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New York Times Bestseller
What is “biblical womanhood” . . . really?
Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment—a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, ...
New York Times Bestseller
What is “biblical womanhood” . . . really?
Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment—a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.
Pursuing a different virtue each month, Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period.
See what happens when a thoroughly modern woman starts referring to her husband as “master” and “praises him at the city gate” with a homemade sign. Learn the insights she receives from an ongoing correspondence with an Orthodox Jewish woman, and find out what she discovers from her exchanges with a polygamist wife. Join her as she wrestles with difficult passages of scripture that portray misogyny and violence against women.
With just the right mixture of humor and insight, compassion and incredulity, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an exercise in scriptural exploration and spiritual contemplation. What does God truly expect of women, and is there really a prescription for biblical womanhood? Come along with Evans as she looks for answers in the rich heritage of biblical heroines, models of grace, and all-around women of valor.
Girl Gone Mild
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. —1 Peter 3:3–4
TO DO THIS MONTH:
Cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, even during football games (1 Peter 3:3–4)
Kick the gossip habit (1 Timothy 5:12–13)
Take an etiquette lesson (Proverbs 11:22)
Practice contemplative prayer (Psalm 131)
Make a "swearing jar" for behaviors that mimic the "contentious woman" of Proverbs (Proverbs 21:19; 19:13; 27:15 NKJV)
Do penance on the rooftop for acts of contention (Proverbs 21:9)
My first mistake was to start the experiment in the middle of football season. First Peter 3:4 describes a godly woman as having a "gentle and quiet spirit," but if you've spent more than five minutes south of the Mason-Dixon during the month of October, you know that there's nothing gentle or quiet about the way a Southern woman watches college football.
I grew up in the great state of Alabama, which journalist Warren St. John deems "the worst place on earth to acquire a healthy perspective on the importance of spectator sports." In Alabama, the third most important question after "What is your name?" and "Where do you go to church?" is "Alabama or Auburn?" So soon after I learned to identify myself as a nondenominational, Bible-believing Christian named Rachel, I learned to identify myself as an Alabama fan. My little sister and I knew what intentional grounding was before we'd acquired the dexterity to play with Barbie dolls, and as kids we liked to imitate my mother, who had the habit of willing an Alabama running back down the field by moving closer and closer to the TV set the longer he stayed on his feet. By the time he danced into the end zone, the whole family—Mom, Dad, Amanda, and I—would be huddled together around the TV, screaming our heads off, nervously looking for any yellow flags on the field.
Now exiled together in Tennessee, where Volunteer Orange looks good on no one, we gather every Saturday afternoon at my parents' house down the street to wear our colors, yell at the TV, and consume inordinate amounts of meat. It's a tradition that my husband, Dan, married into a bit unwittingly, but has come to love, primarily on account of Mom's pulled pork roast.
I think Dan may have been a little caught off guard the first time he realized that something about the autumnal equinox transformed his wife into a raving lunatic for three and a half hours each week and that eleven guys running around on a football field in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, could directly affect his sex life. But he's grown into the role, and now every autumn we both look forward to Saturday afternoons at the Held house—windows opened to the crisp, cool air, the scent of dry leaves mingling with wafts of slow roasted pork, the dull roar of crowd noise humming from the TV. And this particular October was especially significant because Alabama was defending its national title on Mom and Dad's brand-new, high-definition, 42-inch TV.
"This is going to suck," I said as we approached their front door on game day, leaves crackling under our feet.
"Yup. It's going to be awesome," Dan responded without really hearing me.
"Well, maybe for you, but screaming at the TV doesn't exactly constitute a gentle and quiet spirit," I said. "I'm going to have to bottle all my fandom up inside. No yelling at the refs. No snarky remarks about the cheerleaders. No cheering or booing. It's so stifling."
"Yeah, you're really suffering for Jesus on this one, Rach," Dan teased.
I managed to get through the first few games of the season in relative calm, with a few exceptions the day Bama lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks (and Steve Spurrier, of all people) in a 35-21 upset.
That particular game we happened to watch at my sister's house in Nashville and afterwards went to Rotier's downtown to sulk over burgers, sweet potato fries, and country music.
I remembered to cover my head before the blessing, in keeping with my sixth commandment ("Thou shalt cover thy head when in prayer"). It seems the upside to starting a project like this in October is that hoodies serve as nice, inconspicuous head coverings. You can observe 1 Corinthians 11 at every meal and church service and folks just think you're cold, not a religious freak. Same goes for scarves, knit hats, and head-warmers.
"But aren't you supposed to pray without ceasing?" Amanda asked, ever the Sunday school star, even at twenty-six.
"Yeah, maybe you should keep your head covered at all times," Dan piped in.
"Well, I might try doing that in March when I focus on modesty," I said, "or maybe when I visit Lancaster."
