The following is part three of a critical review of Rachel Held Evans's book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”, Thomas Nelson, 2012 (see this link for a little more background and an index to all sections of the review). Ms. Evans's book starts with October and ends with September, thus this review follows Ms. Evans's order.
Rachel hit the ground running in this, her third month of the “Year of Biblical Womanhood,” referring to the Bible as “a collection of ancient texts that routinely describe women as property,” specifically referring to the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant…” Yet Rachel herself refers to Dan Evans, to whom she is married, as “my husband, Dan” and I don’t know how different that is from the language of the commandment. [FN1]
Again, to make her case against the Bible as a book that you would not want to live by, she cringes at the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, which were abrogated in the New, as well as the civil law of the Old Testament, which is no longer binding except so far as general equity requires. She shows a bit of arrogance in asserting that people who claim the Bible never troubles them can never “actually (have) read it.”
Ms. Evans takes Doug Philips of Vision Forum to task for his version of Biblical patriarchy because although he wants women to work in the home and doesn’t recommend girls go to college, nevertheless he does not recommend stoning adulterers. “Selective literalism,” she says.
She continues to fail to note distinctions in Scripture, between the old and new economy, between that which was fulfilled in Christ and enduring truths. She applauds Jesus in John 8:3-11 for (supposedly) breaking God’s laws Himself in the case of the woman taken in adultery [FN2]. She refers to Jesus’ doing this as a thing she alternately rebukes or praises—that of “selective literalism.” When it suits her cause, she likes it, when it does not she hurls accusations.
Also, this month she calls Dan her “Master,” much to his chagrin, but does so in an “I Dream of Jeanie” sort of way, which makes the enterprise more laughable and thus more marketable. And if you thought 1 Peter 3:5 & 6 was true, you need to listen to Rachel as qualifies Sarah's obedience to her husband, by pointing out that Sarah encouraged Abraham to marry Hagar his slave.
Next she visits a “Christian” polygamous family and from this chapter you would think that this is no mere aberration but a regular feature of those who strive to live biblically. She tells us that polygamy was “common in biblical times” yet one very noted marriage and family scholar (and not a conservative one, either) will tell you that in Israelite culture, polygamy clearly was not common. (David R. Mace, Hebrew Marriage).
The month of December ends with a ceremony commemorating “the dark stories of biblical women” like Jephthah, Hagar, Tamar and so on, women who were “exploited, neglected, ravaged and crushed at the hand of patriarchy.” One would hope that she would glean from the sad stories of all people in Bible history that deliverance from sin was needed, and then thank God for deliverance and redemption found in Jesus Christ, but, no, the problem is not sin in general, but patriarchy in particular. Rid the world of that and we will be saved.
Finally, the “woman of the month” feature for December is, appropriately enough, Mary who gave birth to Jesus, the Savior. Mary’s song, The Magnificat, was “bold and subversive,” she says, despite the fact that much of it reflects the teaching of the Psalms (Ms. Evans appears blissfully unaware of the song's sourcing.) Ms. Evans seems to enjoy trying to shock her mostly Protestant readership by calling Mary “The Mother of God” and then clarifying what this means. Most of her jibes are only effective against a kind of shallow evangelicalism, which I suppose is a big enough target.
Now Rachel attempts to display “valor” for Proverbs 31:10 extols the “woman of valor.”[FN3] Although Rachel states that “most scholars seem to think that the best translation is “valorous woman” (instead of “an excellent wife”, “a worthy woman”, “a wife of noble character” and so on), she merely asserts this without any proof. Who are these majority of scholars? A “woman of valor” seems to be the translation most favored by Judaism, and in fact one of her advisers is an Orthodox Jewish woman, so this may be where Ms. Evans gleaned her information. There is no doubt that Bruce Waltke uses the term “woman of valor” but he is hardly “most scholars.” Yet that is a minor quibble.
Again, the author goes through another Amelia Bedelia routine, taking things literally by making a purple dress, a knitted red hat, and a pillow for her bed. She attempts to be an early riser who works hard until dark, avoids Facebook and Twitter so as not to “eat the bread of idleness” and strengthens her arms by—you guessed it, lifting weights. She decries the mini-empire of conferences, books and products which have sprung up about the Proverbs 31 woman, and we could join her in this if she did so for the clear consumerism of the whole thing, but her problem is that women out there are seeking to be like the Proverbs 31 woman, something that “most scholars” I imagine would endorse, even Bruce Waltke who says, “Wise daughters aspire to be like her, wise men seek to marry her, and all wise people aim to incarnate the wisdom she embodies, each in his own sphere of activity.”
She uses verse 30, “A woman who fears the LORD should be praised” as a prompt to “contemplative prayer” but it is unclear why, except that Jan Reiss, of Part Two of this trilogy did some contemplative praying. The climax of the month of valor actually took place halfway into February when she stood at the “Welcome to Dayton” sign with a small sign of her own making “DAN IS AWESOME,” thus praising Dan at the city gate, so to speak, and then she and Dan “laughed victoriously all the way home.”
FN1: Indeed, "her husband" is also found in the Authorized Version at Genesis 3:6 and 16:3, Numbers 5:13, 27, and 29, 30:7-8 and 10-14; Deuteronomy 21:13, and numerous other places. Whether or not the wife's possessive interest in her husband is perfectly symmetrical to his in her is a separate point, but see - for one example - "The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife." (1 Corinthians 7:4).
FN2: Ms. Evans does not appear to be aware that the text of the pericope of the Woman Taken in Adultery is not in the earliest manuscripts of John's gospel.
FN3: It is surely unsurprising that Ms. Evans doesn't consider the exegesis of Proverbs 31 as referring to an anthropomorphic representation of Wisdom, one of the major characters of Proverbs.
The above is a guest post.