The princess trope represented passivity, entitlement, materialism, and submissiveness, and no daughter of mine would wear a onesie that celebrated such loathsome values.
—Andy Hines, The Atlantic (2013)
What’s Wrong with Princesses?
In January of 2000, Disney executive Andy Mooney made a brilliant if obvious business decision. He consolidated the most popular Disney princesses into a single franchise and from it spun out through licensees some 25,000 varieties of princess merchandise. Princess lip balm, princess alarm clocks, princess bedspreads, princess nighties. According to Mooney, Disney merely discovered (finally!) an already existing demand and licensed all sorts of companies to satisfy it. Mooney’s business strategy has made Disney billions.
A quick surf of the net will turn up all sorts of complaints against Disney’s princesses and their like. They have impossibly thin waists and expensive, sometimes provocative wardrobes. Their choices give little girls a distorted understanding of relationships and romance. Their movies portray women as damsels in distress, passive and in desperate need of male help. The films validate patriarchy and sexism. While some writers are willing to find a bit of good in the princess movies—at least the girl gets the title role—many write off the princess-as-role-model completely.
Princesses in the Bible
The stories contained in Scripture have a sprinkling of princesses. There is Pharaoh’s daughter, who rescued Moses from the Nile. She went on to become queen of Egypt and the last of her dynasty. There is Michal, the daughter of king Saul. She married David while he was still a captain in the army. She helped him escape her father’s wrath, but in the end her pride and coldness toward the worship of God cost her David’s love. Next comes Tamar, David’s daughter—a kind and quick-witted girl, who fell prey to a wicked stepbrother. Of course, all of Solomon’s 300 wives were princesses. They were mostly political pawns and sex objects. And in the New Testament there is Salome, whose seductive dance cost John the Baptist his head. But there’s one more, the brave and daring princess who saved David’s line and thus God’s promise of salvation. Her brief story appears in 2 Kings 11 and in 2 Chronicles 22.
A Conspiracy of Life
It was a time of revolution, chaos, and slaughter. A purge in the north had destroyed the whole house of Ahab (2 Kings 9-11). Judah’s king had been caught in the violence and died in the uprising. When news reached Jerusalem, the queen mother, Athaliah, knew exactly what to do. She went directly to the royal nursery and killed every male child who might have any claim to the throne. She hated the house of David and the promise of God, and she wanted the kingdom for her own. But one child escaped the slaughter, and that’s where the princess comes in.
Jehosheba was a daughter of king Jehoram, Athaliah’s husband, but probably by one of his other wives. (He had several.) Jehosheba married the high priest, Jehoiada, a godly and resourceful man. The palace adjoined the Temple complex, so Jehosheba was within earshot when news of the king’s death reached the palace. Somehow she also learned that Athaliah was heading for the children’s quarters. She must have guessed what was coming. She certainly knew her stepmother’s character and ambition.
Jehosheba dashed to the nursery. The text is not clear on what happened next. She may have found herself a few steps ahead of Athaliah. She may have found the slaughter already begun. But somehow she grabbed one little boy, the infant Joash, and carried him away. She brought his nurse along. She brought them both to the Temple and hid them in one of its many chambers. Athaliah and her court worshipped Baal. None of the group would be visiting the Temple at this point, and they certainly wouldn’t go into its second- and third-story chambers without a good reason.
Still, many of the Temple staff must have known about the child because Jehosheba and her husband hid the boy there for six years. They must have exercised the greatest possible caution to make sure that only a few souls knew who or what was in that special room upstairs. For if word leaked out, they would all be dead. Athaliah had taken the throne, and she would obviously tolerate no rivals.
The Princess as Hero
What was at stake here was the survival of the Davidic line and the promise of the Messiah. Athaliah was a psychopath, but the forces behind the scenes were demonic. If the Serpent could destroy the Seed here, Satan would win the battle for history and the cosmos (cf. Rev. 12). Jehosheba played a role as critical as Queen Esther’s in redemptive history.
To protect the child, the Seed, and the promise, Jehosheba acted courageously and on her own initiative. She had no time to consult her husband. But she knew his mind and knew she would have his support. But the initial risk was all hers. If Athaliah discovered her before she escaped with the child, Athaliah would kill her as well. Jehosheba had a few advantages. She knew the palace and the Temple, and the staff and servants in both would be used to her coming and going and would likely follow her orders. On the other hand, anyone loyal to Athaliah and her Canaanite god would see the princess as an enemy. Jehosheba had to be very careful not to be seen or remembered by the wrong persons.
The Rest of the Story
When Joash turned seven, Jehoiada broadened their conspiracy of light to include the leaders of the priests and Levites as well as the palace guard. He showed them all the young boy and arranged for a coronation ceremony on the Sabbath day when they could most easily protect him. The plan succeeded: Joash was crowned, and Athaliah was defeated. Justice and peace returned to the kingdom. And it all began when the princess acted in faith and with compassion.
A Concluding Postscript
There is one chapter in Scripture that speaks of a great many princesses, though none of them is named. This is Psalm 45, “a song of love.” Jerusalem, the City of God, is the central character, a princess by adoption—she is told to forget her birth father’s house—and the King’s bride. She is attended by the daughters of Gentile kings. Her husband is the divine Messiah, whose throne is “forever and ever.”
Obviously, the Bible doesn’t have a problem with princesses as such, any more than it scorns the title and image of a king. Jesus Christ is a King, not a president or a CEO. The Church as God’s adopted daughter is a type of princess. As Christ’s bride, she’s a queen. When she fulfills her role properly, she is glorious. But that role comes with challenges and dangers, and sometimes she must risk it all for the lives of her children and the glory of her King. When she does, she, like Jehosheba, is a perfectly fine role model for little girls and indeed, for all of us.
For Further Reading:
Peggy Orenstein, “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?”, The New York Times, (December 24, 2006). <www.nytimes.com>.