I had this thing planned out, I swear, but sometimes it seemed like nobody believed me.
"You should observe kosher," they said. "You ought to visit a convent," they said. "You need to have a baby," they said. "You gotta get yourself a rabbi," they said.
I was pretty sure that rabbis didn't operate on a work-for-hire basis, and the baby thing had been settled by Dan right away.
"We're not having a kid as part of an experiment," he said. "No way."
But the voices that seemed the loudest came from my blog, where readers responded in record numbers to my announcement about the project.
"This is going to be epic!"
"My stomach just knotted in anxiety for you."
"Way to make a mockery of God's Word."
"A. J. Jacobs already did this, you know."
"I think you're out of your mind, but then, most creative people are."
You would think that after three years of blogging, I'd have developed some kind of virtual superpower that involved freakishly thick skin, but scrolling through the comments sent my confidence lurching up and down so violently I felt seasick. The influx of praise and criticism made me doubt myself, and the next thing I knew I was under the covers at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, crying about how hard it is to be a writer. (In addition to being "out of our minds," creative people can be a bit moody ...)
I didn't have a lot of time for self-pity. The most immediate effect of my new "biblical" lifestyle came in the form of an adjusted routine that required that I make the bed before checking e-mail, cook Dan's breakfast before browsing Facebook, and finish the laundry before starting any new writing projects. This attempt to observe my second commandment ("Thou shalt devote thyself to the duties of the home") required a serious shift in priorities that proved a little disorienting for both of us.
The first morning Dan awoke to the smell of scrambled eggs, he assumed that pleased-but-cautious posture men get when they're not quite sure if they're supposed to be enjoying themselves or if the whole thing is a trap.
"Thanks, hon," he said after a second glass of orange juice. "I can do the dishes."
"No, you can't. That's my job now."
Dan looked doubtful.
"Yeah. You think the Proverbs 31 woman let her husband do the dishes? Go relax. I'll clean up."
Dan leaped from his seat with the excitement of Ralphie Parker receiving his Red Ryder BB gun, and I found myself confronted with a stack of greasy plates that, compounded with those from the night before, would most certainly not fit in the dishwasher.
It occurred to me then that a year is a very long time.
* * *
Dan's Journal October 15, 2010
I'm not used to reminding Rachel to make me lunch, but just now, we had a conversation that went something like this:
ME: Can you make me lunch?
RACHEL: Okay. Can you work on that picture for my blog?
ME: Wait. Are you telling me what to do?
RACHEL (SMILING): Well, you're telling me what to do.
ME (SMILING): Yeah, but isn't that what you signed up for?
We both pause.
RACHEL: Okay, I'll make you lunch, but would you mind if I dried my hair first? (It was up in a towel, as it had been for the last half hour.)
ME (IN A HALF-SERIOUS TONE): Well, I don't know; delayed obedience is disobedience.
Rachel got up to fix me lunch.
Wow. That conversation, or anything like it, would never have happened before the project started. We both knew this whole exchange was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I still felt kinda bad. After all, I didn't marry Rachel because I wanted someone to make me lunch.
She's told me in the past that if her hair stays up in the towel too long, she'll end up with a bad hair day ... I'm going to go tell her she can dry her hair first.
* * *
When I told friends that my goal for October was to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, a few of them laughed. Not in a mean way, but in a sympathetic, knowing sort of way. This was partly because they knew me, and partly because a lot of us church girls had the "gentle and quiet spirit" thing rubbed in our faces at early ages. It seems the apostle Peter's first epistle to the Christians of Asia Minor serves as a handy deterrent for Christian girls whose pesky questions in Sunday school or enthusiasm on the kickball field made their mamas worry.
"I'm intrigued to see if you succeed at the gentle and quiet spirit," one of my readers wrote in. "I've tried and failed miserably, but I guess I'm just too loud and blunt and opinionated to fit the mold."
Another said, "It's sad that so many strong, gifted, 'feisty' women have been led to believe that they are to shelve that whole side of their personality because it is not 'gentle' or 'quiet' enough. I see women who could change their little piece of the world for the better, or perhaps an even bigger piece of the world for the better, sitting on their hands in this posture of 'gentleness.'"
A third added, "This verse has played over and over in my head as I continue to simply feel not good enough. Am I cut out for Christianity at all?"
I can relate. While Dan is patient and understated, I suspect I came out of the womb with an opinion about the delivery—and every intention of expressing it. Passionate, persuasive, and hyperbolically inclined, the Information Age has been good to me. I blog. I speak. I write books. I tweet. And every now and then, a reporter or representative from the Nielsen Company will actually ask my opinion about something.
In search of some direction, I looked to the book of Proverbs, a collection of wisdom sayings that gives us some of the most colorful quips, cracks, praises, and poetry about women found in Scripture. This preoccupation with the feminine should come as no surprise, considering the fact that King Solomon, the figure to whom the book is often attributed, had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.
