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Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament.

Carol Meyers, gen. ed.; Toni Craven, & Ross S. Kraemer, assoc. eds., WOMEN IN SCRIPTURE: A DICTIONARY OF NAMED AND UNNAMED WOMEN IN THE HEBREW BIBLE, THE APOCRYPHAL/DEUTEROCANONICAL BOOKS, AND THE NEW TESTAMENT. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. 591p. illus. bibl. $40.00, ISBN 0-395-70936-9.

This book is so useful that our university library's cop y disappeared almost as soon as it was acquired. Since our books are "tattle taped" to set off an alarm if someone tries to exit the library without checking them out, I concluded that a user hid it away for private use in some unfrequented stack area, where it would eventually be discovered and returned to its assigned place. But it's been almost four years, the book is still missing, and I finally decided to borrow a copy through interlibrary loan in order to give it its due in this column.

Women in Scripture is unquestionably the definitive, comprehensive reference work on named and nameless women in everyone's Bible, be they Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant. The Jewish, or Hebrew, Bible is known as the Old Testament to Christians. All Christian Bibles include the New Testament, but Catholics and Greek and Slavonic Orthodox Christians retain additional and variant numbers of texts regarded as outside the official canon by Jews and Protestants. These books, such as Judith, Tobit, and four books of Maccabees, constitute the Apocrypha to Jews and Protestants and are referred to as deuterocanonical by the others. The editors of Women in Scripture include women from all these texts. There's no preference shown in the first section of the dictionary, which consists of 205 entries for named women, arranged in alphabetical order. But the editors needed a way to arrange the second section (600 entries for individuals or groups of unnamed women), and order of occurrence in the Bible was the logical choice. But "in order" according to whose arrangement? It is the case that Catholics, Protestants, and Jews order their biblical books differently, even those books held in common. They decided to follow the New Revised Standard sequence. That should not pose a significant problem to users familiar with a different arrangement, though it would have been more helpful for nonbiblical scholars using the Dictionary had the editors included information on the variations in sequence in chart form, rather than relying on explanation within the introductory material (a preface and six essays addressing critical biblical scholarship, feminist biblical scholarship, names and naming in the biblical world, and one each for the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books). There is also a third section on female deities and personifications, followed by descriptions of additional ancient sources and an extensive bibliography. Abundant see and see also references throughout the Dictionary obviated the need for an index. Several black-and-white illustrations of museum pieces and other artwork on biblical women illustrate the text.

All entries are signed by one of the numerous academic contributors from American, Canadian, Israeli, and European universities and theological and divinity schools or the occasional independent scholar. They incorporate feminist scholarship and state-of-the-art interpretations in language accessible to the educated lay reader. The three-column entry on Dinah, by Lyn M. Bechtel, is illustrative of the structure and methodology of entries, and is about average for length (Eve has nine and a half columns; Syntyche, a coworker of Paul's, gets a bit less than a half column). "Dinah" begins with the meaning of the name--"'judgment, cause,' from the Hebrew dyn, to execute judgment, plead the cause"--and citation to the passages in Genesis where Dinah is mentioned (30:21; ch.34; 46:15). Next comes an identification: Dinah is the daughter of Jacob, the only named daughter of this father of twelve sons. Her mother is Leah, who names her, exemplifying a pattern mentioned in the essay by Karla G. Bohmbach on names and naming--that women outnumber men as name-givers in the Bible. Readers then learn the setting of the story of Dinah, who has intercourse with Shechem, an outsider who is quite willing to marry her. According to Bechtel, the city of Shechem was then a place where people of diverse backgrounds met and "merged to become the community of Israel" (p.69), but this tendency was opposed and thwarted by several of Jacob's sons, who resisted intermarriage. They slaughter Shechem and the other males among the Shechemites. Bechtel says that the story passes "judgment" (the meaning of Dinah's name) on the friendly attitude of the Shechemites. Next, Bechtel offers the traditional understanding of the narrative, which is that Dinah was raped and that her brothers avenge her, even though this creates an enemy and puts their community in jeopardy, for which Jacob reprimands them. But Bechtel interprets the passage differently. This was not a rape. The last sentence in the story has brothers Simeon and Levi saying, "Should our sister be treated like a whore?" Since elements of the story do not support a characterization of prostitution (no money changed hands; Shechem declares his love for her, etc.), Bechtel says that what the brothers might be suggesting is that, as in prostitution, no bonding or obligation could come of this union. This leaves her with another problem to resolve, however. The text includes the verb that means to shame, humble, or put down, and states that Dinah was defiled. Bechtel says that shaming generally relates to "failure to live up to societal goals and ideals"--a woman having intercourse outside of marriage would be shameful--and that defilement indicates an unacceptable sex act. Bechtel is of the opinion that the brother's violent behavior towards the Shechemites is more indicative of rape than was the encounter between Dinah and Shechem. Basically, she concludes that the story represents the tension between endogamy (marriage within a group) and exogamy (marriage with outsiders), with the sexual act constituting the "narrative's representation of the violation of group boundaries" (p.70). The entry ends with several see also references and suggestions for further reading.

A flavor of the more numerous unnamed women can be tasted in the titles of these entries: "Pregnant Women Killed in War," "Singing Women (and Men) Who Lament," "Woman Who Is A Trap," "Wife of One's Youth," "Girl Who Loves Ornaments," "Young Dancer Who Asks for the Head of John the Baptist" (traditionally called Salome, but unnamed in the actual text), "Woman Who Mutilates a Man's Genitals," "Unnamed Women at the Cross," and "No Women Mentioned" (in the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews, which were Greek additions to the Book of Daniel; also 2 Thessalonians). The editors caution that they may not have identified every single instance of an allusion to a woman or women (though they scrutinized the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts), since translations sometimes obscure gender identity. The third section has entries for Canaanite deities Anath, Asherah, and Astarte; the Greek goddess Artemis; the demon Lilith; the personifications Earth as Mother, Woman Wisdom, Jerusalem/Zion as Widow and Mother, and Sister Church; a discussion of the female images for nations in Ezekiel and for God in the Hebrew Bible and the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books; and more.

Anyone curious about an allusion to a biblical woman or woman-related concept or simply interested in current feminist-inspired understanding of these women and concepts will find Women in Scripture helpful, fascinating, and lively.

Reviewed by Phyllis Holman Weisbard, Teresa Fernandez, Melissa Gotlieb, and Barbarly McConnell
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Title Annotation:BIBLICAL WOMEN
Author:Weisbard, Phyllis Holman; Fernandez, Teresa; Gotlieb, Melissa; McConnell, Barbarly
Publication:Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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