My reviews can be wordy, so I will begin by saying that I highly recommend this book and rate it 5 stars! It has 16 contributors: 15 who author a chapter on a woman in the Bible, and a preface written by the editor Sandra Glahn – to whom we owe thanks for skillfully overseeing this book project.
It is published by Kregel Academic, and author credentials range from MA to PhD. If “academic” is not your normal fare, please don’t let that make you nervous! I’ve always observed a spectrum with academic writing, some being more or less academic. The chapters vary in this regard but even those higher on the spectrum are very readable and accessible. The authors keep it real. Of the 16 contributors, I was familiar with 6 of them – having read other works by them.
This is not a book “for women” – rather it is a book for Christians – whether they happen to be male or female. Many Christians could benefit from this book, whether they are laypeople in the church pew, pastors, or academics. All Christians have misunderstood, vilified, or simply overlooked at least some of these women. The misconceptions or oversights have the potential to distort our understanding of certain theological truths that underlie our life of faith. The book often reminds us that we serve a God who “sees” the marginalized and utilizes people we would least expect – people lacking power or status in the culture.
The profits from this book go to the International Justice Mission, so that is another good reason to purchase it.
The title and subtitle speak for itself: Vindicating the Vixens, Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible. However, don’t miss that last descriptive word: marginalized. The former words predominate and several women in the book could, at first, puzzle you – such as Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Uh, Mary is not sexualized or vilified! Yet she is marginalized – at least by Protestants or evangelicals.
Perhaps you have never heard of the prophet Huldah? Well, that is the point – she has been marginalized – forgotten about. The only woman in the book that just did not “fit” for me was Ruth. That doesn’t mean the chapter was not well-written. It was, and it shed light on aspects of the book of Ruth that could puzzle us. Yet, for myself, it was a stretch to include her in this book.
On that note, Ruth was included because the book is divided into sections, and the first section covers the women listed in the genealogy of Jesus. (Perhaps this makes Ruth fit, as the lone women listed in the genealogy can be overlooked.) The other sections are: Beginnings, Era of Patriarchs, Era of Judges, Era of Kings, Era of Exiles, New Testament Women – thus providing a sampling of women throughout the Scripture.
In a book with multiple contributors, sometimes there can be “dud” chapters, but I found every chapter worthwhile. The varying writing styles enriched the book, rather than detracted from it. To comment on every chapter would lead to an overly long review, therefore I will offer some highlights.
My favorite chapters were the ones on Eve and Mary Magdalene. Others that I especially appreciated were on Tamar, Hagar, and Deborah. The ones that stood out for me did so for variable reasons. For example, the author of the chapter on Hagar is an Arab scholar who offers a perspective or “side” that we may have never heard before – thus I found this chapter enlightening. Other chapters could prove to be your favorite or stand out for your own reasons!
The chapter on Eve. Well, I must admit my bias, as the author Glenn Kreider was my favorite seminary professor. However, this chapter is an important one – regardless of who had written it. Eve, and the opening chapters of Genesis, are monumental. Really, they are. How these chapters are perceived lay the foundation for how all women in the Bible are perceived, and influences the interpretation of Bible passages about women in the home, society, and church. The premises begin here, and if the premises are off, everything that follows will also be off. Kreider hits it out of the park!
On that note, the contributors to this book vary in their personal views on women in the church. I know a couple to be egalitarian, some I would describe as soft/mild complementarian, and others I am uncertain of their stance. I don’t think any author out rightly states their position – as that is not the point of the book.
In the preface, the editor Sandra Glahn states that she gathered the male and female contributors to this book from different nationalities and ethnicities, as well as educational institutions and religious traditions. (Although there is a slight bent towards those affiliated with DTS – Dallas Theological Seminary.) She also states the writers are “all over the map” on their view of women preaching. But all the contributors were unified in wanting to “revisit” what the Scripture says about women in the Bible who have been maligned or marginalized.
Two more things, before I end the review…
Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. One more time: Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute! This false view of Mary got going around 600 AD and has never gone away. (We’ve also likely misunderstood the Samaritan woman at the well.)
I have critique about the chapter on Mary, the mother of our Lord. It is true that dear Mary is terribly marginalized by Protestants and evangelicals. It was excellent to include her in this book! Outside of Christmas, we forget about Mary. Mary who? Yet did you know that Mary is the 4th most described person in the New Testament after Jesus, Paul, and Peter? Yes. There is much to respect, appreciate, and learn from Mary.
A key reason that Mary is marginalized is Protestant disagreement with Roman Catholic teachings about Mary that are based on tradition rather than the Bible. The author of this chapter (in my opinion) goes overboard to be diplomatic about Catholic teachings, and is neglectful in pointing out problems with certain views of Mary. We all have traditions, Protestant and Roman Catholic alike, but when tradition conflicts with Scripture it should not be glossed over.
The author is fair in tracing how some of these beliefs about Mary began, and “with a better understanding of these traditions, we can be less critical of those who hold them (page 119).” – There is truth here. Some of the traditions are not as bad as Protestants can perceive them to be. But on page 123, the author states, after the section on “Mary as co-redemptrix” that: “Unfortunately, given the popular excesses of devotion to Mary, the meaning of these titles has often been misconstrued.” – That sentence should have been expanded to at least a paragraph.
Certain teachings about Mary may be less objectionable when properly understood, BUT that is not what the teachings can end up looking like among practicing Catholics. While certain teachings about Mary are not dogma (mandatory for Catholics to believe), these traditions are nonetheless influential and can even dominate Catholic spiritual practices. (And some disconcerting teachings are dogma!)
I’ve observed excessive devotion to Mary, with traditions carried far beyond any original intent to honor Mary, and Jesus recedes into the shadows. Jesus who? As you see, I have strong feelings about this, and I’ve said enough.
To reiterate, I give Vindicating the Vixens 5 stars. Don’t let the “academic” intimidate you. It would be a beneficial read for a variety of Christians – To gain valuable insight, not only about women in the Bible, but about other aspects of the Christian life, our view of God, and our approach to the Scripture. And don’t let my excursus on Mary, only a part of one chapter of the book, divert you!
** I won this book from a giveaway on the blog of Beyond Ordinary Women. Thank you!