Proverbs' cast of female characters includes the virtuous woman, the foolish woman, the excellent wife, the shaming wife, Lady Wisdom, and Lady Folly. Making multiple appearances is the so-called contentious woman, who seems to have the opposite of a gentle and quiet spirit:
"It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman." (Proverbs 21:19 NASB)
"A foolish son is destruction to his father, and the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping." (Proverbs 19:13 NASB)
"A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike; he who would restrain her restrains the wind and grasps oil with his right hand." (Proverbs 27:15-16 NASB)
"It is better live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman." (Proverbs 21:9 NASB)
The contentious woman gave me an idea for kicking some of my less-than-gentle habits.
I decided to make a swearing jar of sorts. Each time I caught myself in the act of contention, I'd put a penny (or nickel or dime, depending on the severity of the infraction) in the jar. Behaviors that qualified as contention included gossiping, nagging, complaining, exaggerating, and snark. The Bible includes no direct mention of snark, of course, but in a decision I would come to regret, I added this pervasive little vice of mine for good measure.
I labeled it "The Jar of Contention," and resolved that at the end of the month, each cent would represent one minute I'd have to spend doing penance on the rooftop of my house to simulate what it's like to share a house with a contentious woman, according to the book of Proverbs.
Within the first few days, The Jar of Contention held twenty-six cents and a crumpled note card upon which I'd scribbled a log of my transgressions:
10/6/10—1¢, snarky comment about Dan letting Commandment #1 go to his head
10/7/10—1¢, snarky comment about the president of the Southern Baptist Convention using three forms of the word "serious" in a single sentence
10/7/10—1¢, complaining about the Jar of Contention
10/7/10—1¢, complaining about the experiment in general
10/8/10—5¢, ranting about negative comments on my blog (four of the five vices employed)
10/8/10—1¢, nagging Dan about taking out the garbage
10/9/10—1¢, snarky comment about Steve Spurrier during Alabama game
10/9/10—1¢, complaining about lack of defense during Alabama game
10/9/10—1¢, swearing during Alabama game
10/9/10—1¢, complaining about how Dan arbitrarily added swearing to the list of vices
Apparently snark makes up a large percentage of my sense of humor, and I'm kind of a whiner. On the upside, I don't gossip a lot—a good thing, since abstaining from it was my ninth commandment.
Gossip is a surprisingly serious infraction in Scripture, and is listed along with wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, God-hating, and murder as part of the apostle Paul's indictment against sinful humanity in Romans 1. Proverbs includes several warnings against gossip, and significant portions of Paul's letters to Timothy concern outbreaks of gossip among women in the early church at Ephesus. To qualify as leaders, Paul wrote, "women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things" (1 Timothy 3:11 NASB).
In fact, it was the sin of gossip, or loshon hara ("evil talk"), that took down one of the most powerful women in Israel. The prophetess Miriam, sister to Moses and a worship leader among the people, was struck with a skin disease, something like psoriasis, after making some pointed remarks about her brother's wife, Zipporah, a Cushite (Numbers 12:1–16). As exemplified in the story, to be guilty of loshon hara, one need not tell a lie, for even true statements when told in spite are considered evil. Interestingly, Miriam's brother Aaron was not punished though he was complicit in the crime.
According to the Talmud, loshon hara kills three people: the one who speaks it, the one who hears it, and the one about whom it is told. "Kill" may strike the modern reader as a bit hyperbolic, but when you think of all the friendships lost, careers stunted, and opportunities thwarted as a result of gossip among women, violent language seems appropriate. We cause serious collateral damage to the advancement of our sex each time we perpetuate the stereotype that women can't get along.
As Tina Fey put it, "Girl-on-girl sabotage is the third worst kind of female behavior, right behind saying 'like' all the time and leaving your baby in a dumpster."
I thought about this as I dropped a penny in the jar for gleefully passing along some not-so-flattering inside information about one of my female writing nemeses ... and then another three for complaining about how hard it is to have a jar of contention. I was determined to keep my rooftop penance to under two hours, but as soon as November 1 appeared on the ten-day weather forecast, I checked to see if I'd need an umbrella.
* * *
As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion. —Proverbs 11:22 NASB
Of course I was late to my etiquette lesson.
By the time I pulled my sputtering little Plymouth Acclaim into Mrs. Flora Mainord's upscale Knoxville neighborhood, it was nearly 5:00. My appointment was for 4:30, but I'd gotten stuck behind a school bus after exiting the interstate, so I had to watch a bunch of rich kids trot off to their lakeside homes and private tutors before taking a wrong turn and getting lost in a maze of water-themed street names: River Trail, River View, River Sound.
I really needed to pee.
