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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Women Scripture

Women & Gender in Ancient Religions: Interdisciplinary Approaches by Stephen P. Ahearne-Kroll (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament: Mohr Siebeck) Following a scholarly conference given in honor of Adela Yarbro Collins, this collection of essays offers focused studies on the wide range of ways that women and gender contribute to the religious landscape of the ancient world. Experts in Greek and Roman religions, Early Christianity, Ancient Judaism, and Ancient Christianity engage in literary, social, historical, and cultural analysis of various ancient texts, inscriptions, social phenomena, and cultic activity. These studies continue the welcomed trend in scholarship that expands the social location of women in ancient Mediterranean religion to include the public sphere and consciousness.
The result is an important and lively book that deepens the understanding of ancient religion as a whole. More

S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories by Naomi Graetz (Gorgias Press) is a feminist retelling of biblical tales, the purpose of which is to make the Bible contemporaneous, relevant and religiously meaningful. The tales look at the intimate lives and thoughts of the characters who populate the Bible by retelling each story in contemporary language, sometimes adding dialogue and description, and at other times recovering and reinventing tales. Some of the stories deal with the typical feminine concerns of motherhood, barrenness, resentment about polygamy, the after-effects of being raped, the joys of shared gossip, the tribulations of the aging process, and the unique relationship of siblings. The stories also dwell on the tensions between relatives such as Isaac and Ishmael, Rachel and Leah, Sarah and Mrs. Lot, Miriam and her mother Yocheved.., The characters being portrayed are complete persons without being idealized, often petty and troublesome

Excerpt: I don't want to rewrite the Bible; I want to make it ours by having it reflect women's reality as well as men's. In other words, our task in writing interpretative works, or Midrash, is to put woman's voice back where it should have been in the first place. This kind of Midrash does not detract from or undermine the Torah, rather it adds additional dimensions to the Torah by making it contemporaneous, relevant and religiously meaningful. By "imaginatively re-engaging with our sacred texts, by writing Midrash, all voices, not only a few, can be part of the partnership." However, one should be careful to make explicit that our woman's voice is not necessarily all women's voice.

Gubkin writes that the "interconnection of voice and partnership that Graetz presents deserves closer examination because it makes explicit the theoretical presuppositions which under gird many feminist Midrashim. The `demand for the women's voice' when heeded has led to new interpretations of the biblical text. Often feminists offer new readings by creating voices for the silent women in the Bible... By speaking in the voice of biblical women the contemporary writer places her own needs and concerns onto the biblical text without explicitly claiming them as her own."

If the first theoretical construct that I have presented is that of voice then the second is the notion of partnership. I ask, "Can men and women who experience a conflict with those who continue to interpret the Biblical text in such a biased manner 'do anything about it?" My answer has been: "Certainly. One can insist on the partnership model as the traditional Jewish midrashic approach to text." Gubkin, however, sees danger in this since "this understanding of partnership continues the Enlightenment fallacy that we approach and read texts as autonomous individuals in equal positions of access, influence, and power... [U]nfortunately it does not provide a satisfactory solution [since women's writings] belie the fact that it is the Torah given through Moses that is canonical today."

Gubkin then goes on to call into question the use of Midrash as a tool. Since women are marginalized then we cannot simply add women's voices and stir. Secondly "the authority of midrash within the traditional economy of rabbinic texts was marginal, as these texts were accorded lesser status than halakhic forms." Thus there is no libratory power, no gaining of partnership if women, who are marginal to begin with, latch on to a marginal activity that has no authority in the patriarchal community. She feels that by devoting our energies to this activity we are solidifying our position as the "other" within Judaism. Gubkin would prefer to deal with the meta-text rather than the content itself. Rather than empower the historical biblical women through imaginative creations, she would prefer to ask the question of how does silencing of a particular woman function in the text.

For me the purpose of contemporary Midrash is threefold. It addresses itself to the biblical text, which cries out darsheni, interpret me! Secondly, it makes the Bible relevant to an audience that does not overly care about its biblical roots. Finally, it serves my need to relate to a text, which I perceive as flowing over with hidden meanings. I feel that in writing midrash I am continuing to contribute to the work of revelation. If, in the process of my new representation of facts, I help to produce new "facts: or in writing about the text in a new way contribute to determining the text—so be it". Unlike Gubkin, I see this as positive. However, I would agree with her that we must avoid speaking in universals in order to avoid committing violence against the particular. It is not one voice that can be transformative, only many voices. And if I play my little part in this then I have succeeded.

The Women's Bible: A Classic Feminist Perspective by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Dover) unabridged one-volume republication of the two volumes first published by the European Publishing Co., New York, 1895 and 1898.

The publication of The Woman's Bible in 1895 and 1898 represented the last crusade of pioneer feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton to strike at the roots of the ideology behind her gender's subordinate role in society. In the tradition of radical individualism that guided her philosophy, Stanton's attack on religious orthodoxy is more a forceful political treatise than a scholarly work. 

This clarion call to action, assembled by Stanton and a committee of prominent feminists, consists of a book-by-book examination of the Bible, placing events in their historical context, interpreting passages as both allegory and fact, and comparing them with the myths of other cultures. Over a century later, it endures as an extraordinary document because of the questions it addresses, the topics it covers, and the still-resonant sincerity of its righteous indignation.

Readers with an interest in theology, women's studies, or American history will find this milestone of religious and feminist literature an ever-relevant source of information and inspiration.

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