Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters: A Historical and Biographical Guide
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Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters: A Historical and Biographical Guide

Baker Academic / 2012 / Hardcover

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Stock No: WW033568

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Product Description

The history of women interpreters of the Bible is a neglected area of study. Marion Taylor presents a one-volume reference tool that introduces readers to a wide array of women interpreters of the Bible from the entire history of Christianity, from the early church to the twenty-first century. Her research has implications for understanding biblical interpretation--especially the history of interpretation--and influencing contemporary study of women and the Bible.

Contributions by 130 top scholars introduce foremothers of the faith who address issues of interpretation that continue to be relevant to faith communities today, such as women's roles in the church and synagogue and the idea of religious feminism. Women's interpretations also raise awareness about differences in the ways women and men may read the Scriptures in light of differences in their life experiences. This text will prove useful to students, scholars, and pastors, who will be inspired, provoked, and challenged by the women introduced in the handbook. It will also provide a foundation for further detailed research and analysis.

Some of the interpreters referenced include:

  • Elizabeth Rice Achtemeier
  • Birgitta of Sweden
  • Catherine Mumford Booth
  • Anne Bradstreet
  • Catherine of Siena
  • Clare of Assisi
  • Egeria
  • Elizabeth I
  • Hildegard of Bingen
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Thirhse of Lisieux
  • Marcella
  • Henrietta C. Mears
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Phoebe Palmer
  • Faltonia Betitia Proba
  • Pandita Ramabai
  • Christina Georgina Rossetti
  • Dorothy Leigh Sayers
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Teresa of Avila
  • Sojourner Truth
  • Susanna Wesley

Product Information

Format: Hardcover
Number of Pages: 592
Vendor: Baker Academic
Publication Date: 2012
Dimensions: 9.00 X 6.00 (inches)
ISBN: 080103356X
ISBN-13: 9780801033568

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Publisher's Description

The history of women interpreters of the Bible is a neglected area of study. Marion Taylor presents a one-volume reference tool that introduces readers to a wide array of women interpreters of the Bible from the entire history of Christianity. Her research has implications for understanding biblical interpretation--especially the history of interpretation--and influencing contemporary study of women and the Bible. Contributions by 130 top scholars introduce foremothers of the faith who address issues of interpretation that continue to be relevant to faith communities today, such as women's roles in the church and synagogue and the idea of religious feminism. Women's interpretations also raise awareness about differences in the ways women and men may read the Scriptures in light of differences in their life experiences.

This handbook will prove useful to ministers as well as to students of the Bible, who will be inspired, provoked, and challenged by the women introduced here. The volume will also provide a foundation for further detailed research and analysis.

Interpreters include Elizabeth Rice Achtemeier, Saint Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine Mumford Booth, Anne Bradstreet, Catherine of Siena, Clare of Assisi, Egeria, Elizabeth I, Hildegard, Julian of Norwich, Thérèse of Lisieux, Marcella, Henrietta C. Mears, Florence Nightingale, Phoebe Palmer, Faltonia Betitia Proba, Pandita Ramabai, Christina Georgina Rossetti, Dorothy Leigh Sayers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Beecher Stowe, St. Teresa of Avila, Sojourner Truth, and Susanna Wesley.

Author Bio

Marion Ann Taylor (PhD, Yale University) is professor of Old Testament at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, where she has taught for more than twenty-five years. She has devoted her scholarly research to the history of the interpretation of the Bible and has recently focused on women interpreters of the Bible in the nineteenth century. She is coeditor of Recovering Nineteenth-Century Women Interpreters of the Bible. Agnes Choi (PhD, University of St. Michael's College) is assistant professor of New Testament at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.