Excerpted from A YEAR OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD by RACHEL HELD EVANS Copyright © 2012 by Rachel Held Evans. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
October: Gentleness-Girl Gone Mild 1
November: Domesticity-Martha, Martha 21
December: Obedience-My Husband, My Master 47
January: Valor-Will the Real Proverbs 31 Woman Please Stand Up? 74
February: Beauty-My Breasts Are Like Towers 99
March: Modesty-Hula-Hooping with the Amish 120
April: Purity-The Worst Time of the Month to Go Camping 146
May: Fertility-Quivers Full of Arrows and Sippy Cups 174
June: Submission-A Disposition to Yield 201
July: Justice-Eat More Guinea Pig 224
August: Silence-I Am Woman, Hear Me No More 250
September: Grace-Days of Awe 282
About the Author 321
Posted February 16, 2013
The word “biblical” in this book’s title has to be taken with a grain of salt – maybe the entire shaker. This author’s approach to the Bible is, to put it mildly, unorthodox. Like every liberal – and that is what she is, despite her hanging on (for obvious economic reasons) to the label “evangelical” – she gets all weepy about rules, which apparently were given by God to make us guilt-ridden, exhausted, and confused.” Really? What is confusing about “Do not commit adultery”? If her husband ever commits that sin, he can plead that he was “guilt-ridden, exhausted, and confused.” It never once – never – occurs to her that the purpose of rules is not to produce guilt, exhaust, and confuse us. Being immature, she looks at rules as a child does – they make you feel bad and keep you from feeling good. God gave us rules the same reason parents impose rules – to keep us safe. Typical of feminists, she sees God as the Great Self-Esteem Enhancer, not as the loving Father who makes rules because his children NEED rules. Her conception of God is utterly unchristian.
According to her, the Bible is supposed to be “conversation-starter” and not a “conversation-ender.” I would love to listen in on her Bible study group and what they do with “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Wellll, I feel love, sometimes, but what if I want to spray my neighbor’s entire yard with Round-Up?” “Great question! Let’s talk about that! What do you think, Wendy?” Get a group of magpie types in a room together and they could get quite creative, couldn’t they? Since she’s so sure that rules are in place just to make us feel guilty, exhausted, and confused, who’s to say the group wouldn’t heartily approve of spraying the neighbor’s yard with Round-Up? (“At first I felt it was wrong – then it hit me: I’m not comfortable with a religion of rules, that doesn’t fit my image of God.”)
For this author, what’s already in your head is more important than what the writers of the Bible were trying to communicate. (They were patriarchal, plus those nasty literalists “abuse” people with the Bible’s words.) The Bible, for her, is a tool to be used as she likes, not the Word of God that believers are bound to honor. When she spends time trying to apply the purity laws in Leviticus to her own life, she is in fact making fun of the Bible, saying to the reader, “See how ridiculous we are trying to let the Bible guide our lives.” In fact, Christian women have never, ever, applied the laws of Leviticus (in fact, no part of the Old Testament Law except for the Ten Commandments). For a time she abides by the kosher food laws, even though the Gospels and Paul’s letters in the New Testament make it clear that Christians are not bound by those laws. The author is using a typical liberal ploy: pick some forgotten parts of the Old Testament, apply them to life, show how ridiculous it is, then draw the conclusion: Why bother to live by the Bible - after all, Christians don’t actually follow it ALL to the letter anyway. She never deals with the fact that Christians have put aside the ritual laws (food, animal sacrifices, etc) but retained the moral teaching
Her take on Paul’s words about husband and wives is “spun”: she claims that since Paul told slaves to obey their masters, and since slavery no longer exists among Christians, that his words about wives being submissive to their husbands no longer apply either. That is faulty logic, since marriage was and is a universal institution, whereas slavery is not. Again, this is a familiar liberal ploy: point out an isolated verse from the Bible that Christians no longer observe, and jump to the conclusion that there is no point in being guided by the Bible at all.
Naturally she mentions the famous “Junias or Junia?” debate that has gotten feminists fired up in recent years, and she takes the feminists’ side, i.e., the claim that Paul in Romans 16:7 refers to a woman relative named “Junia” as one of the apostles, but that later Bible scholars (all nasty sexists) added an “s” so that the apostle “Junias” is male. In fact, the issue is far from settled, though she assumes her readers’ will gladly swallow her assertion that poor “Junia” was victim of a patriarchal conspiracy. To her the issue shows “the lengths to which some will go to try and silence a strong woman.” In other words, there WERE female apostles, though it’s curious that, if that were so, Junia is the ONLY one mentioned in the Bible. Most scholars (the ones without a feminist bias) have reached the conclusion that probably Romans 16:7 should read “Junia, who is esteemed by the apostles,” but the author does not accept this.
