Book Write-Up: Vindicating the Vixens

Sandra Glahn, ed.  Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible.  Kregel Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

As the title indicates, this book is about women in the Bible who have been marginalized or even vilified in conservative Christian culture.  The authors themselves are conservative Christians, in that they have a strong view of the inspiration of Scripture and the historicity of the stories in the Bible.  They have different levels of scholarly credentials, with some contributors having Ph.D.s, and some having masters’ degrees.

In this review, I will comment briefly on each essay, to provide you with the flavor of the book.

“Preface,” by Sandra Glahn, Ph.D.

What stood out to me is Glahn’s reference to the argument that Scripture marginalizes Deborah because Hebrews 11:32 mentions Barak but not Deborah.  Glahn disagrees, but she does not detail why.  A later essay in the book actually uses Hebrews 11:32 to undercut a popular conservative Christian talking-point.

“Introduction: The Hermeneutics of ‘Her,'” by Henry Rouse, Th.M.

This essay covers methodological issues.

“Chapter 1: Tamar: The Righteous Prostitute,” by Carolyn Custis James, M.A.

This essay defends Tamar, affirming that she faithfully performed her duty to her late husband.  It effectively discussed the motivations of the characters in Genesis 38.  For example, it talked about the economic motivations that Ornan had for depriving Tamar of his seed.

“Chapter 2: Rahab: What We Talk about When We Talk about Rahab,” by Eva Bleeker, M.A.

This essay explores the possibility that the Israelite spies sought to sleep with Rahab the prostitute when they stayed with her.  That was not its only point, but it was one of the issues that it explored.

“Chapter 3: Ruth: The So-Called Scandal,” by Marnie Legaspi, Th.M.

This essay attempts to refute the idea that Ruth was sexually propositioning Boaz while he was drunk.

“Chapter 4: Bathsheba: Vixen or Victim?”, by Sarah Bowler, Th.M.

This essay argues that Bathsheba was a victim.  Some of its arguments are speculative and not very convincing.  For example, why wouldn’t the prophet Nathan talk to Bathsheba had she done something wrong?  He talked to David, who clearly had done something wrong.  Still, the essay does well to highlight that there is no evidence in the Bible that Bathsheba sought to seduce David, and her argument about the location of purificatory baths is plausible.  Bowler also powerfully argued against the tendency of some conservative Christians to treat statutory rape as consensual sex, for which both victimizer and victim are responsible.

“Chapter 5: The Virgin Mary: Reclaiming Our Respect,” by Timothy Ralston, Ph.D.

Among other things, this essay addressed the question of how Mary could seemingly doubt Jesus’ mission (Mark 3:21, 32), while having learned from an angel that Jesus was the Messiah.  Ralston speculates that Mary had nationalistic Messianic expectations.  This essay is also useful in describing the development and history of concepts within Mariology.

“Chapter 6: Eve: The Mother of All Seducers?”, by Glenn Kreider, Ph.D.

This essay plausibly argues that Adam was physically with Eve at the temptation (Genesis 3:6), yet it criticizes the conservative Christian talking-point that Adam should have exercised moral leadership over Eve.  The essay was somewhat thin in addressing God’s criticism of Adam for listening to the voice of his wife (Genesis 3:17).

“Chapter 7: Sarah: Taking Things into Her Own Hands or Seeking to Love?”, by Eugene Merrill, Ph.D.

This essay is informative in referring to how ancient Near Eastern culture could form the backdrop for some of the customs in the Abraham and Sarah story, while acknowledging that some of the customs are attested later than the time when Abraham and Sarah allegedly lived.  This essay gives Sarah the benefit of a doubt in terms of her interactions with Hagar and Ishmael, whereas the following essay is more supportive of Hagar and Ishmael.

“Chapter 8: Hagar: God Names Adam, Hagar Names God,” by Tony Maalhouf, Ph.D.