This handbook is a gold mine, a must for all who care about women and religion or the history of the reception of the biblical texts. Page after page, article after article I found myself riveted by what I was learning.
-Dale C. Allison Jr.,
Errett M. Grable Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

For over sixteen hundred years now women have been carefully studying the Bible. Strangely, scholars have not seemed to wonder what they having been thinking about it all this time. Through pioneering and painstaking research, the Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters brilliantly puts on display the insights and reflections of women on the most important book in the history of the world. I have been waiting eagerly for this handbook, and I will henceforth consult it frequently and with delight. All serious students of the Bible need to add it to their collection--especially those who don't think they need it.
-Timothy Larsen,
McManis Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College

This exhilarating volume can justly be described as one of the finest fruits yet to be harvested from the past half century of work on women's history and women's relationships to the interpretation of the Bible from the early church to the present. Marion Ann Taylor has included a judicious but generous selection of women biblical interpreters; individual contributors rank among the world's experts; and the articles themselves frequently treat readers to excerpts from these women's original writings. Those who go in search of particular entries will find themselves drawn to read more than what they went looking for because the stories encapsulated here are by turns surprising, fascinating, wry, poignant, and heartening.
-John L. Thompson,
professor of historical theology, Fuller Theological Seminary; author, Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis That You Can't Learn from Exegesis Alone

This deeply researched and beautifully organized volume fills a huge gap, one which most biblical scholars and church historians never noticed was there. It yields insight into how richly and variously the Bible functioned in diverse communities from late antiquity to modern times as reflected in the lives and writings of remarkable women. The history of biblical interpretation will never look the same again.
-Ellen F. Davis,
Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School

What an extraordinary, fascinating, enthralling, moving, and mind-expanding volume! This guide has achieved a vital recovery of interpretive sources and makes it clear that these interpreters must be explored and seriously considered not only by those thirsting to find women's voices but also by anyone who desires to be comprehensively informed about the true scope and history of biblical interpretation.
-John Goldingay,
David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Kathleen Goldingay

This most welcome handbook provides a wealth of information about an overlooked dimension of the history of biblical interpretation, the contribution of women interpreters. A fine collection of contributors focus on a wide variety of women interpreters through all periods of history. The array of interpreters covered here is breathtaking when one reads the biographies of those who, against deep odds and through major difficulties, provided biblical understandings that resonate today in many places. Marion Ann Taylor has made a real contribution in a number of ways with this expertly edited volume, which recovers and analyzes women's voices. This splendid work deserves a primary place among biblical interpretation resources and much praise for its extensive and exciting discoveries.
-Donald K. McKim,
editor, Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters

This handbook is as important as it is fascinating--important for its unparalleled ability to give ear to voices long forgotten and often silenced and fascinating for the way it turns the spotlight on the difficult but spectacular story of how women have engaged the Scriptures as they worked to take their rightful places in pulpits, at lecterns, and around the tables of biblical interpretation. Turning page after page, I found myself sometimes amazed, sometimes humbled, and often inspired by the courage and wisdom of the biblical interpreters whose lives and contributions are here gathered.
-Joel B. Green,
professor of New Testament interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary

What a gift and an invitation this book is! For too long I have been frustrated at my own lack of knowledge about the history of reception of the Bible and in particular the history of women's interpretive engagement with the Bible. With neither the knowledge of where to begin or even a sense of what I was looking for, I was helpless. Marion Taylor's astonishing book changes everything. The judicious choice of women interpreters from antiquity to the twentieth century, the succinct but informative articles, and the immensely valuable bibliographies suddenly make it possible to teach and to write about women's interpretation of the Bible throughout history. I can't wait to get started.
-Carol A. Newsom,
Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Emory University

The Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters is an elegantly written collection of entries examining women's influential reflections on Scripture and their own female identity. Each entry provides an enticing glimpse of a woman's engagement with the biblical text and frames her contribution in its historical setting. These readings of Scripture speak afresh into our own time, enriching and invigorating our understanding of the Bible.
-Lynn H. Cohick,
professor of New Testament, Wheaton College

Taylor and Choi provide a fascinating glimpse into the stories and writings of women across two thousand years of history. We are introduced to such diverse biblical interpreters as Elizabeth Achtemeier, Marie Guyart, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Sayers, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Bringing together 180 female interpreters into a single volume provides a rare gift since women's voices have often been neglected in the history of interpretation. This handbook is a unique and valuable resource for any seeking to understand Scripture by listening to the historical community of faith.
-Jeannine Brown,
Bethel Seminary

The strength of this volume arises from the range of interpreters of the Bible, the theological spectrum they represent, and the new doors that they open on history. To cover so many women, many of whom were silenced or forgotten, and to do so with evenness and compression is a remarkable achievement. Anyone interested in the history of biblical interpretation, preaching, and Bible teaching will find essential, captivating reading in these pages.
-Paul Scott Wilson,
professor of homiletics, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto

Editorial Reviews

The Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters is a long-awaited resource for those who want to engage in a more thorough analysis of Scripture by means of reception history (also technically known as Wirkungsgeschichte or "history of interpretation").2 While this methodology of biblical scholarship is still developing, resources such as this will enable its advancement while also creating a more level playing field for biblical interpretations from both genders.