This book apparently was not edited. Non sequiturs abound – for example, “Right now thirty thousand children die every day from preventable disease.” She cites this in a long list of “data” designed to support her point that women “prophets” are being silenced in the churches. What exactly the death of children has to do with women’s role in churches is beyond me. Just when you think the author has, for several paragraphs, been making sense, along comes some “paranoid burp” like this, as if she has to assure the reader, “Yes, I’m a feminist, and I’m full of data that show how cruel men are!”
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Posted October 22, 2012
I received an advance Reader's Copy of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" for review, much to my delight. I've been looking forward to the release of this book since I learned of Rachel Held Evans' bold project. I was very interested in the idea of living for a year according to as literal a reading as possible of the Bible's texts pertaining to women. I was not disappointed. Having been introduced to Rachel's writing on her blog, I already found myself drawn in by her generously inclusive style and her ready wit. I assumed, rightly so, that the book would be more of the same. While I don't agree with every one of Rachel's conclusions, I appreciate that she doesn't leave closed doors. She invites conversation, including disagreement. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Rachel's adventures. Among my favorites were her not-quite-right apple pie, her front lawn camp-out, and her experience with a mutinous electronic baby. I equally appreciated her more thought-provoking accounts of her interactions with a wide range of people with whom she met in the course of the project. Readers will meet all sorts of quirky and interesting women, from Rachel's Orthodox Jewish correspondent in Israel to the woman who broke down the barriers to preaching in Texas to the women working to build better lives in Bolivia. When it comes to Rachel's thorough examination of Scripture, I found myself most appreciative of three things: First, each chapter contains an account of a woman whose story can be found in the Bible. I had often seen these women as "perfect," the women who did exactly what God wants all good and faithful women to do--the same things that we are supposed to do today. Instead, Rachel demonstrates how many of these women defied what modern Christians expect; this was a refreshing take on passages I've read many times. Second, I deeply appreciate Rachel's examination of Proverbs 31, the Wife of Noble Character. I had always seen the Proberbs 31 wife as an enemy, because she was an ideal I could never match. Rachel expertly demonstrates why we don't need to fear the reverent poetry in the text and why each one of us, in our own way, is Eshet chayil--a woman of valor. Third, I enjoyed Rachel's fresh insights into what the words of the Bible came to mean for her during each phase of her project. This provided a welcome change from the hard-line "commandment" view of a woman's role within the community of faith. Although there has been much talk about Rachel being irreverent, "ignoring" Scripture or tradition, or making a mockery of the Bible, not one of those things is true. It is obvious that Rachel's love for the Bible grew as she worked her way through the year. It is vital that anyone who wants to understand her perspective must read the book, even if the end result is confirming disagreement with Rachel. I believe this book is one of the most important books of our time. I highly recommend this book to anyone, even those who take a less progressive view of their Christian faith and those who (like me) are considerably more liberal than Rachel herself. Be warned, though, it may change your perspective and soften your heart.
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Posted October 26, 2012
This is a book of honest questions – about what it means to be a woman who follows Christ, how we choose to interpret Scripture, how we limit and bless one another.
This book is not a step-by-step devotional on becoming a better, more “biblical” woman (which we don’t need another one of anyway). This book is the journey of one woman pressing in to what the “biblical” woman looks like and discovering instead “that there is no such thing.” (pg 294)
This book is full of surprises. Do you, after all, expect a “liberated woman” to find her voice in silence (chapter 11), strong roots in gentleness (chapter 1), and a tear-inspiring blessing in Proverbs 31 (chapter 4)?
I was already a fan of Rachel Held Evans (and received an advanced copy of the book to review), introduced to her writing through her blog. Her honesty, wit, and occasional snark make for lively, delightful reading. I don’t always agree with her. I am always challenged by her to think, to consider, to grow.
My favorite experience with this book is the journey you take with the author. Searching for things like valor, modesty, submission, justice, and grace changes a person. You’re rejoicing in the myriad of different ways women can express their faith, that there is no one mold to which we must conform.
I finish this book simultaneously wanting to practice lectio divina and centering prayer, while beginning to live more justly, while working out my calling to creativity and communication, all while calling up multiple friends to bless them with the words eshet chayil (“woman of valor”) for expressing faith and courage in whatever context they’re living. The author is not the same at the end of the book, and neither should the reader be.
In this book there is freedom to be who God is calling us to be.
There is grace for those of us doing it imperfectly.
There is laughter and delight for the journey ahead.
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Posted October 26, 2012
I expected to learn from *A Year of Biblical Womanhood*. Rachel Held Evans knows her Bible, and the premise of trying to literally obey all of its instructions to women provides plenty of scope for investigation and education. In addition to studying and explaining the history, culture, and language behind many of the Bible's most well-known (and most misunderstood) passages regarding women, Evans interviews or corresponds with women representing quite a diversity of views on biblical womanhood: a sister-wife, an Amish grandmother, an Orthodox Jewish woman, and a woman raised in a Quiverfull family, to name a few. Presented in a very accessible, personable style, interviews and exegesis join forces to convey so much new information that I will most likely end up reading this book again—some parts more than once.
