- Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament
The subtitle of this attractive volume describes its contents clearly, if not succinctly. It is a compendium of all the female characters, types, and deities to be found in the broadest definition of sacred scripture. Its primary goal is defined in the preface as seeking ". . . to collect the best and most up-to-date scholarship—feminist biblical scholarship—in a single user-friendly book" (p. x). There are a number of short essays, written by the editors, on critical Bible scholarship and on each of the groupings of sacred literature. These introductions are brief but well written, providing the outlines of a critical approach to biblical studies, as well as some discussion of how women are represented in each section of scripture. The focus of the volume is sharpened by two additional essays, on "Feminist Biblical Scholarship," by Alice Ogden Bellis, and on "Names and Naming in the Biblical World," by Karla G. Bohmbach; both contain extensive suggestions for further reading. The decision to emphasize these two issues is felicitous and well suited to the volume as a whole. These essays can do little more than sketch the larger issues involved, but they do so with style and insight. The article on feminist criticism, in particular, uses timely examples to illustrate the issues in a way that will speak clearly to a more popular audience. [End Page 204]
The body of the book is divided into three sections. The first, organized alphabetically, covers all the named women in Scripture. Each entry explains the meaning of the woman's name and cites the relevant textual references. The body of the entry describes the major events of its subject's life as related by the Bible and, in the case of the longer articles, offers some interpretation of the significance of these events. The essays draw heavily upon scholarship but are careful to address a wider audience. They feature some of the best exponents of feminist criticism in the last 30 years: Phyllis Trible (Ruth, Naomi, Hagar, Miriam), Tikva Frymer-Kensky (the matriarchs in Genesis, Zipporah, Rahab, Deborah), Carol Meyers (Eve, Rebekah), J. Cheryl Exum (Delilah, Michal), Gale Yee (Gomer), and Athalyah Brenner (Jezebel, Tamar). A few male scholars are represented here as well, but most of the major entries are written by women. As one might expect, each scholar presents the character in light of her own previous scholarly work, but in many cases mention is made of alternative views.
To anyone familiar with feminist scholarship, there will be little that is new here. However, the reader who has not been exposed to this literature will receive detailed treatments of these central female characters and gain a new understanding of the significance of figures too often neglected both by conventional biblical scholarship and by traditional Jewish and Christian interpretation. Each entry contains suggestions for further reading. The bulk of the commentary demonstrates the significant development of feminist scholarship in biblical studies. Three decades ago this project would not have been possible, both for the lack of interest in the women of the Bible and for the absence of a body of feminist scholars who could carry this project out so impressively.
The second section is by far the longest, comprising nearly two thirds of the volume. It catalogues all the Bible's unnamed women, those who appear as individual characters in stories as well as "types"—widows, daughters, etc. The entries follow the order of the biblical books (according to the Septuagint for the Hebrew Bible). The editors have striven for completeness, and the result is an exhaustive listing of all the female figures and the references to them in Scripture, from Genesis through Revelation. Such a comprehensive attempt to see that every female figure in the Bible receives at least a...