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Posts Tagged ‘women in the Bible’

I am hungry for books that raise up the stories of women in the Bible, and was thrilled to discover Women of the Bible from Paraclete Press. The richly-illustrated volume from Margaret McAllister and Alida Massari is ideal for sharing with the young people in my life.

In this lovely book, we have a glimpse of the world through the eyes of Rachel, Miriam, Mary of Magdala, Lydia of Philippi, and six other remarkable women. Rather than a passing mention embedded in a tale of men, granted a mere few lines of text, their voices speak to us directly from these pages, helping the reader to imagine the faith of these important ancestors. The stories are filled with hope, tenderness, yearning, and a confident faith in God.

I especially enjoyed the story of Mary of Nazareth, in which she describes scenes of motherhood and of the life of her son, Jesus. Outside of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), there are few words ascribed to Mary in the Bible; yet she has such a significant place as a model of faithfulness. Through Margaret McAllister’s telling, young readers will be able to imagine Mary in her special role as a strong and loving mother.

Throughout the book, the colors are rich and vibrant, from Lydia’s purples and Mary’s blues, to golden fields and bright blue rivers. Alida Massari gives beautifully expressive faces to the people in these tales, and their landscapes are livened with playful patterns. The animals are enchanting, and any young artist will find inspiration in these pages.

This book would make a special addition to a child’s home library, as well as a welcome gift for a teacher or special friend.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Review is freely given.

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Theologian Mary Christine Athans, BVM, has written a compelling book that offers a fresh understanding of Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. The result of scholarship and personal reflection, In Quest of the Jewish Mary: The mother of Jesus in history, theology, and spirituality makes a worthwhile read.

The book opens with a helpful discussion of the role of Mary in the Catholic Church and the changing view of Mary throughout church history, including the feminist theology of more recent years. Athans then draws attention to the valuable contributions made by scholars studying the historical Jesus, and the helpful insights this research can provide for our understanding of Mary. As Jesus was growing up, his primary religion teacher would have been his mother, a faithful Jewish woman teaching her son how to pray and to seek God. Understanding how the Jewish faith was observed in daily life amplifies the picture we have of Mary and her son.

I appreciated the tools Athans provides for envisioning Mary’s life as a first-century Palestinian woman of faith. Along with her biblical scholarship, Athans shares stories of her own appreciation of Jewish customs and rituals. Her voice has the potential to build bridges of understanding between faith traditions.

The author brings together and makes accessible an incredible amount of research, providing a rich bibliography for readers who are compelled to read more on the topic. I made copious notes on index cards for future reading. Orbis Books once again has done readers a service by making contemporary theological scholarship readily available to readers who seek to deepen knowledge of their faith.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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In A Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers carries the reader to biblical times, bringing to vivid life several women whose deep faith holds lessons for modern readers. This volume draws together five novellas, and tells the stories of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.

Each woman’s story is told through a mix of details from the Bible and socio-historical information about the time period in which she lived. The customs and mores of the ancient world provide critical background. When reading these stories, I was palpably aware that these five women all lived in a patriarchal society during violent times. There were moments in the stories when a woman’s vulnerability, or a man’s abuse of power, made reading very difficult. However, the emotions that a woman feels, no matter when or where she lives, are universal. Through the emotional life of these historical figures, and the hardships they endure and overcome, Rivers has provided strong examples for inspiration along the journey of faith.

In the story of Tamar, we meet the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob. Her story appears in Genesis 38 as a fairly matter-of-fact sequence of events, and she is portrayed in a negative light as a seductress. Through the pen of Rivers, the conditions of life endured by Tamar become very vivid. Widowed before she had a child, the customs of the day could result in her living as a beggar or prostitute. Considered a failure by her own father, she was unwelcome in her childhood home. Her father-in-law behaved unethically and did not practice his religion; Tamar asks him repeatedly, “When will you do what is right?” Her courage and faithfulness astonished me. Under great duress, she held to her faith and determined to do what was right. I came to love and admire Tamar by the end of the story, even as I marveled at her choices.

For me, living in the relative comfort of a loving home in North America, the fruits of Tamar’s story were the spiritual lessons.  However, the story also caused me to reflect on the plight of women living in very difficult circumstances—enduring domestic violence, sexual assault, forced marriage. These conditions, so pervasive in biblical times, are still the reality for many women today. One way to honor their struggles is to what we are able to transform injustice.

Unlike Tamar, Ruth has a whole book in the Bible to tell her story. Yet that book is a mere four pages long—eight columns of text. Rivers makes the story of Ruth more vivid by providing historical context and showing the reader the longings of Ruth’s heart. For me, the most familiar portion of this story is when the recently-widowed Ruth says to Naomi, her mother-in-law, “For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 16)

The magnitude of these words had not sunk in before I read this novella. Ruth left behind the land and family of her birth, and made a dangerous journey; she chose poverty and the unknown, confident that God would look after her and Naomi. I tried to imagine myself in Ruth’s place as I read the vivid descriptions of  her inner struggles.

Rahab’s story was one of my favorites.  While the author of the book of Joshua primarily provides battle details of the fall of Jericho, Rivers focuses on the deep faith of this Canaanite woman who helped the Israelites. Although she did not grow up with faith in one God, as an adult God spoke to her heart. Rahab says, “I know this is God the only God, and I’ve chosen to put my faith and hope in Him.”  The Israelite soldier who becomes her husband notes that “God could write his name upon the heart of anyone he chose.”

I have to admit, Bathsheba’s story was very difficult for me to read, as it told so much of the corruption in the palace of David.  I wanted to think of David as the psalm-writer, not as a person who would take another man’s wife, endangering her life. However, here, too, there were many lessons, as when David wondered, “How was it possible to love God so much and be captured so completely by sin?”

In the story of Mary, it was interesting to read so many familiar Gospel stories intertwined with a tale of family life. As Jesus struggled with the demands of his calling, his mother had to see him suffer. This experience, the hardship of seeing a child in pain, is something with which any mother can identify. I appreciated the development of Joseph as a strong, supportive husband and father, as well.

At the end of each novella is a six-part Bible study section, Seek and Find, prepared by Peggy Lynch. This includes passages from the Bible, questions to reflect on the novella and the scripture selections, and ways to apply the lessons in one’s own life. I found the suggested questions to be thought-provoking and helpful tools for personal reflection. This book would be an excellent choice for a book club or study group.

While addressed to a Christian readership, these stories could inspire women of  all three Abrahamic faiths, and would be of interest to anyone who enjoys stories set in the ancient world. I highly recommend it, and look forward to exploring more of the work of Francine Rivers.

Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2009.

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