The latest Biblical Studies Book Reviews (RBL) – The Psychology of Biblical Women – 20 Nov 2008

The following new reviews have been added to the Review of Biblical Literature (RBL): (Click on the titles to go to the reviews). The weekly RBL email newsletter is a free service of SBL; to receive the RBL newsletter, click here.


  1. Stephen K. Catto, Reconstructing the First-Century Synagogue: A Critical Analysis of Current Research. Reviewed by Birger Olsson and Reviewed by Jonathan Bernier
  2. Richard A. Horsley, Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea. Reviewed by Lester L. Grabbe
  3. David R. Nienhuis, Not by Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon, Reviewed by Patrick J. Hartin
  4. Jan G. van der Watt, ed. Identity, Ethics, and Ethos in the New Testament. Reviewed by H. H. Drake Williams III
  5. Géza G. Xeravits and József Zsengellér, eds. [Nice names ;-)] The Book of Maccabees: History, Theology, Ideology (Papers of the Second International Conference on the Deuterocanonical Books, Pápa, Hungary, 9-11 June, 2005) Reviewed by Pierre Keith.


  1. Bob Becking, From David to Gedaliah: The Book of Kings as Story and History, Reviewed by Marvin A. Sweeney
  2. Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch, Studying the Old Testament: A Companion, Reviewed by Steed Vernyl Davidson
  3. Susan Brayford, Genesis, Reviewed by Jan Joosten
  4. Deborah L. Ellens, Women in the Sex Texts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy: A Comparative Conceptual Analysis. Reviewed by Naomi Steinberg
  5. Paul Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary. Reviewed by Corrine Carvalho and reviewed by Steven S. Tuell
  6. Adriane B. Leveen, Memory and Tradition in the Book of Numbers. Reviewed by James W. Watts
  7. Matthew B. Schwartz and Kalman J. Kaplan The Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman. Reviewed by Corinne Blackmer

    Description: In much of Western literature and Greek mythology, women have an evident lack of purpose; a woman needs to either enter or leave a relationship in order to find herself and her own identity. Matthew Schwartz and Kalman Kaplan set out to prove that the converse is true in the text of the Hebrew Bible. Examining the stories of women in Scripture — Rebecca, Miriam, Gomer, Ruth and Naomi, Lot’s wife, Zipporah, and dozens more — Schwartz and Kaplan illustrate the biblical woman’s strong feminine sense of being crucial to God’s plan for the world and for history, courageously seeking the greatest good for herself and others whatever the circumstances.

    Schwartz-the-psychology-of-biblical-women. . . the Bible, unlike Greek myth, shows women as powerful and solid, as having a strong sense of their purpose, based on their participation in the covenant and the divine historical plan. Indeed, the deep fear of female sexuality evident in Greek mythology has no place in the Bible, where women’s procreative power receives the highest blessing as intrinsic to the covenant. The authors vigorously recommend the Bible as enabling women to balance attachment with independence and to model psychological strength, discernment, and intelligence. Women, who once had no choice but the Freudian world of retaliation and revenge, male domination, and female enmity, can instead choose to explore conflicts and experience growth and healing amongst the grand cast of biblical female characters, including Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Bithia, Shifra and Puah, Miriam, Zipporah, Rahab, Tamar, Deborah, Jael, Esther, Bathsheba, Abigail, Hannah, Hulda, Mizpah, Ruth and Naomi, and others. While some biblical women suffer terrible violence, they do not seek to matter greatly, which means that their suffering never becomes run-of-the-mill. While G-d is decisively patriarchal and, at moments, misogynistic, he actually destroys the world out of heartbreak at the abuse of women and has no qualms about going around men and deciding the future with women.

    In the opening chapters, “The Greek Model” and “The Biblical Model,” there is no room for joint understandings between these absolute opposites. The Greeks are pagans, idolaters, misogynists, and oppressors, while the Bible is monotheistic, faithful, respectful of women and family, and hospitable. Greek mythology and the psychological theories based on Greek mythology and Western literature harm and degrade women. Ancient Greek culture and mythology reflects an inimical, pessimistic, misogynistic cosmos that denies women purpose and worth, and fears their sexuality. . .

