Today I’m happy to have as my guest Dr. Sandra Glahn. Our topic today is her latest book Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting the Sexualized, Vilified, Marginalized Women of the Bible (Kregel Academic), which just came out.
Tell us about Vindicating the Vixens.
Vindicating the Vixens has been on my heart and mind for more than a decade. As I studied history and cultural backgrounds at the doctoral level, I ended up revisiting some of our Western-influenced interpretations of the biblical text.
For example, the woman Jesus met at the well in Samaria had five husbands, true enough (see John 4). But why do most people assume that means she was faithless and immoral? Women in her time and place did not divorce husbands five times! The man with the most recorded divorces had only three. If a woman did initiate legal proceedings, she had to do so through a male. Women could not simply walk into a court of law and speak on their own behalf. So it’s unlikely that “the Samaritan woman” had dumped five husbands.
Additionally, when we read that this woman’s current man was not her own, we assume she was living with some guy. Because that’s what it would mean in the West. But in her world, it is far more likely that she had to share a husband in a polygamous relationship in order to eat.
Put all these factors together, and you realize this person was probably not a beautiful young woman with loose morals. More likely, she was an older woman who had endured being widowed a time or two or three (war was the number one cause of death for men), dumped a time or two, and consequently having to share a husband in order to survive. Additionally, the text says she was waiting for, looking with hope for, the Jewish Messiah (4:25).
We have, probably wrongly, assumed this woman was guilty of sexual promiscuity, and that Jesus is confronting her about her sin. More likely, Jesus is bringing up her greatest point of pain before telling her that he is the very Messiah for whom she is waiting. For everyone else in his world, Jesus seems to subtly veil who he is. But with this broken woman hanging on to hope, he comes right out with it.
Isn’t Jesus even more awesome than we thought?
This woman is one of many whom the contributors to Vindicating the Vixens reconsider in light of what we know about cultural backgrounds, not only from new data but also from having more varied “eyes on the text.”
Scholars from underrepresented groups looking at the Bible see what many of us in privileged positions have missed. They have brought to the text observations from a powerless perspective, which is the perspective of the typical person to whom Jesus ministers. (Like this great message from the perspective of those who are hearing impaired.)
In our book the contributors look afresh at Eve, Hagar, Sarah, Tamar, Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Huldah, Bathsheba, Vashti, Mary Magdalene, The Samaritan Woman, Junia, and even the Virgin Mary—who gets marginalized by Protestants.
Tell us about the team of authors.
These sixteen biblical scholars each hold a high view of scripture, and they all hold at least one advanced degree in Bible and theology. They are men and women, complementarian and egalitarian, American and Australian; black, white, Arab, and authors of books like Discipleship for Hispanic Introverts. Their varied backgrounds mean they bring insights in the text that the majority culture in North American has often missed—and exported. And as a result, the authors’ combined efforts provide a fresh look at the kindness of God and his heart for the vulnerable. (You can watch some of them talking about this book.)
What made you decide to do this project?
First, I believe men and women—not just husbands and wives—are supposed to partner in ministry. Jerome had Paula partnering with him, but many think theologically trained women are an innovation. They are not. A greater emphasis on social history (vs. troop movements and empires) has come from the academy due to women’s greater involvement in higher education in the past half-century. And trained social historians bring new ways of culling out data from the text—like what I just said about marriage practices in the Near East. We need those eyes on the text.
But also, my deep friendship with some international students, especially those from Mexico, combined with travels to several continents told me we needed more than a Western perspective when doing observation, interpretation, and application.
Additionally, part of my job used to involve serving as editor in chief of DTS Magazine for Dallas Theological Seminary, and I also teach theologically trained writers. So not only have I spotted some gread writers, but I learned of projects people were doing that needed greater audiences. Sometimes the great writers were those doing this work. And I kept a list!
As a sampling, there was the student doing a thesis on Bathsheba (Sarah Bowler); a scholar who wrote a book on Arabs in the Bible that changed how I saw Hagar (Tony Maalouf); and a whole corpus of work on Bible stories that included women and men in need of vindication (Carolyn Custis James). For ten years or more I’ve been keeping a mental note of how these all fit together, and I could hardly wait to coordinate it.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Originally, I hoped only to help us read the Bible more accurately as we read about these women. But a happy result of the project was that the team of scholars went beyond simply exonerating those wrongly vilified or marginalized. They explored what we have missed in the larger story by misunderstanding the smaller stories and how they fit into the whole. Now I see how the Tamar-posing-as-a-professional-sex-worker narrative fits into Joseph’s story in Genesis. What emerged from all these micro-narratives was is a clearer vision of God’s heart for the vulnerable in the meta-narrative.
Before even writing, all of the authors agreed to donate profits to the International Justice Mission. So in a tangible way, we also hope our scholarship will lead to lives changed for the better for “the least of these.”
In terms of ramifications for scholarship, I hope readers will see the absolute necessity of inviting to the table a more diverse group doing translation and interpretation than what we have typically had. I hope that we will never again see a translation of the Bible that has only men or only women or only people from one “camp” looking at the text, but that we will instead celebrate our differences and seek diligently to include a variety of people as an ourworking of our belief in God’s love for unity in difference. We need all eyes on the text!
Where can we find Vindicating the Vixens?
You can find the book at Amazon;
and at the Dallas Seminary Book Center
You can also find it on my web site at aspire2.com.
Or order it where books are sold.