I’ve been so fortunate to have experienced mostly female preachers and pastors in my life’s churches. Lisa, Jonna, Heather, Carol, Darcy, and several others whose names I can’t now recall. They have been my main source of teaching about the Bible so the idea that “women should be silent in church” (1 Cor 14:34-35) or “women should not teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:11-14) seems laughable at best. For some reason, a lot of people – especially within the Christian tradition – can’t get on board with the idea of people being on an equal playing field regardless of gender. And no, I’m not talking about “equal value, different/distinct roles” (lookin’ at you, John Piper). That’s why I like to re-read this book every so often. I’m a big fan of Rachel Held Evans’s writing, and this book of hers reminds me that while the Bible can be used to oppress, it can also be used to lift up and bring about justice in the world.
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
Page count – 308
In this book, Evans chronicles her year of living out “biblical womanhood” by studying all the passages in the Bible that relate to women including stories about characters who happen to be women (among others, Eve, Deborah, Tamar, Mary, Vashti, Ruth, Mary Magdalene, Leah, the Samaritan at the Well, Tabitha, Huldah, and Junia) and passages that read more like rules for how women are supposed to live out their daily lives. She takes on a different trait each month (Gentleness, Domesticity, Obedience, Valor, Beauty, Modesty, Purity, Fertility, Submission, Justice, Silence, and Grace) and performs various tasks, follows rules, and speaks directly with women from various faith traditions to figure out what exactly is included in the prescription for “biblical womanhood.”
Evans really is funny. I laughed out loud several times while reading this book, including when the “Baby-Think-It-Over” arrived on her doorstep to simulate motherhood for the month/chapter on Fertility. She and her husband “decided to name him Chip after the bundle of silicon that made up his soul” (p. 193). Surrounding the humor is a solid study of biblical themes related to women, as well as the importance of context and accurate translation.
One of my favorite chapters is about the infamous “Proverbs 31” woman. We learn that the poem in Proverbs 31 is not supposed to be a prescriptive to-do list of chores, tasks, and qualities that is impossible for any human to accomplish. In the original Hebrew, it was used (and often still is used by Jewish people today) as an ode, a heroic poem of sorts, to praise the subject for using her energy and creativity to support the people around her. The Hebrew eshet chayil is often translated as “a wife of noble character” but would perhaps more accurately translate to “woman of valor.” As Evans concludes:
“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 [or] leading a company…do it with valor. Take risks. Work hard. Make mistakes…And surround yourself with people who will cheer you on.” (p. 95)