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Book Review – Eve’s Bible

2009 February 5

I tried to like this book, I really did. But some things are just a little too over the top. The idea of Eve’s Bible by Sarah S. Forth sounded good – an examination of women in the Old Testament that would help women as we encounter scripture. I’m all for digging deep and focusing on these often forgotten women (like in the upcoming synchroblog), but Eve’s Bible doesn’t exactly serve to help women encounter the Bible so much as tell us that we’re stupid if we don’t despise the Bible for how it depicts women.

It took me nearly a month to sludge through the book. This is in part due to my limited reading time these days, but also because of how poorly it was written. The author alternates between academic prose, bitch fests, nonsensical charts and oddly placed series of leading questions. I guess I should have been wary of an author who felt the need to place “Ph.D.” after her name on the cover like she was trying to prove that she had something intelligent to say. But let’s just say I had a hard time following her train of thought. I liked her overviews of biblical women and their historical settings, but was kept guessing as to whether she would provide commentary on the stories, suggest alternative interpretations, or simply ask me as a reader how the story made me feel.

But what bothered me the most with the book was the overall negative perspective it took. Across the board the worst possible motives are assigned to God, biblical men, and the compilers of scripture. Even passages I’ve always read as celebrating women were reinterpreted to demonstrate how oppressed they were. The test for an unfaithful wife (Numbers 5) is presented as simply a way to control women, not a representation of God’s protection of women. Granted a lot of this is the difference between reading the bible through evangelical eyes which can see no ill and critical eyes which can see no good. I can see the truth in some of the criticisms – of course Ruth is caught in a system that values the continuation of the male line and so must compromise herself to survive – but it’s a one-sided presentation with no redemptive balance. I kept looking for a thread that turned the book into an actual guide and not just a condemnation, but I could find one. Can the author really call this a woman’s guide to the Bible if she constantly is saying that we need to completely rewrite the stories of biblical women, or cover the parts we don’t like with post-it notes, or that “girls are better off reading Judy Blume than relying on the Bible for guidance” (p.61)?

I have to admit though that I appreciated the brief overview of textual criticism, the exploration of how biblical women sought justice, and the discussion on the gender of God but they all seems like moot points when the author repeatedly insists that none of it matters because none of it happened anyway. While I am no literalist, I get equally annoyed by the assumption that “if it is in the bible then therefore it must be historically untrue.” For example Huldah. The author of course assumes that she was a fabrication added to the story at a later date to give it credence. She asserts that because of the oppressive nature of Israelite religion, Huldah could obviously not be a prophet but as a women must have simply been a priestess of Asherah. I find it amusing that the extreme liberal interpretations of scripture come to the same conclusions as the most conservative ones – women aren’t permitted to serve God so therefore we must reinterpret and rewrite scriptures that depict them serving. Change YHWH to Asherah or Junia to Junius because of preconceived notions that women are scum – it doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative the effect is the same.  The book should have more truthfully been subtitled – “reasons for women to abandon the Bible.”

So Eve’s Bible was an educational but not exactly enjoyable read. I’m still waiting to find a good middle of the road/third way book on women in the Bible.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. February 5, 2009

    Have you read Sarah Laughed: Modern Lessons from the Wisdom & Stories of Biblical Women by Vanessa Ochs? I really like her “midrash-like” stories and insights.

  2. February 5, 2009

    I too am waiting for a good, middle-of-the-road book on women and the Bible. It really troubles me that the discourse is so often either entirely patriarchal or entirely suspicious of anything traditional. There is a great deal of oppression of women in the Bible, but there’s also a great deal of liberty. To find the liberty, we may have to grapple with some difficult material, but we ought to grapple with it rather than just throw it out.

  3. February 5, 2009

    I really liked Helpmates, Harlots and Heroes by Alice Ogden Bellis. Of course, its been about a year and a half since I read it, but I remember it being quite balanced, giving a broad scope of interpretations.

  4. February 6, 2009

    As an alum of Fuller Seminary, i was privileged to take a class by Dr. David Scholer, before he passed. I have a whole syllabus of resources. My own personal favorite, that i use for sermons and sunday schools, is the IVP’s Women’s Bible Commentary (kroeger&evans).

    I also highly recommend Christians for Biblical Equality http://www.cbeinternational.org You can find a lot of resources on their website.

    Thanks for the book review and being willing to write about this issue!

  5. Bob permalink
    February 6, 2009

    Great review!

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