Out of the Shadows
Preaching the Women of the Bible
- ISBN: 9780334060697
- Published By: Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd
- Published: June 2021
Women’s rights to their own reproductive health are under attack. SCOTUS has overturned Roe v Wade, the ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion. With that, the import of a feminist hermeneutic to the fields of biblical studies and theology cannot be overstated: women’s rights hang in the balance because of flawed, patriarchal readings of scripture, among many other things, to be sure. Kate Bruce and Liz Shercliff’s Out of the Shadows: Preaching the Women of the Bible, is thus a timely contribution, one that seeks to empower not only women from the Bible, but also women readers of today who are still seeking to make their way “out of the shadows.” By exploring a biblical woman or groups of women in each chapter—carefully noting where each appears in the Lectionary, their words, and their backgrounds—Bruce and Shercliff achieve their goal of freeing readers to look again at female figures in the Bible, and to see each in a new light. In light of current events, feminist theologies have real world implications, and are so desperately needed.
Bruce and Shercliff introduce women in the Bible over seventeen chapters. First, from the Old Testament, we meet “Woman Wisdom,” God’s confidant, co-creator, breath, image, power, spirit, the source of life, and “an instructor who descends to earth to impart wisdom and understanding” (4). Next, Eve is reintroduced as mother of all who live. In Sarah, we come to see that God does not hide from women but is hidden from women—often by God’s own people—and that Sarah is included in the promise as the Mother of nations. Then we meet a group of women connected to Moses: Shiphrah and Puah represent life and hope by resisting Pharaoh and saving Moses’ life; Moses’ mother undermines death, setting in motion events that will lead to the Exodus; and Moses’ sister is the impetus. Pharaoh’s daughter, meanwhile, acts as an agent of life by flouting the center of power. Moving along, Seila showcases both the consequences of deliberate violence and society’s lack of thoughtfulness regarding women who are under-represented in places where decisions are being made. Ruth challenges racial purity laws. Abigail is a diplomat. Huldah the “Prophetess” showcases that there is nothing out of the ordinary about a female prophet (82). And Vashti sowed the seeds of change for Esther, who saved her people.
Then, from the New Testament, we meet Mary the Mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, who gives voice to inspired prophetic insight. Martha and Mary are both disciples of Jesus. Jesus stops the powerful in their tracks to listen to the Hemorrhaging Woman who told him about the rejection she experienced, revealing that the good news for her is not about sin and forgiveness, but about restoration and redemption. Mary Magdalene, the only witness of Jesus’ burial and the empty tomb, is instructed to go lead the church. And the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet stands in intentional contrast to the religious male: she is freed from social bonds, and prophetically takes on the traditionally male role of anointing.
Overall, Out of the Shadows is a marvelous introduction to the oft-misinterpreted women of the bible. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading and reviewing Bruce and Shercliff’s text, there are three minor criticisms I would like to highlight. First, I found myself wanting deeper exegetical engagements with the text, and often writing “more” in the margins. While I understand this text to be a starting point for engagement with these women, a deeper dive would have elevated this text to something indispensable to the growing scholar-practitioner finding her way in the field. I’d welcome a deeper engagement with the commentaries, so as to more squarely trace the historical reception of these women. Though as is, I do find myself referencing this text quite often in my own work, for insight and inspiration.
Second, there were instances in which I wished the Hebrew Bible women could stand on their own as Jewish characters, rather than as precursors for the New Testament. And finally, for a work with the aim of empowering marginalized women, I wonder about the decision to not name Seila in the chapter title, naming the chapter instead “Jephthah’s Daughter: The Shadow of Control.” Acknowledging society’s attitude towards victim blaming, Shercliff counters this in Seila’s story, instead highlighting Seila as a woman bearing the consequences of both deliberate violence and society’s lack of thoughtfulness, because “women are underrepresented in places where decisions are made or are considered outliers where maleness is the norm” (53). Seila should be named, especially now as women remain underrepresented in places where decisions—like decisions about our very own bodies—are being made.
Notwithstanding the above criticisms, Bruce and Shercliff present a valuable, powerful, and timely work elevating not only the women of the Bible, but also women in general. While at times I wrote “more” in the margins, I also jotted down “Halleluiah!” quite a few times, such as when Bruce explains that the Greek kai means “also” to explain that Martha also sat at the feet of Jesus alongside Mary. Or when Shercliff explains “sinner” to mean “other than the norm”—norm being male, in antiquity—rendering all women as “sinners,” thereby complicating the identity of the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet in exciting ways (162). Insights like this make this a valuable volume, and they leave the reader hungry for more.
Millicent H. Haase is an assistant instructor of theology at the Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.Millicent HaaseDate Of Review:July 14, 2022