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Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Dynamic Women of the Bible" (Ruth A. Tucker)

TITLE: Dynamic Women of the Bible: What We Can Learn from Their Surprising Stories
AUTHOR: Ruth A. Tucker
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (318 pages).

Another book on Bible women? This is the same sentiment the author posed when asked if she wanted to write about this "marginalized minority" in a patriarchal ancient culture. Writing with an angle of appreciation, Tucker feels that there is still lots more to learn from these "dynamic women." Careful of not turning these women into her own image, Tucker compiles 24 chapters detailing the lives of women in the Bible from both the Old and the New Testaments. She begins with Eve and Noah's wife, calling them "mothers of us all." Instead of Eve merely being the one who gave the bad apple to Adam, the former Calvin Theological Seminary professor probes Eve's relationship with God, and suggests the critical role she plays in being the mother of the rest of mankind. The unnamed wife of Noah is rarely featured in modern commentaries, mostly because she had often been portrayed negatively. Overshadowed by the man who was used by God to save the world through the building of the ark, we are reminded to take the time to contemplate her position and imagine perhaps, that she may very well be a "pitiful character." Sarah is a bit of an "enigma." While many would point a finger at her for even suggesting her husband sleeping with another woman, Tucker points out that the contexts at that time had placed Sarah in a particularly traumatic position. Being barren with no descendants versus letting her husband father at least some hope for the future is like comparing between having no children vs having some. The story of the slave girl Hagar, can also be symbolic of how we all are afflicted in some way. Lot's wife and Lot's daughters had also received very negative reviews. Being the woman who turned into a pillar of salt, perhaps Lot's wife is also a reminder of how human we all are. For the plight of Lot's daughters, maybe, we ought not be too quick to judge what happened to them from modern eyes, but reflect on how they need to survive in an age where "boys are prized." Tucker makes a connection personally with Rebekah. Being on the receiving end of a manipulative friend, Tucker sets aside momentarily Rebekah's manipulative moves against Esau, and brings to the forefront her love as a mother for her son Jacob, even willing to pray sacrificially: "let the curse fall on me." Readers are even given a choice that if any of us were to be stuck in a tent with either Sarah or Rebekah, who would we choose? Rachel and Leah are not simply "rival sisters" but ordinary women desiring love from their husbands and dutiful women in a culture where men are recognized heads of households. Dinah and Tamar are characters involved in consensual sex. Tamar's example is a form of prostitution while Dinah is a victim of sexual desire in a "male-dominated system." Yet, God cares for them. Tucker also deals with lesser known characters like Jochebed, Miriam, Zipporah, and the five daughters of Zelophehad. Despite her direct role in David's adultery, Bathsheba is David's most "prominent and influential wife." Other Old Testament women include Vashti, Esther, Abigail, Michal, Delilah, Rahab, Naomi, Ruth, Gomer, the Proverbs 31 woman, plus several unnamed women. For the infamous Jezebel, wife of Ahab, can anything good come out from her character? Tucker surprisingly chooses to say that their crimes are no worse than the wickedness of the evil kings of Israel. In other words, do not judge these evil women like Jezebel, Athaliah, and Huldah any worse than wicked men.

The final seven chapters are women from the New Testament. Starting with the prophetess Anna and the old dame Elizabeth, readers can imagine how these women were able to express Israel's longing for a Messiah by preparing the way for Jesus to come. Mary is more than simply a pregnant Virgin. She is also a "true disciple of Jesus," an obedient servant of God, and has also become a powerful encouragement for many in our age. Then there are the women Jesus ministered to, the Samarian woman at the well, the adulterer, and the woman with a tissue of blood. Each of them are vivid examples of how Jesus himself is willing to meet with ordinary people in their ordinary circumstances. Tucker also deals with the lesser known persons like Dorcas, Rhoda, Lydia, Euodia, Syntyche, and Junia. A woman like Sapphira may very well reflect some people in Churches nowadays. How many of us know Junia as a fellow prisoner of Paul? The faithful duo, Phoebe and Priscilla are shining examples of faithful ministers of the gospel. Tucker even suggests that if there is any person other than Paul who could write the anonymous book of Hebrews, it may very well be Priscilla!

Tucker's purpose in writing this book is to move beyond our general perceptions of such Bible women beyond superficial understanding. They are often described in the Bible for a reason. Reasons such as moving from a condemning or judging tone toward a more agnostic position. Readers can benefit by understanding the plight of Old Testament women struggling to play their roles in a patriarchal society. The women are often not any more evil than their male counterparts. For all we know, they may even come about because of the fallouts and declines of male leadership. The New Testament women reflect the importance of women in the ministry of the Church. Without them, the Church will be most impoverished. With them, the Church will be richly empowered. Tucker has provided an interesting twist in the description of the Bible women. The "dynamic women" in the title does not necessarily or literally mean that these women are "dynamic" per se. It is the way that they were described by Tucker that is more "dynamic" than anything. That is indeed not the point. The point is, the women in the Bible need to be considered beyond our common stereotypes. Just like we do not like people to straitjacket us simply on any one incident or behaviour, we ought not to hem these women in. Indeed, mother is more than a pregnant virgin, Sarah more than a jealous wife, Ruth more than a widowed Moabite, and Jezebel more than an evil queen. Read this book and be rewarded with richer insights on how they have become a small part of the big Bible story.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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