It has been my privilege and delight to teach a number of Bible study classes over the years ~ as a member of Methodist and Presbyterian congregations, and as a pastor to Presbyterian and Lutheran congregations. In addition, as a spiritual director to Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish individuals, I am often called upon to provide scriptural references to someone seeking to explore various dimensions of his or her spiritual life.
No matter the context, it’s often a challenge to conduct a discussion on women’s experiences in the Bible. There are the Big Ten to Fifteen or so (I made those numbers up): Eve, Sarah, Esther, Ruth and Naomi, Bathsheba, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, the Woman at the Well, the Woman “Caught” in Adultery, the Syro-Phoenician Woman ~ many of whom, my experience tells me, are only dimly recognized by even our most faithful church participants. And then there are the hundreds of women, often unnamed, referenced only in relation to a man or men or community or activity.
Bible Sisters, compiled by The Rev. Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks and just published by Abingdon Press, makes a start on rectifying the lack of knowledge of women in the Bible which pervades many of our congregations. It’s a devotional book, with 365 entries, numbered rather than dated (so that readers are not bound to a calendar). Each entry suggests a short Bible passage, usually only a verse; a brief reflection; and a brief prayer. I was not able to determine any rhyme or reason to the order in which the devotions are arranged, but there are indices in the back, alphabetically by name of character(s) and chronologically by book in the Bible, which could be used to organize an individual or group prayer or study time.
This book is designed for ease and solace, rather than for deep study or challenge. The most controversial events in the lives of women or teachings on the roles of women are either glossed over or avoided altogether. Bathsheba’s rape is acknowledged, but the consequences are referred to as “the shame of her first pregnancy.” Yael (Jael) warrants two days, but the violence of her murderous action is not depicted. Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the resurrected Jesus is depicted in a context of her sorrow and weeping rather than her joy and proclamation. Pauls’ admonishment to women not to exercise teaching authority over men makes no appearance at all. And the brevity of the passages cited means that all context is omitted, so that answers to readers’ questions must be sought elsewhere.
Human lives are complex ~ and that includes the lives of Biblical women. The layered depths of their lives are missing from this text, so that the reader or group seeking nuance or provocation must look elsewhere. However, with the names of so many Biblical women lost to time, and their frequent appearance as little more than faint shadows along the margins of history, it is a boon to prayer and study that obscure and overlooked women find a place in this book. This devotional is a good beginning.
I received two copies of this book for review purposes, and was not compensated for this review.