While growing up in the slums of New Delhi, India, North Park Professor Dr. Rajkumar Boaz Johnson witnessed a great deal of suffering. He recalls thinking, “I am going to get out of this slum, and when I grow up, I’m going to do something about it.” Dr. Johnson found strength and did just that, ultimately becoming a professor of Hebrew Bible and Theological Studies.
During a sabbatical, Dr. Johnson visited the Kakuma refugee camp of 800,000 refugees. There, he experienced narratives of suffering very similar to those of his childhood, sparking the idea for his book, The Marys of the Bible: The Original #MeToo Movement. “The word ‘Mary’ means suffering,” he explains, “one who endures bitterness.”
In his book, Dr. Johnson intricately connects the suffering of the women in the Bible to the current #MeToo movement, but instead of telling a story of weakness, he tells a story of strength and resilience.
After researching ancient religions—including Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Roman—Dr. Johnson discovered that the issues the #MeToo movement raises are not new, they have been persisting for thousands of years. “In all of these religions and civilizations,” he says, “women have always been taken advantage of.”
He emphasizes, though, that women have persevered throughout history. He discusses how women of the Bible—such as Tamar, Esther, Ruth, and the Marys—do not let themselves succumb to victimization. “The overarching principle is that the Bible takes those aspects which society would regard as weaknesses and transforms them into paradigms of strength.”
Dedicating his book to Bindulata Barik, one of his PhD students in India, Dr. Johnson includes her writings of her #MeToo experiences as well as those of his colleagues, Ingrid Faro and Elizabeth Pierre, in the foreword. He aspires for his book to be a tool that both women and men use to engage in the issues that the Bible and the #MeToo movement share in common—both understanding the origins of suffering and re-emerging with strength.
Discussing his most important goal for The Marys of the Bible: The Original #MeToo Movement, Dr. Johnson said, “My hope is that groups of women will gather together and use this book as the basis of forming support groups in order to find healing.”
Dr. Johnson’s book is published in India and the U.S. He has recently done book signings at Chicago-area Barnes and Noble stores.