Interpreting Women with Fear & Trembling

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Turn your head in any direction these days, and a discussion of gender is bound to be heard nearby. Naturally, this current cultural attention will also mean that books explaining the phenomenon, or ensuring its relevance is understood, populate book stores and online shopping carts en masse. There are those who will ignore such publications, those who flock to them, and those like me who are intrigued, but lack a sufficient entry point. Kregel Academic’s latest book serves as just such a starting place.

Vindicating the Vixens, edited by Sandra Glahn, is a collection of essays which seeks to evaluate the women found in the Bible who are often rated as second class actors, or in some way blamed for sinful actions which then disqualifies them as models of righteous behavior. Glahn is clear from the outset that the book is not an attempt to rewrite orthodox belief, but rather to use new tools and information to gain a clearer reading of the text. “Perhaps new data does not answer all our questions, but it may help us ask better questions,” (17). And as virtually every exegetical improvement over the years would attest, Glahn is right.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this book is the atrocious theology that it seeks to correct. I count myself blessed to have received the theological education I have over the last two decades, but in all my travels I have never heard of such awful exegesis and interpretation as is detailed in this book. Carolyn Custis James’s essay on Tamar and Eva Bleeker’s essay on Rahab begin with horrific accounts of pastors rendering highly suspect interpretations of the respective texts (see 43 & 50 for examples). I frequently found myself shocked by such accounts. Who could honestly read Ruth and come away with the idea that she behaved like “nothing more than a common harlot for initiating a marriage proposal to a man she had known for mere months” (59)?  If these are the kinds of things women routinely hear, then I can imagine that they would be frustrated. In this way, Vindicating the Vixens primarily offers a faithful reading of the text. The essays are well-written, and filled with great insight, but most of the points made are things that a straightforward reading of the texts in question should afford. That the state of Christian interpretation has reached a point where a book such as this is necessary seems sad.

But I don’t want to overstate the case, here. Vindicating is more than a corrective. It is a collection with an eclectic combination of male and female writers, who do not always agree, but who strive for submission to the text of Scripture. And the individual voices heard throughout the book provide a balanced, engaging perspective for every reader to consider. Even if you are like me, and find much of this information straightforward, there is still something to be learned. Two of the stand out essays are Christa McKirkland’s examination of Huldah (213-232) and Amy Peeler’s essay on Junia (273-285). For all my years of studying the Bible, I could remember hardly anything about these women, and these essays revealed just why I should keep them in mind.

Ultimately, I don’t think I can recommend this book enough. The importance of handling every story in the Bible with care and reverence cannot be underestimated. Vindicating the Vixens does just that, and provides the necessary background information and interpretive tools to help Christians read the women of the Bible the way the original authors intended.

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