Lindsey Hardin Freeman, Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter (Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Press, 2014) 496 pp. $22
Reviewed by Robin Jarrell
Lindsey Hardin Freeman’s thesis in Bible Women is a promising one. Usually given short shrift by almost anyone who reads the Bible, the women of the old and new testaments are powerful, resourceful, and full of strength and determination when it comes to matters of life and faith. Using a thematically Bible-study format, Freeman’s goal is to provide the “first systematic, reflective analysis of which Bible women talked, what they said, how much they said, and what their words might mean for contemporary Christians.” (xvi.)
It’s a noble undertaking and a valuable resource on one level. Each book of the Bible is outlined according to the women who speak (the women in the Apocrypha are also included). After a brief profile, each woman is identified according to her role in the biblical narrative. Her words are recalled and then her story is recounted. A simple exegetical portion follows and the chapter ends with questions for reflections.
The book is not a scholarly work and is clearly intended for students of the Bible who haven’t had much (if any) access to scripture and who would benefit from a reflective Bible study approach to new information. It is evident that the author is a skilled retreat facilitator and excellent pastor, but it is my opinion that the book’s accessible and “user-friendly” tone and format actually widens the gap between our own ignorance and a real understanding of our female spiritual ancestors.
The problem with trying to apply the “words” of women in scripture to our daily lives is that it projects our own 21st century historical context onto the historical context of the women portrayed in the Bible. This approach, it seems to me, prevents women and men from understanding just how powerful the women in scripture truly are.
For example, Freeman asserts that, in the case of Sarah, the matriarch “was legally within her rights to suggest a child from an Abraham/Hagar union, [but that] many readers may find her actions immoral.” Such a view blatantly ignores the entire context of Sarah’s story. This observation also ignores the work of several scholars – among them Savina Teubal’s Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch Of Genesis, (Swallow Press, 1984), and Mieke Bal’s Lethal Love: Feminist Literary Readings of Biblical Love Stories, (IUP, 1987) and fails to provide the information that far from being a subservient helpmeet to Abraham, Sarah was probably a high-ranking temple official whose relationship to Hagar was structured by Mesopotamian culture rather than notions of immorality and jealousy.
In all fairness, Freeman is right to suggest that “until the twentieth century, there was not a substantial body of work on women in the Bible in general” (xvi) and scholars have much more work to do on the historical context of scriptural women’s lives. While I believe that the book’s exegetical sections are actually denigrating to women because they do not provide accurate information, it is a helpful resource to have the listing of all women found in the Bible (both named and unnamed) within one volume.