As a stay-at-home mom in my mid-30s, I was an eager participant in Disciple, a year-long United Methodist study which required a sojourn through most of the Bible. Our daytime class was all women, and we spent nearly as much time getting to know one another as we did the Bible.
I had studied the Bible from a critical point of view during my high school years in a religious school but, truth to tell, I knew very little of its narratives. King David was a vague personage to me, and I responded to his story with appalled astonishment. “Why is this rapist and murderer held up as a hero?” I asked. The older women in the class gasped. “I bet that if Bathsheba were the narrator, we’d have a completely different take on this story.” (I had no idea that Bathsheba was often viewed as a licentious temptress. As far as I could tell, she was minding her own business when she was dragged into history by a self-absorbed, lust-driven, power-hungry, arrogant king, a man who believed himself entitled to take whatever he wanted.)
The volume we needed arrived through my mail slot last week: The CEB Women’s Bible. It’s beautifully produced, with silk-smooth pages strong enough to bear markers and inked notes, and print large enough for me to read. As the promotional material will tell you, it includes introductions to each of the books, reflections for nearly every chapter, strategically placed sidebar articles on women-focused issues, and portraits of over 100 Biblical women. The indices list all the women of the Bible, named and unnamed, and the articles by topic and book. They are followed by a series of discussion questions, organized by lectionary year and liturgical season, and several proposed reading plans. The volume begins with some basic information, including a useful set of definitions, and concludes with a set of colorful maps. The Common English Bible translation is both scholarly and accessible, and the team which put this version together includes scholars, pastors and writers from variety of Christian traditions. Women scholars, pastors, and writers.
So much for the basics, and back to Bathsheba. What if this Bible has been available to my class thirty years ago? For starters, we would have found a sympathetic sidebar portrait of Bathsheba, one which encourages us to look to her as a model for courageous resistance. The index leads to two sidebar articles on rape, which would have perhaps emboldened some of the women in our group to grapple more critically with the realities of the lives of both Biblical and contemporary women.
Next stop: The woman at the well, my personal role model for ministry, the woman whose story drew me to seminary in my mid-50s. She, too, rates a sidebar profile and, since her story fills most of John 4, she is also the focus of the chapter’s introductory reflection. These reflections and mini-biographies bring the women of the Bible to life. I often teach an Introduction to Religion class at a nearby college, and it occurs to me that the presentations strewn throughout this Bible would be as useful to my students there as they will be to the women in the churches I serve.
Perhaps you would like to know something about the unnamed women of the Bible? You might be aware that the Bible is filled with women whose names have been left out of history and literature, but have no idea how to find them. I tried a little exercise. I went to the index of unnamed women, chose one from II Samuel referred to as the “Wise woman from Abel,” and then turned to her page to discover a profile, which tells us that she was not only wise; she was bold and decisive as well. Not being all that familiar with the story in which she appears, I took a look at the previous page, where an introduction to II Samuel 20 provides (a violent and bloody) context. I can see a terrific Bible series flowing from a series of similar mini-studies.
As it happens, I am investigating the CEB Women’s Bible at the same time that I am reading She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Ministry by Karoline Lewis. She includes an insightful passage on discerning how we read and interpret the Bible as a key to our authority and effectiveness in ministry. What a delight to be carrying on an inner conversation with both books simultaneously! As someone who has long been aware of the missing Biblical language and narratives (and names!) where women’s voices and lives are concerned, but without the tools to address many of those limitations, I am grateful for the comprehensive and thoughtful approach provided by the CEB Women’s Bible.
I’ve been invited to speak next month to the women’s circle of the church which I serve, and I’m planning to take that opportunity to introduce this Bible to the participants. I highly recommend this volume for your library.
I received a hardcover review copy of The CEB Women’s Bible from the publisher, and was not compensated for this review.