The title of Marion Ann Taylor and Agnes Choi's newly published reference work says it all. This is the first reference volume specifically devoted to women interpreters of the Bible for whom there are extant written works from which modern-day biblical scholars, pastors, and seminarians may glean great insights previously unavailable to a mass audience. While this volume is by no means exhaustive, it brings to the table 180 new voices to add to those who have dedicated their lives to the study and practice of Scripture.

The book's purpose and structure are outlined in a thorough and lucid introduction by Marion Ann Taylor. This substantial work, consisting of essays written by scholars predominantly from North America and Great Britain, is designed to be a foundation and launching pad for further studies in the history of interpretation.3 The entries span nearly two millennia, from the fourth century up to the twentieth. Post-nineteenth-century women were specifically limited to those who are deceased (so that a woman's full life's work could be analyzed) and to those whose work predated the "globalization of the profession of biblical studies and the significant expansion in the involvement of women and ethnic minorities with professional biblical studies in the 1970s and '80s" (21-22).

Taylor takes the reader through all of the influences and subsequent biblical foci for each of the women analyzed within this volume. Since Taylor's own research has focused mainly, though not exclusively, on nineteenth-century women biblical interpreters, the issues of slavery, abolition, temperance, and the suffrage movement (women's rights) are addressed either directly or indirectly by women interpreters of the period. It should not be surprising that many women of this period were also social activists.

The book is comprised of biographical and analytical synopses of the women included in this volume, written by different contributing scholars, including the editors themselves. Entries are organized alphabetically, with a chronological list of interpreters at the back of the book for reference. Each entry includes key factual detail about each woman interpreter, including bibliographical references, so the length of each entry varies. Each contributor takes into account the fact that a woman's familial and educational influences naturally provide the context for her interpretive work.

Each woman interpreter's work included in this volume was analyzed, focusing on (I) her approach and methods of biblical interpretation, with particular attention given to "gendered exegesis" when addressing problematic passages, 4 (2) the key themes that flow out of her work, and (3) examples as illustrations of the former. Following the biographical and analytical entries that make up the bulk of the book, Taylor and Choi include a series of indices to aid biblical scholars who may choose to use this book as part of their research.

Some of the women highlighted in this book are well known to us from church history, including mystics Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, and Teresa of Avila. Others are known to us from American history, such as Anne Bradstreet, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Florence Nightingale. Aside from their influence on American society, they were engaged in interpreting the Bible as part of their social missions.

The majority of the book includes many familiar orthodox biblical interpretive voices known to CBE members. For example, Margery Kempe's (1373-1438) sole work, The Book of Margery Kempe, gives a unique insight into the public and private religious life of a Catholic woman in medieval England, where unauthorized writing and preaching was forbidden by the church. Hannah More (1745-1833) was an "evangelical bluestocking" who championed many radical social causes, most notably the abolition of slavery in Britain, working closely with William Wilberforce (373).5

Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874), the first successful American woman revivalist of the Holiness movement, is known for starting the "Tuesday Meetings," where people of all ages, gender, and, more notably, denomination, could meet to study the Bible and promote Holiness. Palmer also practiced her faith by engaging in humanitarian work to improve living conditions in the slums of New York City. Deeply influenced by Palmer's work, Catherine Booth (1829-1890), cofounder of the Salvation Army along with her husband William Booth, became an influential British Holiness preacher and evangelist in her own right. Another "disciple" of Phoebe Palmer, Frances Willard (1839-1898), became the first woman college president to confer degrees, becoming president of the Evanston College for Ladies in 1870. Later, she found her calling in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and was also an ardent advocate of women's suffrage.

