The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own, by Cullen Murphy

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The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own, by Cullen Murphy

Literary editor Cullen Murphy has written an engaging book that has received more than its share of attention in the literary world, given the massive numbers of books written in the last twenty years on the same subject by biblical scholars. This is not a work of scholarship but of journalism, written in the narrative and descriptive style of the interview rather than the carefully informative style of an academic investigation and evaluation, and consistently using secondary rather than primary sources. In the introduction, the author refers to feminism's encounter with religion as the fifth intellectual revolution, following the rise of Israel and the Bible, of Christianity from within Judaism, the Reformation in early modern Europe, and the Enlightenment and the rise of the scientific and rational world view. In the following pages, he seeks to describe through a series of interviews and vignettes the interaction of this most recent revolution with the first and second.

After a witty and shrewd assessment of the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, the major professional societies of biblical and religion scholars in the United States, Murphy returns to the saga of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her Women's Bible, which many would mark as the beginning of the modern quest to reinterpret the Bible from women's perspective. The rest of the book is structured around a series of interviews and portraits of some of the most prominent women biblical scholars in the United States: Phyllis Trible of Union Theological Seminary, Carol Meyers of Duke University and the Sepphoris excavation project, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Assyriologist and Sumeriologist at the University of Chicago, literary critic Mieke Bal of the University of Amsterdam, Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza of Harvard Divinity School, Kathleen Corley of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Karen Jo Torjesen of Claremont University, Karen King of Occidental College and now Harvard Divinity School, Bemadette Brooten of Brandeis University, Ross Kraemer of the University of Pennsylvania, and one man, Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale University. Interspersed into the discussion are references to the writings of half a dozen more scholars.

The topics of discussion include the findings of archaeology and what light they shed on the lives of women in ancient Israel; the origins and description of ancient patriarchy, with Carol Meyers' careful nuances; ancient Mediterranean female literacy and the question of whether a woman could have authored a biblical book, as has often been suggested. …