Feminists Progress as Biblical Scholars: Atlantic Editor Summarizes Their Efforts

Article excerpt

Three decades of feminist Bible scholarship, often accused of loving goddesses and hating St. Paul, actually has enlivened the future of American mainstream religion, a new book says.

Feminist Bible research has given energy to women in American religious life, uncovered real stories of biblical women and pushed to the fringes the more exotic, pop-feminist spirituality, said Cullen Murphy, author of "The Word According to Eve."

"It is going to change the ordinary outlook of ordinary people," Mr. Murphy said of the scholarship, much of it still hidden in specialized journals.

"People are always surprised to find that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute," he said in an interview. Or that Miriam, sister of Moses and namesake of all women named Mary, was the first "prophet" in the Bible.

Feminist scholarship began with certain "big-ticket issues," Mr. Murphy said, such as the role of Eve in the fall and the place of women around Jesus and in the early church.

"I think they have met the sexist interpretation of the creation stories," said Mr. Murphy, who spent seven years watching the work of feminist Bible scholars in print, at universities and at meetings of the Society for Biblical Literature.

As a result of their work, he said, both liberal and conservative religions affirm the equality of man and woman and agree they share blame for the human fall.

Feminist scholars also have found, he said, "plenty of sanction for women's role in ministry."

While such findings have not reversed the Vatican ban on women priests or the conservative Southern Baptist stand against ordained women - based on St. Paul's writings - it has caught the popular imagination.

According to polls, 65 percent of American Catholics, including Mr. Murphy, managing editor of Atlantic magazine, believe women should be ordained. …