This essay is critical of the saddening tendency of some conservative Christians to blame Hagar for the Middle Eastern conflict, which is based on the assumption that Ishmael was the ancestor of the Arabs.  Maalhouf also offers an alternative interpretation of Genesis 16:12 to the one that asserts that Ishmael was violent.

“Chapter 9: Deborah: Only When a Good Man Is Hard to Find?”, by Ron Pierce, Ph.D.

This essay argues against a popular Christian conservative claim that God only accepted Deborah’s leadership because good men were not stepping forward to lead.  As Pierce argues, a good man did step forward, Barak, yet God still supported Deborah’s leadership.  The essay offered an intriguing explanation for how the city of Abel Beth Maacah may relate to the story of Deborah, as the term “mother of Israel” appears in both Judges 5:7 and II Samuel 20:19 (where Abel Beth Maacah appears).  Pierce tends to regard the poetry and prose in the Deborah story as consistent with each other, whereas more liberal scholars have treated them as independent.  Treating them as consistent does not always work: Pierce, for example, interprets Judges 5:27 as Sisera’s attempt to rape Jael, which is an understandable interpretation, although it is not salient in the prose (where Jael kills Sisera when he is asleep, not when he is trying to rape her).  Pierce highlights that rape is a theme in the Judges story, however, particularly in what Sisera’s mother says in Judges 5.

“Chapter 10: Huldah: Malfunction with the Wardrobe-Keeper’s Wife,” by Christa L. McKirland, Th.M.

This chapter is interesting because it interacts with how Jewish and Christian interpreters throughout history have addressed the prophetess Huldah.  Unfortunately, McKirland laments, they have often asked why God did not consult Jeremiah or Zechariah, as if Huldah was God’s Plan B.  McKirland critiques that assumption.

“Chapter 11: Vashti: Dishonored for Having Honor,” by Sharifa Stevens, Th.M.

This chapter is interesting because it refers to the history of interpretation of Vashti, as well as what Herodotus says about Xerxes’ wife (who has a different name in Herodotus’ story).  What they say is negative.  Unfortunately, Stevens does not really account for why Herodotus is so negative about her.  Stevens discusses how God replaced a strong woman with another strong woman, namely, Esther.  She also tells a compelling personal story about rejection, and how she struggled to move on from that.

“Chapter 12: The ‘Woman at the Well’: Was the Samaritan Woman Really an Adulteress?”, by Lynn Cohick, Ph.D.

Cohick seeks to refute the assumption that the woman at the well (John 3) was a loose woman.

“Chapter 13: Mary Magdalene: Repainting her Portrait of Misconceptions,” by Karla Zazueta, M.A.

Zazueta argues against the idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.  The essay mentioned that the Talmud presents the area of Magdala as a morally-depraved area, but it does not do anything with that reference.  The essay also explores what Mary’s possession by seven demons might have meant.

“Chapter 14: Junia/Joanna: Herald of the Good News,” by Amy Peeler, Ph.D.

Romans 16:7 mentions Junia, and there have been many interpreters who argue that the passage means that the woman Junia was an apostle.  Peeler agrees with this interpretation, while denying that it is relevant to debates on women’s ordination.  Peeler offers some arguments against the scholarly grammatical arguments of Michael Burer and Dan Wallace that Junia was not an apostle.  Peeler discusses the history of interpretation about Junia, particularly among church fathers.  Peeler speculates about the horrors that Junia may have experienced in prison, based on what women in that historical context endured there.  That presented Junia as courageous in her Christian convictions.  The essay also discussed what her apostleship may have meant: Paul in I Corinthians 15:7 mentions apostles who saw the risen Christ, and they appear to be distinct from the Twelve (see v 5).  Peeler speculates that Junia may have been Johanna (Luke 24:10), changing her name as other Jews Latinized their names for the benefit of their Roman neighbors.  This was the richest essay in the book.

The book is interesting because it offers alternative interpretations and fresh insights.  Some interpretations were more convincing than others, but all were worth reading.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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