    Ancient Greek culture and mythology reflects an inimical, pessimistic, misogynistic cosmos that denies women purpose and worth, and fears their sexuality. Electra mirrors this cosmos, plotting to murder her mother Clytemnestra, an unbearable reminder of her own hated womanhood. Medea murders her children in wanton rage, and Zeus, for his part, seduces women who bear the punishment of his jealous wife, Hera. This Weltanschauung informs Western literature about tragic heroines who spurn convention and seek escape from their sense of emptiness in illicit sexual affairs and addictive habits. They end as suicides. The still-prevalent Freudian worldview has injurious assumptions about women that fuel abuse, paranoia, and violence. The strong sense of purpose and worth of biblical women made them capable of intimacy and independence, whereas contemporary women too often become submerged in pathological relationships and then assert their autonomy in destructive and alienating fashions.

    The authors place the reader on the self-enhancing ground of the Bible and eliminate the intimidation some women might feel toward biblical women as different and unfamiliar. Indeed, the authors show the covenant and mission as theirs, not based on a specific people, but rather through their attitudes, actions, and beliefs. The contrast between what women in different camps can expect from the creation is illustrated by comparing the Greek myth of Zeus and Pandora with that of Eve in the garden of Eden. Zeus wants to create trouble for mortals, so he makes Pandora his plaything, . . .

    Blackmer’s ANALYSIS: This book

    does not aspire to the values of complexity, scope, or exactitude of a scholarly work of biblical psychological criticism. Some would wince at the bludgeon-like and reductive opposition between Greek mythology and the Bible, as they would be the other tired foes—paganism versus monotheism, Canaan versus Israel, and so on. The resolute heterosexism of this book is both predictable and disappointing. [That’s encouraging]. It is predictable because smoothness, clearness, and harmonization are the instruments of persuasion. It is disappointing because modern psychology has rebuked homophobia, and the Bible is once again put in the service of resurrecting it. [Reviewer’s perspective: hetrosexist perspective = homophobia?]

    However, this book has a strong intention to accomplish good for audiences who can do well, the authors feel, to meet a form of feminist ethics that commands respect by infusing balance, intelligence, graciousness, and purpose into traditional social relations. The authors show convincingly the values of incorporating the Bible into pastoral counseling. It will reflect such health to promote it. It will encourage appreciation of where and how the narratives of biblical women illuminate or remain foreign to the experiences of modern women. At last, the biblical women have acquired, through the continuity of their traditions, their participation in the covenant, and their inclusion from the beginning this story, an assured identity that is a “healthful” model for women. . .

    [Read the entire review here: The Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman]


Hector Avalos, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, Reviewed by J. Harold Ellens

Through a careful analysis of the fundamental texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Dr. Avalos explains how four “scarce” resources have figured repeatedly in creating religious violence: sacred space (churches, temples, holy cities); the creation of holy scriptures (exclusive revelations); group privilege (chosen people, the predestined select few); and salvation (only some are saved). Thus, Avalos shows, religious violence is often the most unnecessary violence of all since the scarce resources over which religious conflicts ensue are not actually scarce or need not be scarce.

Jason Beduhn and Paul Mirecki, eds. Frontiers of Faith: The Christian Encounter with Manichaeism in the Acts of Archelaus. Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Roland Boer, ed. Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies, Reviewed by Timothy J. Sandoval

Nicola Denzey,  The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women, Reviewed by Paul Dilley

Description: When Nicola Denzey leads tour groups into the Roman Catacombs, participants are struck by the splendor of the burial chambers, many of which were created by or for women. The Bone Gatherers introduces us to these powerful women who, until recently, had been lost to history. It was often only in death that ancient women became visible—through the buildings, burial sites, and art constructed in their memory—and Denzey uses this archaeological evidence, along with text records, to resurrect the lives of several fourth-century women.She finds that representations of aristocratic Roman Christian women show a shift in the value and significance of womanhood over the fourth century: once esteemed as powerful leaders or patrons, women came to be revered only as virgins or martyrs—figureheads for sexual purity. These depictions belie a power struggle between the sexes within early Christianity—one that women lost, and one that has had long-lasting implications for the roles of women in the Church.

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