a year of Biblical womanhood

title: A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”

author: Rachel Held Evans

genre: Non-fiction, documentary-style, theological exploration

suggested by: Stephanie R.

dates read: Jan 1st-Jan 10th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Rachel sets out on a year long project to explore what “Biblical womanhood” means, taking the Bible literally (as much as possible) in its laws and mentions of a woman’s role from both the Old and New Testaments.  Each month had a particular focus and so some things she did only in one month, other things she observed during the entire year.  She shares her struggles and triumphs, the praise and criticisms she receives, and her hilariously honest thoughts throughout the project.  Her husband seems to be very supportive, though it’s difficult for him to let her submit herself to him all the time.

personal thoughts: I loved this book.  It was hilarious, poignant, thought-provoking, informative, and it made me cognizant of the struggles of women even more.  It also gave me hope for the plight of women, that maybe the constrictive ideas of a woman’s role in the church and home aren’t as well founded as many are made to believe.  Rachel points out the verses that are often used as the framework of “Biblical womanhood” and the ideas that come from them, and then presents another viewpoint.  I know extreme feminism gets a bad rep, but my understanding is that the core idea is equality for everyone; I can get behind that.

One of my favorite things she talks about is how the Proverbs 31 woman is not a goal to be achieved, or a list to be memorized and implemented by all women, but rather it is a way for husbands to praise their wives.  In the Jewish culture it is the men who memorize the chapter so they can recite it to their wives as a praise and acknowledgement of what they have done for the family.  So often this chapter is used as a charge to women in the church, a list of characteristics that they are to live up to; instead it should be seen as a beautiful tribute to what women contribute to society.  The phrase the Jewish men say is, “Eshet chayil mi yimtza v’rachok mip’ninim michrah,” which translates to, “A valorous woman, who can find?  Her value is far beyond pearls.”  What a difference!

Another somewhat controversial topic that she hits on is the idea the wives must submit to their husbands.  She puts all three verses that mention this (Colossians 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1-2, and Ephesians 5:22-24) in the cultural context, explaining that “Peter and Paul  were putting a Christian spin on what their readers would have immediately recognized as the popular Greco-Roman ‘household codes'” (p. 215).  She further explains that in the Greco-Roman “household codes” the men have undisputed authority over everyone in their household: their wives, slaves, and children.  What Peter and Paul are doing is, within the context that’s familiar, putting a Christian slant on those codes, instructing men to love their wives and be kind and gentle to their slaves and children.  “Furthermore, the Christian versions of the household codes are the only ones that speak directly to the less powerful members of the household” (p. 217).  She then speculates if we should be taking these codes literally now: “The Christian versions of the household codes were clearly progressive for their time, but does that mean they have the last word, that Christians in changing places and times cannot progress further?” (p. 220).

I could go on, but I won’t and will simply encourage you to read this book.  If you have questioned the role of women of faith in the home and church, pick this book up and be challenged by the ideas that Rachel presents.

some of my favorite quotes:
“Somewhere between the chicken soup and the butter-bleeding pie, I’d made peace with the God of pots and pans – not because God wanted to meet me in the kitchen, but because He wanted to meet me everywhere, in all things, big or small.  Knowing that God both inhabits and transcends our daily vocations, no matter how glorious or mundane, should be enough to unite all women of faith and end that nasty cycle of judgment we get caught in these days.” p. 43

Talking about how Jesus did not condemn the prostitute that the Pharisees brought to him for judgement:
“It may serve as little comfort to those who have suffered abuse at the hand of Bible-wielding literalists, but the disturbing laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy lose just a bit of their potency when God himself breaks them.” p. 53, 54

“Those who seek to glorify biblical womanhood have forgotten the dark stories.  They have forgotten that…the countless unnamed women who lived and died between the lines of Scripture exploited, neglected, ravaged, and crushed at the hand of patriarchy are as much a part of our shared narrative as Deborah, Esther, Rebekah, and Ruth.” p.65, 66

“The Proverbs 31 woman is a star not because of what she does but how she does it – with valor.  So do your thing.  If it’s refurbishing old furniture – do it with valor.  If it’s keeping up with your two-year-old – do it with valor.  If it’s fighting against human trafficking. . . leading a company . . . or getting other people to do your work for you – do it with valor.” p. 95

“Justice means moving beyond the dichotomy between those who need and those who supply and confronting the frightening and beautiful reality that we desperately need one another.” p. 245

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