A Review Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible :
“We must revisit 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). So writes editor Sandra Glahn in the preface to this volume. Glahn teaches media arts and worship at Dallas Theological Seminary. She holds a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and a PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is author or co-author of more than twenty books, including several volumes in The Coffee Cup Bible Study Series. She contributes to Engage, Bible.org’s blog for women in Christian leadership. Glahn’s articles in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra will be of particular interest to readers of Priscilla Papers.1
Vindicating the Vixens is a collection of fourteen essays. It is divided into three sections and introduced by a brief explanation of the interpretive approaches to be expected in the collection. The contributors, all evangelical, include ten women and six men, bringing together perspectives that include experiences in Australia, Eastern Europe, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, and Scotland, as well as across the United States. Eleven of the sixteen teach at and/or graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary.
The first section gathers essays on the five women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Carolyn Custis James writes on Tamar (building on her book, Lost Women of the Bible [Zondervan, 2008]). James presents Tamar as a victim of abuse who rises above, successfully restoring family honor by endangering herself. A highlight of this chapter is its summary of the destructive nature of patriarchy and primogeniture, including their negative impact on many men. This lead essay gives broad consideration to literary and canonical connections and contexts. The second essay, by Eva Bleeker on Rahab, reads almost like a sermon and thus demonstrates a claim Glahn makes in the preface, that the several contributions vary in tone and style (17). Marnie Legaspi’s chapter on Ruth has an even more informal tone. A strength of her chapter is its assessment of Ruth’s actions in the threshing floor scene as virtuous obedience rather than a sexual advance. Sarah Bowler’s chapter on Bathsheba is, for my own preferences and needs, the section’s most helpful essay. It leans heavily on narrative criticism and is strong on both ends of the interpretive spectrum—scholarly foundations and practical application. In contrast, I consider the chapter on Mary the mother of Jesus to be the section’s least helpful. It doubles as a defense of Matthew as the first Gospel to be written (going against the dominant view that Mark was written first) and argues that Mary is best understood by taking texts about her in chronological order (Paul, Matthew, Luke-Acts, Mark, John). But there is insufficient space in this chapter on Mary either to make a compelling argument in the complicated question of the order of the Gospels or to apply that Gospel ordering to the study of Mary in a helpful way.
The book’s second section investigates six OT women. The chapter on Eve presents a helpful interpretation of early Genesis and also touches on the NT texts that mention Eve. Author Glenn Kreider’s main point is that, though Eve was deceived, she did not in turn become a deceiver. His explanation of the significance of Adam naming Eve is especially valuable, with its focus on this naming as a post-fall action. Eugene Merrill’s chapter on Sarah makes good use of ancient Near Eastern sources, utilizing them more than the book’s other contributors do. In my view, however, his chapter suffers from a problematic assessment of certain episodes. Consider, for example, Merrill’s mention of “Sarah’s apparent cooperation with Abraham in deceiving first Pharaoh and then Abimelech of Gerar as to their husband-wife relationship” (157). Again, “Sarah entered submissively, and perhaps even at times willingly, into these relationships” (159). Though Merrill recognizes the overpowering influence of patriarchy in some of Sarah’s actions and words (or lack thereof), he nevertheless views her as complicit in these accounts in which Abraham selfishly endangers her. His apparent change of perspective on p. 168, though appreciated, creates inconsistency in the chapter.
The book’s subtitle mentions vilified women of the Bible. Hagar has, perhaps, been the most vilified of the book’s fourteen women. It follows, then, that the vindicating task of author Tony Maalouf is among the most difficult and important. Happily, Maalouf rises to the occasion and demonstrates that the biblical text presents Hagar, and therefore Ishmael, as blessed rather than cursed by the God who sees (El Roi, Gen 16:13) and hears (Ishmael, Gen 16:11) those who are oppressed. Ronald Pierce adeptly handles the Hebrew text of Judg 4–5 and shows Deborah to be an honored judge and prophetess, not an anomaly as some interpreters have argued.2 Commentators have often levied the same accusation against Huldah, and Christa McKirland shows that such interpretations arise from bias rather than from the text. More than the other chapter authors, McKirland includes a survey of Christian and Jewish interpretations. The chapter on Vashti, by Sharifa Stevens, returns to the informal and sermonic style seen earlier, in the treatments of Rahab and Ruth, thus further demonstrating the variety of styles in the volume.
The book’s final section treats three NT women. Lynn Cohick’s brief essay on the Woman at the Well is a reprint of a 2015 Christianity Today article. Cohick brings her expertise on NT backgrounds to bear on a focused question and concludes “that John’s Gospel does not condemn her as an immoral sinner, but highlights her as a seeker of truth” (252). Karla Zazueta demonstrates that Mary Magdalene has been sexualized and is “worthy of a new portrait,” one that paints her as a committed disciple, a patron of Jesus’s ministry, and as “apostle to the apostles,” as various early Christian writers called her. The volume ends with an exploration of Rom 16:7 and Junia. Here Amy Peeler diligently addresses what have become the standard questions, concluding that there is essentially no doubt that Junia was a woman and also that she was an exemplary apostle, as opposed to “noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles” (CSB, cf. ESV). For the latter question, Peeler weighs the evidence and ultimately sides with early Christian authors. Though the title of her chapter uses the double name “Junia/Joanna,” Peeler views Richard Bauckham’s theory that these are two names for the same woman as “only a possibility” (279).3 A strength of the chapter is its attention to those aspects of Rom 16:7 which have not become hot topics, such as the imprisonment of Andronicus and Junia. The volume has no epilogue and thus ends at the close of this chapter as follows, “[Junia] is a bold ‘herald,’ and all Christian women and men, indebted to her work, bear the responsibility to carry out the same gospel mission still” (285).
Vindicating the Vixens is an important collection that takes a major step toward the goal expressed in its title. Its several essays vary in style, including a wide spectrum from academic to sermonic. The volume does not set out to defend evangelical egalitarian doctrine. Rather it illuminates certain biblical women and their stories, especially those women who have been misrepresented—“sexualized, vilified and/or marginalized”—over the centuries.
1. “Weaker Vessels and Calling Husbands ‘Lord’: Was Peter Insulting Wives?,” BSac 174/693 (Jan-Mar 2017) 60-76, “The Identity of Artemis in First-century Ephesus,” BSac 172/687 (Jul-Sep 2015) 316-34, and “The First-century Ephesian Artemis: Ramifications of Her Identity,” BSac 172/688 (Oct-Dec 2015) 450-69. See https://dts.edu/resources/bibliotheca-sacra/.
2. Note that the endnotes of Ron Pierce’s article, “Deborah: Troublesome Woman or Woman of Valor?,” Priscilla Papers 32/2 (Spring 2018) 6, begin, “A longer version of this essay, written for a more general audience, is a chapter titled, ‘Deborah: Only When a Good Man is Hard to Find?,’ in Sandra Glahn, ed., Vindicating the Vixens. . . .”
3. See Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2002) ch. 5.