Katherine Bushnell (1855-1946) served as a missionary doctor in China for several years. As part of the WCTU, she set up a home for "fallen women" in Chicago in addition to investigating rampant prostitution in the lumber and mining camps of northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Bushnell firmly believed that male-biased biblical translations and interpretations were responsible for the subjugation of women. She developed a correspondence course for women on the teachings of the Bible which was ultimately published as God's Word to Women in 1923.

On the continent, Jesse Penn-Lewis (1861-1927), through her work with young women at the YWCA, became an ardent evangelist, speaking all over Britain, continental Europe, North America, India, and Egypt. She published more than eighty booklets, most notably The Magna Charta of Woman. In India, Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) established institutions that would shelter and promote the welfare and education of young girls and translated the Bible into the local Marathi dialect. Other interpreters profiled include writer Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957), archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978), scholar Joyce Baldwin (1921-1995), and homiletician Elizabeth R. Achtemeier (1926-2002).

In addition, the volume also features some unknown and even forgotten women whose lives and work are only now being brought out of the shadows so their voices may be added to the conversation. Taylor notes the purposeful inclusion of "various non-Christian and sectarian groups, and idiosyncratic writers" (6). For example, Jewish theologian and writer Grace Aguilar (1816-1847) believed that the Bible spoke directly to Jewish women. Despite Christian interpretations — that women were only deemed spiritually equal to men after the coming of Christ-Aguilar insisted that the Hebrew Bible did not "degrade" women.6

Annie Besant (1847-1933), having grown up in a traditional Anglican family, became a freethinker, theosophist, social activist, and eventually a secularist. Besant claimed that the triumph of civilization, not religion, was responsible for the improved status of women in the Western world at that time and urged individuals who supported equality of the genders to abandon the Bible, and Christianity, because she considered them thoroughly patriarchal and irredeemable.

An example of an idiosyncratic interpreter is Joanna Southcott (1750-1814), who grew up poor with very little education. She claimed to have had a revelation from the Holy Spirit in 1792 that Christ's second coming was approaching. Based on her interpretation of Genesis 3:15, Southcott considered herself the "second Eve," who, together with her followers, would bring about the final downfall of Satan. In her interpretation of Genesis, Southcott claimed Eve told the truth by blaming the serpent and Adam was in the wrong by blaming the woman (462). This idea has become part of the foundation for modern feminist thinking. Southcott is a prime example of the deadly consequence of a lack of education, both secular and religious, on the interpretation of the Bible. Many heretical women interpreters, had they been well trained, might have made greater contributions.

Like their male counterparts, women biblical interpreters can also depart from orthodoxy. However, their inclusion in the handbook alludes to the fact that there are more women biblical interpreters to be "resurrected," including those who are non-Christian (including Jewish), nonwhite, and non-Western. The voices of women who do not fit into the Western, orthodox Christian norm are also worthy of study if the church is to understand fully its own history and the role of women within it, for good or for ill.

The Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters is a groundbreaking resource for CBE members, fitting perfectly into the trajectory of CBE's mission to enable women and men to minister in the church together as equals. Throughout history, the church has benefitted from the teachings and writings of many great luminaries, from Augustine to Dietrich Bonheoffer-men who devoted and even risked their lives pursuing understanding, teaching, and living out God's word. Taylor and Choi's book clearly illustrates that women also have been reading, studying, writing, and teaching the Bible all throughout the church's history. Sadly, lack of education, coupled with the suppression of women by church authority, means that much of what women thought and taught throughout church history is now lost to us.

Twenty-first century women biblical scholars have more opportunities to express and transmit their voices than did their foremothers of the faith. Through today's technology, the works of women biblical interpreters can be made available to all through the internet (such as archive.org), and scholars can travel the globe in a matter of hours to find original manuscripts so that these women's voices can be resurrected. No longer will the next generation of women biblical interpreters be ignorant of the work of past generations. As modern scholars turn back to their forbears to see how they read the biblical text and struggled with difficult and controversial passages, this volume offers a new tool to aid them in their pursuit of clarity and understanding.
---Christine Cos
---Used with permission from Christians for Biblical Equality

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