I have done all my degrees in Bible and theology (undergrad, master’s, and now working on a doctorate), but I have gradually come to realize how few women and other marginal voices were required reading in the classes I took. So when Baker published Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters, edited by Marion Ann Taylor—and one contributor to the book being Wheaton PhD student Brittany Kim—I was intrigued. I am neither a historian nor a biblical scholar according to the strict disciplinary distinctions made in the academy today, but I wanted to read this book.
In the introduction, Taylor provides evidence of the massive gap in the field of biblical studies, a broad failure to recognize women’s contributions on this point. Taylor insists that even if many women’s writings are “unsystematic” or on a popular level, they could still have significant influence. Taylor confines her focus to women writers from the early church through roughly the 1970s and 1980s. This means that non-Western women and women still living are not included. Taylor also discusses some common trends or themes among the women, though without suppressing the differences among them. The book contains 180 entries of women whose work was influential, distinct, or representative of their time. Each entry contains a short biography to set the context, an analysis of the woman’s work including its significance, and a short bibliography of primary and secondary works. At the back of the book is an index of subjects (names, topics, etc.), as well as one of Scripture passages. This book is thorough, well designed, and an excellent resource for scholars at various levels. If it does well, perhaps Baker would be willing to publish a second volume dedicated to non-Western voices.
I chose several entries to read more closely; these choices were not random, but were women whom I had at least heard of or read about. For example, I once took a class on Karl Barth, but in that class I have no recollection of hearing the name of Charlotte von Kirschbaum, Barth’s assistant and an author in her own right. Christina Rosetti I knew as a poet, but was unaware of her religious writings. It turns out she wrote several devotional works, as well as The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse. A final example is Marcella, an aristocratic woman devoted to intense study of Scripture and concerned with text-critical issues. Her questions to and discussions with Jerome challenged him and shaped his own studies. My point? It can be easy to stay in our comfort zones, but it is important to move outside of that comfort zone, because by hearing and engaging minority voices, be they women, non-Western, or some other marginalized group, we come to realize the magnificence and difficulty of the biblical text. We have our eyes opened to new perspectives that both complicate and enrich our own readings. Taylor provides a refreshing, stimulating work—the question is, how many scholars will engage with it? It would be helpful too to hear from biblical scholars whose positive reviews would carry more weight than that of a theologian.
Thanks to Baker for graciously providing a copy of the book for review.