Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
Note: I was given an advance copy of A Year of Biblical Womanhood as part of the launch team. I volunteered to be on the team because I believe in this project and I wholeheartedly support the ongoing work of Rachel Held Evans. My review is not without bias. My other reviews of the book can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD, and my personal blog.
I was first introduced to the writing of Rachel Held Evans by following a bunny trail from one blog to another. At the time, she was about two thirds of the way through the year-long project which resulted in this book. I was fascinated by the idea of taking literal interpretation of Scripture to its natural conclusion. With great anticipation, I continued to follow Rachel’s blog over the 15 months or so between then and now.
I was not disappointed with the book; it lived up to my expectations and then some. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Rachel’s adventures and misadventures bringing the Bible to life. I recognized myself in the pages of the book; from her struggle to bring out her inner Martha Stewart to her desperate plea for help on a sewing project, I found a kindred undomestic spirit. I laughed out loud at her description of standing at her town’s welcome sign, holding a poster board in praise of her husband (she was reenacting the call to “praise her husband at the city gates” from Proverbs 31) and wept tears of mirth (sorry, Rachel!) at the frequency with which she ended up on her kitchen floor in less joyful tears of her own.
There is more to the book, however, than Rachel’s wit and self-deprecating humor. When it comes to Rachel’s thorough examination of Scripture, she rises to the challenge. Her analyses are in-depth and the amount of research cannot be denied or ignored. Each chapter highlights a woman whose story can be found in the pages of the Bible, but Rachel offers a new perspective on every one of them. She treats each woman with the dignity she is due and explains the ways in which many of them defied their culture. This was new for me, as I had learned that women in the Bible were peripheral to the “real” stories. More often than not, the women were only heralded as examples of “good Christian wives” who knew their proper place and kept to it, letting the men take the spotlight. Rachel effectively demonstrates that this is patently false.
I deeply appreciate Rachel’s examination of Proverbs 31, the Wife of Noble Character. I had always seen the Proverbs 31 wife as an enemy, because she was an ideal I could never match, yet I was supposed to use her as my model. The majority of writing on the subject to which I had been exposed can be summed up like this: “The Wife of Noble Character is God’s ideal for us as women. None of us can live up to this, of course, but that’s okay, that’s what Jesus died for—to redeem even those of us who can’t be perfect.” Rachel expertly navigates the text and explains the origin of this beautiful piece of poetry. She concludes by telling women that each of us is Eshet chayil–a woman of valor; this is a term she then continues to use throughout the book.
Although there has been much talk about Rachel being irreverent, “ignoring” Scripture or tradition, or making a mockery of the Bible, not one of those things is true. It is obvious that Rachel’s love for the Bible grew as she worked her way through the year. She offers personal insights into what the Bible came to mean for her during each phase of her project. This provides a welcome change from the hard-line “commandment” view of a woman’s role within the community of faith. It opens doors for all of us to examine the texts and learn what God wants to show us through even the challenging passages.
I believe this book is one of the most important books of our time. For those who agree with Rachel’s perspective, she is a fellow traveler on the road of egalitarian theology; she provides solid support for her views. Even for those who would disagree with Rachel’s conclusions, it is worth reading. The places of divergence offer a chance for those in disagreement to clarify their views.
I highly recommend A Year of Biblical Womanhood to anyone wishing to find a compatriot, understand a perspective different from his or her own, or just interested in a good read full of humor and grace.