What I didn't expect to do was laugh as much as I did. Of course, I anticipated chuckling occasionally at some of Evans' more extreme antics, such as living in a tent for the first part of her period or calling her husband "Master" so she could be like The Proverbs 31 woman (who turns out to not be a real person). But Evans also sneaks a generous amount of snark past her "contentious woman" filter—nearly always directed at herself or society as a whole, and never at the lovely people she meets along her journey, disagree with them though she may. When she griped about a man getting all the glory for a successful Christmas (Santa, of course) or informed the reader, on rising for her first morning at a silent monastery, that "The Prophet Jeremiah is the last person you want to hear from at six o’clock in the morning", I burst out laughing in a room full of people.
And whether she's making you laugh or making your head spin with new knowledge, Rachel Held Evans still makes you feel so very comfortable. She invites her readers into her life for a year, and experiencing the highs, lows, pitfalls, triumphs, joy, and peace of her journey is ultimately the most rewarding experience of the entire book.
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Posted October 26, 2012
Some Christians who hold to what they call "literal" interpretations of Scripture were convinced, upon learning of this book, that the authors' purpose in undertaking this project was to make fun of them, and even to make "a mockery of God and Scripture" itself (as one of her critics is quoted as saying on p. 285).
While I doubt that any attempts to convince the nay-sayers that Evans isn't trying to make fun of them will be entirely successful, I do appreciate how one blogger points out that Evans actually goes through a considerable amount of pain and struggle in her yearlong effort: "People don't go through this much pain for the sake of mocking something."
So, what does Evans achieve in this book? For starters, she demonstrates that to attempt to live by a literal interpretation of Scripture is not just difficult, but that no one, no matter how traditional, manages to do so fully. In fact, recognizing that such "literal" interpretations are not the normal lens through which Evans reads Scripture, she gets help from a number of diverse sources, including an Amish grandmother, an Orthodox Jewish wife, a member of the "Quiverfull" movement (which opposes any form of contraception as immoral on the belief that children -- as many as possible, and without regard to any other consequences -- are a blessing from God), an Evangelical (not Mormon!) polygamist, and even (recognizing how important traditional homemaking is to many Evangelicals) Martha Stewart! Each group emphasizes a particular aspect of what the Bible teaches, but no group even attempts to cover it all.
But Evans isn't just trying to prove a point. She also goes into the effort in an honest attempt to learn more about what it is to take the Bible seriously. While her journey does not end up with her wholeheartedly adopting most of the "literalist" interpretations of Scripture she takes on, she nonetheless does decide to continue some of the practices she learns after the year is over. A list can be found in the final chapter, but it includes such items as "try a new recipe every week" (no small change for a woman who didn't even know how to cook before the experiment) and spending more time in contemplative prayer.
As to those accusations of "mockery," it is certainly true that A Year of Biblical Womanhood is peppered throughout with a sense of humor, but Evans directs nearly all of it at her own failures (both perceived and, in more than a few cases, real). Despite clear disagreements with many of the people she interviews or references as espousing literal interpretations, the jokes are hardly ever directed at them. Indeed, I believe that most of those people, were they to pick up Evans' book, would at least be able to say that she describes their positions fairly, even as they will no doubt disagree with many of her conclusions.
All in all, this book is less about what "biblical womanhood" might look like, and more about what the Bible itself is, and perhaps even more importantly, about what we as believers often make the Bible out to be, even when our assumptions about the Bible do not stand up to the scrutiny of the Bible itself. This is therefore not just a book that should be of interest to those who have a position on what the "biblical" role of women should be, but for anyone who cares about letting the Bible be the word of God as it is, and not simply what we would like the Bible to be.
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Posted January 7, 2013
I did enjoy this book. It was educational. It made me think. I must wonder how the writing may have changed if she waited several years to write it, though. I got a little tired of her tantrums on the kitchen floor and listening to her go on about how awful her hair looked. Otherwise I really liked it.
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Posted December 9, 2012
Reading Rachel Held Evans is like having a meaningful talk with a very well informed, caring, insightful friend who is attentive to your interests and whom is not afraid to let her heart be known. Her vulnerability is disarming and invites the reader to let her/his defenses down enough to test the waters of such openness. Her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, was my first exposure to this woman who was brave enough to ask the questions before her and courageous enough to wrestle with them until she, like Joseph wrestling with God, was blessed (and often broken) by the answers. As one reads this book (and/or Evolving . . . .) it quickly becomes obvious that Ms. Evans, like Joseph, is struggling for her Birthright.
