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Thursday, January 4, 2018

"Vindicating the Vixens" (Sandra L. Glahn)

TITLE: Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Sandra L. Glahn
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017, (304 pages).

In our modern age of gender equality, human rights, feminist and egalitarian movements, many have accused the Bible of being overly patriarchal and even sexist. Why must women play second in a male-dominated culture? Didn't God create both male and female and made them equally chosen to be blessed? Moreover, there are many instances in the Bible where women tend to be depicted in a derogative manner. Does that make the Bible less relevant for our age? Is God being fair to the female gender? What about those 'bad' girls in the Bible? People such as Eve who persuaded Adam to eat the forbidden fruit; like Sarah who bullied Hagar; Tamar and Rahab the prostitutes; Bathsheba whose affair with King David led to the downfall of a powerful leader; and many more. Instead of simply going with these flows, this book offers to take a fresh look at these women, the ones listed in Jesus' genealogy in Matthew; and various vilified women in the Old and New Testament. The underlying conviction in this book about these women is that: They are not what they seem to be. Editor Sandra Glahn gives three additional reasons:

  1. Ensure that one's re-look is grounded in the Word of God
  2. Take seriously what God says about nearly 50% of the earth's population
  3. New information has come to light about the way the Bible describe women.

With an international team that comprises both genders, different ethnicities, various educational and traditions, readers will be challenged about conventional interpretations of various female characters in the Bible. The re-interpretation lens is firm on the "inspiration, inerrancy, or infallibility" of the Scriptures, but not on the human interpretations. In other words, it is interpretation rather than inspiration that should be re-visited. In revisiting these interpretations, six questions are brought forth to guide the contributions. The first part of the book deals with the five women curiously listed in the genealogy of Matthew 1. Tamar, often labeled as a prostitute who committed incest with Judah, needs to be understood as one being a victim of a dysfunctional family. Without Rahab the Canaanite prostitute's role in the Bible, Israel would have been accused of ethnic cleansing. Plus, the presence of Rahab shows how status-neutral God is when it comes to choosing individuals to do His will. Ruth has sometimes been accused of seducing Boaz, but the truth is, her actions are toward the honoring of family and tradition. Bathsheba is not a villain that brought about David's downfall. Circumstances at that time force her to yield to David's sexual conquest. In other words, it is David's abuse of power that led to his own downfall.

On Eve, we learn that to blame the female gender for the fall of mankind is a grossly unjust thing. Neither should Sarah be labeled a vixen when she has been vindicated by God for her faith. Hagar's story reveals the mercy of God, while Deborah is not just a woman who rose up the ranks due to the lack of good men, but she was consistently an honorable woman in her own right. Other lesser known women characters include Huldah, briefly mentioned in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34, who played an important prophetic role in Israel's history; as well as Junia, an esteemed disciple who was well known to the early apostles.

My Three Thoughts
First, this book is a great example of applying good hermeneutics to the study of the Bible. I applaud the inclusion of the six questions by Henry Rouse on the framework for biblical interpretation. The questions lift high the authority of the Word and the importance of understanding the ancient contexts for what they were. They force interpreters to make decisions about what truths are timeless and what are not. They also guide readers to see each story as part of the bigger story, instead of simply an end in itself. Whether one agrees with the conclusions of the contributors, one ought to find common ground on the hermeneutical process.

Second, challenging old assumptions is necessary so that we do not become complacent in our reading and interpretations. In fact, the moment we give in to foregone assumed conclusions, we shut the door to all kinds of learning. I like the way the authors first state the common perceptions of the woman character; engage the biblical text; and systematically giving reasons for alternative views. Even if readers do not agree with the points, one could use the same system to come up with another way of seeing things. Reexamining old things with new eyes is the same way the Reformation has started out with. Who knows, this vindication of the vixens could spawn other areas of study.

Finally, I learn about not judging the characters prematurely. Perhaps, I should not even judge them at all! If God accepts them, we have no reason not to. In that sense, we don't even need to vindicate the vixen so to speak. Remember that Jesus came to die for us while we were yet sinners. In the same light, we should read and interpret these characters respectfully. We could also do the same for all characters. With the biblical framework, we will be prevented from letting personal preferences dominate biblical descriptions. This is perhaps the biggest lesson for all of us. Learn not to judge by knowing that only God could judge. We need to then see from the lens of loving our neighbour (including the Bible characters) as ourselves.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Publications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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