction novel written from the point of view of Martha of Bethany, a friend of Jesus. The sequel, Return to Caesarea, will be out in early 2023.

If you liked the blog, why not join Susan’s mailing list and receive a free copy of her eBook, The Interviews of Aemilia Metella?

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