Ms. Evans decided, as she evidently she has too little tension in her life, to live a year in “strict” accordance to what the Bible understands to be “womanhood.” The first task in this endeavor was to define “Biblical Womanhood.” There is a wide variance on that answer from: religious tradition, culture, era, there is even wide differences according to what translation of the Bible is being consulted! She does an honest job of seeking to find how to best fulfill this quest and the definition becomes clearer as the year progresses. She does not cut corners (or her hair) and maintains her commitment to experiencing Biblical Womanhood even when it brings difficulty to herself, her extended family, including her loving, long suffering, husband, Dan.
Choosing to follow twelve different “biblical woman traits,” spending a month immersed in learning and experiencing that particular attribute. The qualities addressed were: Gentleness, Domesticity, Obedience, Valor, Beauty, Modesty, Purity, Fertility Submission, Justice, Silence and Grace. Each chapter ends with a study of a biblical woman that “fits” the particular issue examined. The author uses humor, sound Biblical study (context, language, exegesis) and her own experience to discover what it means, for her, to be a “Biblical” woman.
As trained journalist, Ms. Evans does a first-rate job of writing a cogent, well-balanced argument for the topic in each chapter. She writes as a woman, to a female audience but the book is not limited to that gender. She is a feminist in the truest since, she desires that all would live life to its fullest and that cannot happen when one group seeks to oppress, discounts or denies the rights of another. It has become progressively distressing for me to witness an increase in the marginalization of women in many of the Revivalist Tradition Churches. Having read this book, I realized a (very modernist) reason for the Apostle Paul’s instruction for women “allow no woman to teach or to have authority over men . . .” (I Timothy 2:12, a verse that is a major weapon used against women in the church); the reason men resist women teaching is they are largely afraid of the power women (can) possess and are frightened by the Truth they can speak.
The book ends with the author noting some of the things she learned in her year of biblical living. She was changed, largely because she lived intentionally, pushed the limits of her comfort, dared to do something scary and approached the whole year with a sense of humor. She finds the change was not so much physical (although she did gain eleven pounds) as it was a matter of depth. Having read this book, I feel I have been offered the opportunity to join her in being likewise stretched.
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Posted November 11, 2012
Though I am an avid reader of Rachel Held Evans’ blog and appreciate her perspective on gender issues, I must confess that I had given up the ‘fight’ as regards the equality and dignity of women, in home and in the church, and, for that matter, in the public sphere. Reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood has re-ignited a passion for women’s full flourishing.
As a college student, I fiercely defended both egalitarian marriage and women's ordination. It seemed unfathomable to me that women could be relegated to submission and silence in view of what Jesus has done to empower us by the Holy Spirit. This view wasn't entirely influenced by my pneumatology, which I am grateful to the Nazarene Church I attended in middle and high school for imbuing me with. It was also profoundly rooted in my social situatedness. I grew up in Northern California, certainly not a bastion of conservatism of any kind. I attended a church with a heavy emphasis on the work of the Spirit and with a history of ordaining women. I confess my view of women and their flourishing is also rooted in anger and ambiguity related to growing up in a largely single mother home. My father was - and is - not abusive, at least in the physical sense of the word. In any case, his less than stellar respect for and verbal treatment of my mother was in no wise motivated by his understanding of male headship, since he opposed religion and did not situate himself within the Christian tradition. My mother did an excellent job of raising my sister and I with very limited financial resources, a lack of social capital, and a disjuncture in academic training and past job experience. Indeed, a woman of valor! I don't believe I was ever explicitly anti-male; rather, the environment in which I lived was filled with strong examples of strong women, which I celebrated, and so emphasized. I grew up in my formative teenage years without a father or male role model and without, ever, a brother.
As a result of these things, and perhaps, with a sense of my calling toward the Church and/or the Academy, I understandably defended women's full participation in whatever spheres of life they find their vocation in. I was perhaps, at first, rather unsympathetic to female friends that wanted to become homemakers and homeschooling moms. I am happy to say that I have softened in this regard and indeed have deep respect for women who honor God in these spheres and find plenty to admire.
To complicate all of this, my mom became drawn into a conservative Mennonite community while I was in college and taking courses such as "Women in the Bible". I composed a paper on the Biblical context of head coverings in an effort to prove to her how head coverings are culturally contextual, and not, ahem, biblical.
I was not sure when reading this book, what I would learn as I felt that I had exhausted this subject in previous study and conversation. However, I was pleasantly surprised with scholarship Rachel shared that I had not engaged with previously.
At the same time, she treats her subject matter and the people she interviews with profound respect and care. As someone who has lived in or near PA Dutch country, I especially enjoyed Rachel’s foray into the Amish world. I am always nervous when people come from outside, without a basic understanding of and care for the Amish community. I thought Rachel treated her Amish dialogue partners with much humanity and fairness, and it actually enriched my understanding of Amish views of ‘plainness’ and ‘honesty’.
