Vindicating the Vixens: a book review.

One of the challenges for many readers of the Bible is that it was produced with an Ancient patriarchal culture, so therefore it tends to tell most of it’s stories of men or from men’s perspectives. And even when the stories of women are told, their stories have often been obscured, and skewed from centuries of androcentric readings. So, we are told: Eve caused the fall, Sarah’s use and rejection of Hagar is blamed for the tension in the Middle East, and we wonder just what did Ruth uncover on the threshing room floor?

9780825444135In Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified and Marginalized Women of the Bible, Sandra Glahn has compiled essays from seventeen evangelicals from varying church traditions reexamining notable women of the Bible who have oft been maligned by biblical interpretation. Kregel Academic, the publisher tends to be on the conservative end of biblical scholarship. While these essays don’t speak in one voice (Glahn notes in her  preface that contributors disagree on various issues including women’s preaching), they are each committed to hearing the voice of God in the marginalized, and the dialogue is respectful (while there are complementarian’s in the mix, these are soft complementarians that accept and value women’s scholarship and theological contributions). Proceeds from this book were donated to International Justice Mission.

The book is divided into three sections with an introductory essay on the “Hermeneutics of Her” by Henry Rouse. Rouse sets the table with six interpretative questions which give us a framework for wrestling through difficult biblical texts: (1) what does the text actually say? (2) What do I observe in and about the text? (3) What did the text mean to the original audience? ( 4) What was the point? (5) What  truths in the text are timelessly relevant? (6) How does the parts fit the whole? (23-26). Rouse also notes the value of reexamining our interpretation of women in the text, because though we have a Great Tradition of two thousand years of biblical interpretation, that tradition is fallible. Reexamining passages with new eyes will either confirm of convictions or allow us to see with new eyes. This is a good framing essay, and obviously with far reaching implications beyond the ‘women in the Bible.’

Section 1 examines the women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.  Carolyn Custis James writes an essay on Tamar, Eva Bleeker explores the Rahab story, Marnie Legaspi describes the ‘so-called’ scandal of Ruth, and Sarah Bowler describes the victimhood of Bathsheba by David (and makes some pretty incisive observations about their significance for the way power dynamics often play out in our own age (see #metoo if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Timothy Ralston closes out this section with an impassioned essay for protestant evangelicals to recover the prominence of the Virgin Mary which the Scripture tells us about (the 4th most described figure in the New Testament).

Section II gives a survey of the sexualized and vilified and marginalized women of the Bible. Glenn Krieder defends Eve from the charge of being the ‘Mother of all seducers” (rather, both men and women share in culpability for human sinfulness). Eugene Merrill and Tony Maalouf explore the characters of Sarah and Hagar, respectfully. Ron Pierce dismantles the charge that Deborah was only called by God because ‘the men wouldn’t stand up (the narrative praises and affirms Deborah, Barak, and Jael). Christa McKirkland holds up the example of the prophet Hulda, and Sharifa Stevens describes how the  virtue of courage is manifest in Queen Vashti’s refusal to the King Ahasuerus.

Finally Section III explores some new Testament images of women: The Samaritan Woman at the Well (Lynn Cohick), Mary Magdalene (Karla Zazueta) and Junia (Amy Peeler). Each of the essays in this section explore how the interpretive tradition maligned and distorted the biblical image of these women.

This is a really solid collection of essays, and not overly technical. It engages the Bible, the theological tradition and current scholarship. I appreciated the honest, yet reverent wrestling with difficult passages and the ways each author labored to recover a portrait of women in the Bible and restore it. This is really solid. I give this five stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

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Reading the Bible with Women’s Eyes: a kid’s book review

Let me tell you about a great new children’s Bible book.  Margaret McAllister, author of the Mistmantle Chronicles, has written a book called Women of the Bible. It is beautifully illustrated by  Alida Massari and profiles eleven women of faith described in the Bible. These include:  Mother Noah, Rachel, Miriam, Ruth, Mary of Nazareth,  Mary and Martha, The Canaanite Women, Lady Procula, Mary of Magdala and Lydia.  While the Bible is full of stories about men and boys, this collection explores the perspectives of these women, peppered through the biblical narrative.

But this is not a simply a collection of the ‘girl’ stories. This is an imaginative retelling of some of the Bible’s best loved stories.  Noah was a righteous man who heard from God and built an ark in obedience to Him. McAllister retells the story from the perspective of Noah’s wife (Mother Noah) and the stress and strain from caring for animals on the ark.  Her profile of Rachel retells the Jacob story from the perspective of his beloved but suffering wife.  The story of Miriam describes the young Hebrew girl who cared for her baby brother, Moses.  Ruth is told from the perspective of Naomi (as retold from the perspective of Ruth and Boaz’s child).

The New Testament stories continue this imaginative exploration. The nativity story is retold in Mary’s voice as she, the humble peasant girl, uses symbolic objects to illustrate the journey from her Annunciation to Epiphany. Martha and Mary of Bethany reflect on Jesus’ visit and the the responsibility of being the host versus sitting at Jesus’ feet. McAllister does not typecast Martha–she is ever bit as eager to choose the ‘one thing that matters’ but felt prevented by her obligation to feed her guests. We hear more of the story of the Canaanite women and the love she has for her daughter and we see the crucifixion through the eyes of Pilate’s wife and the resurrection from the perspective of Mary Magdalene.  Lydia closes the collection by recollecting Paul’s mission to Philippi and all that happened to him there.

McAllister doesn’t rehash a Bible story, simplify it and slap a moral on the end of each tale. She expounds on and explores the biblical narrative by shifting the narrative voice. The result is that you hear the story in some fresh ways. What better way to enter the story than to imagine it from the perspective of someone who was there. Sometimes these women are central to the action (i.e. Miriam, Mary, Martha and Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene), at other points these women are eye-witnesses to  significant events (i.e. like  Lady Procula, Lydia).  I absolutely loved this!

I read this book to my  little girls. My six-year-old enjoyed this book a lot (my four year old is still in the ‘picture book stage).  I think this book is better for a seven or eight year old (as far as reading level) but since some of these stories are familia r my daughter liked reading them with me.  I will happily re-read this book with them (or give it to them to read) later.

The art work by Alida Masarri makes this a beautiful book.  The cover depicted above, is Ruth.  The women profiled are all beautifully painted in scenes from the stories they inhabit. For artwork alone, this book is well worth it!

This is a book I plan to read and re-read with my children.  I enjoy as much as them. I give it five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my review.