Vindicating the Vixens
January 7, 2018
This book really piqued my interest when I saw its release. The title says it all: Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible. And a first look at the listing drew me in even more, as there is a scholarly, diverse group of contributors for each chapter covering women from the beginning with Eve, through the eras of the patriarchs, judges, kings, exiles, and some women from the New Testament as well.
The Introduction explains that this is a fresh look at some women in Scripture who have been given an unfair bad reputation. It also accounts for the diversity among the contributors: “a team of male and female scholars from different nationalities and ethnicities, as well as educational institutions and religious traditions…’all over the map’ on their view of women preachers and even their approaches to the women explored in this book. But they agree on this: We must visit what the Scriptures say about some Bible women we have sexualized, vilified, and/or marginalized. Because, above all, we must tell the truth about what the text says” (16). For this reason, it was a most refreshing read. “And time and time again, God’s heart for the silenced, the marginalized, the powerless, the Gentile, the outsider, was what had been missing” (16).
The book isn’t a feminist male-bashing, but a Christ-focused endeavor that upholds the authority of his word. I appreciate how the editor, Sandra Glahn, included the varying views of the contributors. It highlights the unity in the essentials of the gospel, sharpens the reader and drives us to the biblical text, and prevents writing with feigned neutrality.
The first chapter helps the reader to participate in reading with discernment by outlining the six questions each contributor brought to the text:
What does the text actually say?
What do I observe in and about the text?
What did this text mean to the original audience?
What was the point?
What truths in the text are timelessly relevant?
How does the part fit the whole?
For the most part, I believe this book succeeded in its mission and interacted well with historical interpretations. The vixens they vindicated were Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Deborah (and Jael), Huldah, Vashti, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, and Junia/Joanna. I was happy to see Richard Bauckham’s work, Gospel Women, footnoted by different contributors, as it was such fascinating read for me.
I thought I would highlight two chapters, even though I enjoyed interacting with all of them.
Tamar: The Righteous Prostitute
When you think of Tamar, what’s the first word that comes to your mind? Usually, the first thing we think is prostitute. But Carolyn Custis James makes a good case that righteous is the defining word in this account. That’s a very different word! And it is unexpectantly Judah who calls her this. Tamar’s account is one that we wrestle with. Yes, she secures the line of Judah, the ancestors of Jesus. But she does this by tricking her father-in-law to sleep with her. She seems a bit shady to us. But Custis James points out that Tamar isn’t a “skeleton in the closet” to her descendants. Of all places to bring up Tamar, she is mentioned in the marital blessing of Boaz and Ruth: “Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:12, NIV). “Significantly, both Kind David and his son Absalom named their daughters ‘Tamar’ (2 Sam. 13:1; 14:27).
Custis James explains that Tamar’s descendants name their children after her, Judah calls her righteous, and Matthew includes her in the genealogy of Christ because "God chose a marginalized Canaanite woman to put the power of his gospel on display and to advance his redemptive purposes for Judah and the world” (48). We do need to wrestle with this account. “Tamar’s story makes no sense unless we see how she gets caught in the crossfire of primogeniture, both within Judah’s family of origin and among his sons” (34). Scripture exposes the abusive social system that arises in patriarchy. “It mobilizes a marginalized woman to act with extraordinary boldness to reveal a patriarch’s hypocrisy thus leading to his renewal.” While it’s not by any means a “recommendation of prostitution as a means of furthering the redemptive plan of God or in any situation,” Tamar acted in the one way she had power to ensure the duty of childbearing in her dead husband’s name that she was honor-bound to do (48). Tamar wasn’t actually a prostitute, but she was willing to appear and act as one to get Judah to fulfill the law to preserve his son’s family line. And what a family line that is.
Huldah: Malfunction with the Wardrobe-Keeper’s Wife
I was so glad this was a chapter in the book. Sadly, whenever I begin talking about Huldah I get blank stares. And so this chapter fittingly begins with the subtitle, “Huldah Who?” Christa L. McKirland reasons, “Huldah’s vindication comes through the simple act of making her visible once again” (213). True to the that.
I don’t understand how she is so ignored, as if her inclusion as the prophetess sought out for Josiah after the Book of the Law was found was some sort of accidental vestige. There is so much to pay attention to in this 2 Kings 22 passage and 2 Chronicles 34 parallel. Here we have a prophetess, who Wilda Gafney describes as “arguably the first person to grant authoritative status to the Torah scroll deposited in the temple treasury,” authenticating the Word of God, largely accepted as the heart of the book of Deuteronomy (222). Here is a bright and shining account of a woman authoritatively confirming an important text in the cannon of Scripture to “the most righteous king in the divided kingdom’s history” (231). And it wasn’t because there were no good men available. This was the same time that Jeremiah and Zephaniah were prophets---that’s right, I said Jeremiah and Zephaniah!! Huldah “played a significant role in the last major reformation in the kingdom of Judah before its final downfall” (213).
Josiah sends out his dignitaries to inquire of the word of the Lord once the Book of the Law was discovered. It’s sad to read the explanations some commentators give for why they seek Huldah and not Jeremiah or Zephaniah, but I don’t have space to go there. McKirland explains how the sending out of the dignitaries to her rather than summoning her directly to the king should queue the reader in on the respect both the king and his dignitaries have for her. This is a matter of high importance, as Josiah laments, “for great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13b). She answers with the “Thus says the Lord” authoritative formula of a prophet, speaks in the first person voice of God, confirms the judgment Josiah anticipated, the details of the charge, and the delay of God’s wrath because Josiah’s “heart was tender and [he] humbled [him]self before the Lord” (vv 16-20). In this, Huldah authenticates what Josiah recognized as the word of God, the rediscovery of Deuteronomy. “In the same way that women were the first to testify to the resurrection of Christ, the living Word, how poetic might it be that the first person to authenticate the written Word might also have been a woman?” (222)
No, women were not left out of active traditioning in testifying to and passing down the faith. As a matter of fact, in Scripture we see a testimony to the opposite.
As Bauckham points out, the women’s voice in Scripture corrects any promotion of androcentrism. The canon itself corrects this kind of promotion (see Gospel Women, 15). And as Carolyn Custis James points out, “stories such as Tamar’s, Rahab’s, and that of the sinful woman who wept and poured perfume on Jesus’s feet give the church opportunities to raise the subject of prostitution and other forms of sexual abuse and to confront an issue to which the church cannot in good conscience turn a blind eye” (41). God sees and cares for all of his people. And these gynocentric texts in his word are rich with doctrine-meets-real life, history-meets-experience and depth of insight.
So I’m thankful for the vindication done by these contributors.