This book also moved me profoundly. As Rachel recounts the ceremony she held for the ‘forgotten’ women of the Old Testament, I was struck by how many women are not ‘remembered’ either in and out of their suffering and in fact consigned to oblivion. Surely this was not our loving Creator’s intent, when He made male and female in His image and died to redeem what had been marred in the fall.
Held Evans’ chapter on the Proverbs 31, was, in a word, ‘liberating’. That eshet chayil is meant to be an unconditional blessing, and is routinely sung in Orthodox Jewish homes on the Sabbath from husband to wife, is a wonderful testament to the ‘warrior’ like nature of women and the diversity of literary expression in the Old Testament.
All this to say, I am grateful for what Rachel has contributed to the conversation on gender in the Church in her newest book. Her scholarship, humor, and grace are all evident in A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and I thus heartily recommend it.
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Posted January 26, 2013
Great read! I was both entertained and enlightened. Rachel Held Evans is funny and her writing kept me engaged the entire time. Her investigation of the Bible and how other faiths interpert it's teaching was really interesting. Loved it! I've already started following her blog.
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Posted November 30, 2012
At first I was a bit wary--was this going to be another treatise on the role of women by someone who had found true freedom by calling her husband "Lord," or worse, a long rant about how absurd to suppose the Bible has anything to say about today's women.
It is neither.
One tiny quibble on my part is that she spoke positively of The Red Tent, a book I consider man-hating heresy. (It's probably obvious that I'm not wishy-washy in my opinions)
Other than that, I have highly recommended the book to women I know.
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Posted November 27, 2012
This was a funny, as well as educating book! Rachel Held Evans really put you inside her world and helped me understand the bible and the world we live in now. Almost makes me want to live a year of biblical womanhood......almost. :) Loved this book and would recommend all women read it!
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Posted November 16, 2012
I'm a huge fan of Rachel Held Evans and this book does not disappoint. Well-written and humorous, she takes tough passages in the Bible, related to women, and explores what modern life might look like if we lived those passages literally. I know there's been a lot of hoopla about how she misconstrues the Bible, but I didn't find that to be the case at all. She has done solid research and simply lays out a different way to view Biblical passages.
This book would be a fantastic small group study for so many different reasons. You could decide to talk about the things she experienced, you could reflect on the Bible passages she includes, or - perhaps my favorite part of the book - you could look simply at the stories of overlooked women in the Bible included before each chapter.
Whether or not you agree with what she has to say, this book DOES make you want to dive into your Bible and really look at what it says about being a woman. There aren't enough books out there that do that. That alone makes this book worth buying and reading.
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Posted July 1, 2013
This isn't my usual book type, but as a woman in the military (male dominated), this intrigued me. I was drawn in with her great sense of humor and I read the book quickly. She is very knowledgable about the Bible, and also about current stereotypes and misrepresentations. I encourage every woman to read this - there will be something in it for everyone, including some good laughs!
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Posted March 25, 2013
This book was a great piece of modern women's lifestyle literature with special emphasis on the spiritual. I think that any woman could and should read this, because it does call you to challenge ideas.
While this was probably not the intention of the book, I think there was an excellent story with her continued and evolving relationship with her husband. I think it is beautiful that he supported her thick and thin, through strange trials, and still be his own person. It seems so rare that each individual uplifts one another - even in circumstances that are uneven (like her calling her husband "Master" or asking his permission to do things). That difference - and the fact that no person takes advantage of the disparity, transcends this book into making one evaluate relationships - not just the relationship with a spiritual element.
Small criticism - I think the conclusion was a little rushed, and maybe that feeling stem's from Rachel's desire to end the experiement. Overall - charming book for rainy mornings.
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Posted January 27, 2014
Posted January 1, 2014
I'd read a few posts on her blog so I was familiar with Rachel's perspective and style. I'm so glad I read the book and feel like it would be a great small group Bible study option.
I learned lots of cultural context for the Bible, more than I wanted to about brand name chocolate, and a great appreciation for life as a woman in 2014 versus sometime BC.
Very funny, insightful and honest.
Posted June 26, 2013
Evans is a phenomenal writer with insight like no other woman around. She gives a perspective that is so refreshing from what the church tells us we should be. I laughed and cried and read it twice.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 31, 2013
If you are a Christian woman between ages 18 and 35, this is the book for you! Rachel makes so much sense, and her style of writing is a pleasure to read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2013
This book delves into why the Bible says what it does and what that means. It goes way beyond a pick-and-choose interpretation of the Bible. Using humor, historic context, and unexpected sources, the author casts a wide net to discover what Biblical womanhood means. Her conclusions offer a refreshing and reaffirming look at what it means to be a Christian today.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2013