This month's post is my wholehearted recommendation for Sandra Glahn's recently-released book, Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible.
The “woman question” gets hurled around like a hot potato. Hollywood heaves it. Politicians punt it. Pastors pitch it. And the #MeToo movement makes the steaming spud even more obvious. Thankfully, Vindicating the Vixens has entered the conversation. But, rather than speaking from the basis of religious tradition or broader culture, Vixens lifts Scripture to its rightful place and allows God to answer questions about the nature and role of women.
The Bible’s radically countercultural message is reiterated throughout Vixens. The authors want readers to differentiate that message from patriarchy–the prescriptive predominance of men in political, professional, moral, social, and personal spheres. It is established in chapter one that “patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather, it is the fallen cultural backdrop that sets off in the strongest relief the radical nature and potency of the Bible’s gospel message” (p. 33). Vixens peels back the veneer of patriarchy, exposing the ways it categorically misrepresents God and his Gospel, and then explores the ramifications of the misrepresentations: the sexualization, vilification, and marginalization of women.
Women suppressed by patriarchy are forced to live ostracized as outsiders. They are denied agency and lack advocacy. Tamar was abused and abandoned by the very man who was supposed to protect her. Bathsheba was a “complete non-person” and a voiceless victim of rape (p. 100). Queen Vashti was merely “property fit for consumption on demand” (p. 242).
Women suppressed by patriarchy are falsely labeled. They are perpetually vilified or sexualized. Hagar is denigrated as the birth mom of Islam, burqas, Taliban, Al-Jazeera. Deborah and Huldah are branded as God’s “Plan B” prophetesses, chosen only “because a good man was lacking in Israel” (p. 198). Mary Magdalene is painted in medieval and modern art as sensuous and sinister. Eve is portrayed by theologians as duplicitous and deceitful.
Patriarchy robs women of their humanity and divinely-designed diversity because it cannot compute that right-ness (or righteousness) could exist outside of same-ness. But God alone defines and imparts true righteousness. In righteousness Tamar sacrificed her own body to her abuser, Judah. In righteousness Hagar becomes the first proselyte of the Bible and the only person to confer a name on God (pp. 178, 183; Gen 16.13).
God alone restores what patriarchy fractures. Think of the objectified Vashti. Her willful defiance of the king actually set the precedent for Esther to follow and led to the restoration of God’s people. And Bathsheba understood, perhaps more than anyone else, the love of God that could restore a murderer, rapist, polygamist.
This restorative work is ongoing, since patriarchy continually mars the frescoes of these women of the Bible. But Vixens systematically removes centuries-old stereotypes and reveals the true character of the women. Mary Magdalene shines as “the apostle of the apostles,” the first female seminarian, a financial supporter of Christ’s ministry, and a credible witness whose accounts of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection informed the Gospel writers (p. 260). And in what I can only describe as a drop-the-mic-moment, Vixens releases the woman at the well from her sexual deviant typecast and reveals her as the inquisitive and “theologically astute” woman she truly is (p. 252).
General Editor Sandra Glahn (ThM, PhD) masterfully commissions sixteen scholars from various educational institutions, religious traditions, ethnicities, generations, and professions to re-examine the “woman question.” Each contributor excels in their field of study and brings immense insight from a plethora of studies such as biblical, theological, archaeological, lexical, geographical, and cultural. They approach the topic thoughtfully, intellectually, and prayerfully, which results in a unified and faithful biblical interpretation (p 17).
The book flows chronologically, allowing readers to trace the “woman question” throughout biblical history. Vixens surveys the women of Jesus’ genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Then, it shifts to a broader grouping of women of the Bible: Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Deborah, Huldah, and Vashti. Finally, Vixens focuses on New Testament women who have been falsely accused: the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, and Junia.
Each chapter includes exegetical, historical, and cultural insights. There is enough context for people to read straight through, but also an invitation to open your Bible and linger in the text. Reflection questions at the end of each chapter help readers process the information, as do the charts and tables interspersed throughout (pp. 82, 156).
From preface to bibliography, each author plays an individual note by offering insights for one particular chapter. Yet, a singular chord of oneness resounds. Oneness is the design and desire of our triune God. So, Vixens examines the sins, repentance, and restoration of women and men. Women are elevated, but never at the expense of men. What harmony is heard in the unity of diversity!
Compiling the work of sixteen authors with various writing styles, experiences, and exegetical methods inevitably creates a few discrepancies. Though the disruptions are noticeable, as in chapter two’s shallower interaction with Rahab, they never hinder the reader.
Vixens will benefit anyone, but I specifically implore Christian leaders to read it.
Be aware: the people we lead can sense the ways patriarchy whitewashes truth. Some will shift in their seat when they hear, “David was just sitting on his roof, minding his own business” because they cannot comprehend how a woman without voice or agency could be complicit in an “act of adultery.” They innately sense what a majority denies: Bathsheba was raped (p. 94). Other people will squirm when they hear, “Eve usurped male ‘headship’because they understand the greater implication is that all women are therefore inferior to all men. They innately sense what many deny: profound power and beauty in the unity of diversity.
People sit in our pews and attend our small groups and ache for accurate answers to the “woman question.” So, let’s follow the precedent of Vixens and elevate Scripture to its rightful place above religious traditions and positions on a spectrum. As we do, may God enable us to see him “more clearly, love [him] more dearly, and follow [him] more nearly” (p18).
Sandra Glahn, Editor, Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible
(Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017), paperback, 285 pp.
Reviewed by Amy Leigh Bamberg, MACE, Dallas Theological Seminary