After Exegesis

Feminist Biblical Theology

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Patricia Tull, Jacqueline Lapsley
  • Waco, TX: 
    Baylor University Press
    , October
     296 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


After Exegesis is a fresh and an exciting volume applying the principles of feminist biblical criticism to the wider world of theological issues. Part of that dream is now realized in After Exegesis, which takes the reader through sixteen articles tackling issues from the biblical theology of creation (Patricia K. Tull) to that of hope in Isaiah 65 and Daniel 12 (Amy C. Merrill Willis). Appropriately dedicated to Carol A. Newsom, the book honors not just Newsom’s achievements in the world of feminist biblical criticism but gives shape to her portrayal of feminist biblical theology.

After Exegesis focuses on methods which have long been present in a range of feminist biblical readings, including the use of varied modes of exegetical tools, resisting dichotomies (such as mind/body) as well as readings that totalize one particular truth over another. Appropriately, the essays in After Exegesis celebrate diverse biblical interpretations. As the Hebrew Bible contains a plethora of different depictions of gender, experience, and even God, the efforts of feminist biblical theology are well placed here. After Exegesis provides a brilliant introduction by focusing on some of the key issues addressed in Old Testament theological volumes as well as including papers on more varied topics not often discussed in such works.

One such paper is provided by Eunny P. Lee, who has chosen to address the theme of providence not via the usual routes of God’s care in, among others, the patriarchal narratives or the exodus tradition, but in the lives of women and foreigners in the book of Ruth. While God remains largely in the shadows throughout the events, Lee has provided some stimulating insights into how the book “valorizes human agency” (32). This is not to the exclusion of God’s involvement, but rather an illustration of how God’s silence gives “greater narratological role to the women” (32), creating a gap to celebrate female initiative in partnership with God. The book of Ruth thus gives glimpses of the way God’s providence takes place not just through miraculous acts but also through the sharing of agency: the boldness, humility, and kindness provided by women in everyday life. It is through partnering rather than through divine dictation that God delivers his people in the book of Ruth, using the strong bond between Ruth and Naomi and their efforts to “build the house.” While the issue of God’s care in the book of Ruth might not be altogether novel, these insights are not often discussed in detail in theological works on providence. Hence Lee’s paper is a welcome and a timely reminder of the importance of including various voices in such volumes.

The courage not to shy away from diverse yet timely issues is also exemplified in Jo Ann Hackett’s article on the “missing women” in the book of Judges. Drawing upon not only biblical analysis of Judges 19-21 but also on contemporary studies on the SRB (sex ratio at birth), Hackett provides intriguing yet alarming insights into a world where the lack of women’s agency could have disastrous consequences. The killing of the Benjaminites resulted not just in an attack on Jabesh-Gilead to obtain wives for the remaining Benjaminite men but ultimately also to the kidnapping of women at Shiloh, and as Hackett observes, women are often “forced to solve a problem that men have created among themselves” (193).

Sadly, in the contemporary world, methods such as the one-child policy in China or the general devaluation of women elsewhere has led to at times unsustainable SRB rates: the modern “missing women” have often been either abandoned or aborted. The absence of women in such societies has led to similar solutions as those practiced in Judges: kidnapping and trafficking of women for the needs of men. While acknowledging the problem, Hackett nevertheless encourages her readers to seek ways to “advocate for a changed attitude toward women and girls” (199) in order to cut the problem off at the root. By bringing feminist biblical analysis to bear on a contemporary topic, Hackett provides fresh insights into an old text, making the message of Judges 19-21 not simply into a horrific literary event but a current problem to be addressed by scholars and theologians alike.

After Exegesis is a brilliant piece of work. It is written in a style which suits both the seasoned academic as well as a beginning student of biblical texts. It lays its premise out well in its introductory chapter and proceeds to reveal some old and new ways that feminist biblical critique can be applied to the world of theological studies. The work is done with high levels of excellence yet the book contains moments of intimacy, where the authors, either in footnotes or in the body of their work, express their gratitude to Newsom and further reflect on the impact of the issues they study in their own lives or of those further afield. While After Exegesis is somewhat restricted regarding its authorship (all of the authors are women and mostly Christian European-Americans) as well as its selection of issues for the volume, it is a step in the right direction, leaving readers eagerly anticipating further developments in this essential and demanding field.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kirsi Cobb is Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Cliff College in the United Kingdom.

Date of Review: 
February 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Patricia K. Tull is A. B. Rhodes Professor Emerita of Old Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary.

Jacqueline E. Lapsley is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary.


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