@BakerAcademic’s Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters: A Historical and Biographical Guide

handbook of women interpreters
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There is a plethora of handbooks, dictionaries, and encyclopedias detailing Christian interpreters; yet, there are remarkably few devoted to the women of Christendom except for those that have narrowly selected a certain time frame. This will be news to some, but women have played an active role in Christianity from the very beginning, not just in the nineteenth century. Marion Ann Taylor’s work will show the aghast onlookers the contributions of women as well as how the previous dictionaries have failed when they have excluded the vast amount of women from biblical interpretation.

Unlike other works of the genre, Taylor and her contributors create something more than a pericope of a person. These articles are, depending on the amount of information we have, extensive and in depth. For this review, I want to highlight two articles that demonstrate my point. The first is Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a probable native of Florence. What we learn from this article is that our woman modified biblical stories through various literary tropes. She was a poet, a preacher, and a scholar, and all of this in fifteenth century Catholic Italy. We also know she did not care much for the supreme male authority nor for ignoring social issues. But, like Ruth, her decendents lived lives of great renown. Two popes and a queen consort came through her bloodline, no doubt enriched through her personal study and service to the Church.

The next is Elizabeth Stuart Bowlder (1717-97), an Anglican believer, author, and model exegete. She is survived by two powerful dissertations, one on Revelation and the other on the Song of Solomon. She was, as we are told, high church and deeply given to Tradition; yet in her writings, we find something of a progressive thinker, at least in the ways of scholarship. I believe her insight into John’s book is something that, especially given the rise of dispensationalism in the latter part of the 19th century, has been forgotten. Not only was she an author and exegete of Scripture, but it would appear she knew the original languages as well. Further, perhaps owning something both to Chrysostom and the Reformers, she sought to get to the “literal sense,” a feat many pretend to accomplish today. She was very much ahead of her time.

Each essay is filled with information that will not be mistaken for platitudes. Instead, the contributors seem to care for their subjects. The contributors, like the women who range from time and place, color and culture, contained herein, are a variety. Both men and women, theologians and biblical scholars, have contributed to this marvelous handbook of women reaching from the earliest days of Christianity up until the present. The usual indexes accompany the book, but fortunately enough, so does an alphabetical and chronological list. What can be seen here, especially, in the chronological list, is the almost unbroken chain of women interpreters who’s voices have stood side by side the men of the age, even if we have done our best to forget them, repeatedly.

This book should not be stuck in a classroom, although it must be used in the classroom. No, this book should be used in the home as well, as a way to encourage our daughters, wives, and sisters, and sent to those who believe that women’s voice is only to be met with the words, “dinner is served.” Finally, husbands, brothers, and sons should read this to remind us that the word of God did not come to us only.

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