Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Teacher, Baker

Biblical Women Who Didn't Submit: Abigail

Conservative and fundamentalist Christians of the extreme kind are getting some press right now. It’s due to Kathryn Joyce’s new book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Articles by Kathryn or reviews of her book have appeared on NPR, Mother Jones, Salon, Religion Dispatches, Feministing, Feminste, Pandagon, and Emerging Women. Members of the Quiverfull movement are biblical literalists who believe families should have as many children as God gives to them. (The name quiverfull comes from Psalm 127:3-5: “Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.”) They do not use artificial birth control, and have families as large as 20. They homeschool their children. There are strict gender roles: men work and the public square is their place. Women are to be homemakers and  mothers. Their sphere is to be in the home. And of course, wives are to be totally submissive to their husbands. The husbands are the high priests and heads of their homes. Their wives must always defer to them. In the May/April issue of Mother Jones, Kathryn Joyce’s “The Purpose-Driven Wife” discusses another fundamentalist group (not part of the Quiverfull Movement) that gives the classic complementarian view of a submissive wife and mother:

[The wife’s] priorities may include rising early to feed the family, being available anytime to satisfy a husband’s desires (barring a few “ungodly” or “homosexual” acts), seeking his approval regarding work, appearance, and leisure, and accepting that he has the “burden” of final say in arguments. After a wife has respectfully appealed her spouse’s decision-a privilege she should not abuse-she must accept his final answer as “God’s will for her at that time,” Peace advises. The godly wife must also suppress selfish desires (for romance, a career, an equitable marriage), practice addressing her spouse in soothing tones, and maintain a private log of bitter thoughts to guide her repentance. “If you disobey your husband,” Peace admonishes in The Excellent Wife, “you are indirectly shaking your fist at God.”

According to them the Bible says so. Actually the Bible says so in three verses out of the entire canon. Twice in Paul’s letters and once in 1 Peter we read that wives are to submit to their husbands. But we see a different picture when we read about the women in the Bible. They did not submit in all things to their husbands. In fact some of them defied their husbands and did what was best for their families and households. It was a very good thing that Abigail did not submit in all things to her husband, Nabal. If she had she would have been slaughtered. Her story is found 1 Samuel 25.

A Decisive Woman

Abigail’s husband was Nabal. Immediately we know the man is going to do something stupid: Nabal means fool. And Nabal does not disappoint us. David has not been crowned king yet. At this time he is on the run from Israel’s king Saul. David and his band of mercenaries protect shepherds from wild animals and bandits. In return, when the landowner sheered the sheep and feasted at the end of the season, he would feed and give gifts of food to David and his men. Nabal, not only decides he’s not going to pay up, he adds insult upon insult about David. David has 400 warriors, and he is angry. He decides that he is going to kill Nabal and his household.

One of Nabal’s slaves who heard what Nabal said to David’s messenger goes to Abigail. He tells her what happened. Now if Abigail would have been the submissive wife that Martha Peace thinks all women should be, Abigail would have submitted to her husband’s idiocy, been resigned to her fate, made her peace with God and waited for David and his men to wipe out her household. But Abigail did not submit: she made a decision and acted quickly.

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them (1 Samuel 25:18-20).

The next two verses tell us: “David had said, ‘Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; but he has returned me evil for good. God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.'” The English translation waters down David’s actual vow: “God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male who can piss against a wall to him” (Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, 317-18).*  In very vulgar language we see David’s rage as he vows to wipe out Nabal’s entire household.

A Wise and Strong Woman

Abigail meets David on his way to fulfill his oath. The first thing she does is get down from her donkey and fall on her face before David. Now we find out what kind of woman Abigail is: she is a wise woman. She embodies Lady Wisdom from Proverbs 1–8.

‘Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal* is his name, and folly is with him; but I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.

Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, since the Lord has restrained you from blood-guilt and from taking vengeance with your own hand, now let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be like Nabal. And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your servant; for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord; and evil shall not be found in you as long as you live. If anyone should rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. When the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant (1 Samuel 25:24-31).

Abigail first offers to take David’s oath and God’s judgment on herself. Oaths were taken very seriously, and David had said that God’s wrath could come down on him if he didn’t kill every man in Nabal’s household. In order for David to save face in front of his men, Abigail took God’s wrath on her own head. She is willing for the curse to fall on her if David will hear her out.

She goes on to tell David not to mind her husband: he is named “Fool,” and he is a fool. Abigail had not known of the servants he sent or their request, or she would have sent him the food and gifts he had earned. Her wisdom now kicks into high gear. She tells David that she knows he will be king of Isreal, and she doesn’t want anyone to be able to hold anything against him. If he kills Nabal and their household there will be blood guilt. Nabal is a powerful and wealthy in the southern part of Israel, and some could accuse David of killing him and his family to gain power and further his own career. When David comes into power there should be no blood guilt or doubt that God has called him and made him king.

She assures David that God will take care of his enemies, and to let God deal with Nabal. Not only is Abigail a wise woman, but she also becomes a prophetic voice in this story. She assures David that he is God’s anointed, and that he will be king of Israel.

Prophet and Deliverer

David listens to her, and decides she is right. He praises Abigail for coming, being Lady Wisdom, and staying his hand. He accepts her gifts and leaves.

Abigail returns home. Nabal is drunk, and she waits until the next morning to tell him what happened. The next day she tells Nabal what she did. She told him of how she met David and prevented him from killing Nabal and their entire household. Nabal was so shocked he became paralyzed and ten days later he died (the general consensus is he had a stroke). After Nabal died, David “wooed” her and purposed marriage to her. Abigail accepted.

Abigail was a wise and strong woman who could make quick decisions and act on them. Her wisdom, diplomacy, and stength save herself and her household. She also kept David from slaughtering innocent people due to his rage with one man. An act that could have cost him the kingship of Israel. Unfortunately after Abigail marries David and become part of an ever growing harem, she disappears. But she reminds us that God gave women wisdom, strength, and power to protect not only their own lives, but the lives of those around them. God gave women the reason and capacity to make decisions, especially when their husbands decisions would have meant certain disaster.

* I cannot recommend Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories highly enough. Dr. Frymer-Kensky does an excellent job of putting bibilical women in their social and historical setting. Her translations and grasp of ancient semitic languages is amazing, and she’s a wonderful storyteller. She was an incredible woman with an incredible mind and died much too young. I also recommend her first book, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth. In this book she explores how the Bible’s idea of men and women being made in the image of God is a very different take on humanity and the relationships of men and women than the rest of the ancient world had.

All biblical quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version.

(They are affliate links in this post.)

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Lent: Journeying thru the Hollows and Empty Spaces

This has been a time of reflection for me. Normally by this time in Lent, I am just ready for Easter to get here and be done and over with it. But not this year. This year I am not minding staying in the self-examination of Lent. I’ve journeyed through this Lent with Jan Richardson’s Garden of Hollows: Entering the Mysteries of Lent and Easter. It’s been a journey of acknowledging my hollows, my empty spaces, and the wounds that need healing. A Year of Loss and New Beginnings came out of this reflection. I needed to write about what happened last year. I needed to tell my side of the story. It was necessary for that wound to heal.

I have lived with hollows of depression, fear, anxiety, weakness, and procrastination. And it’s been okay. I haven’t gotten lost in them. They aren’t big canyons that I can never crawl out of. They are hollows, but there is an ascending side as well as descending. I have experienced a great deal of peace this month. It’s okay to admit to my problems and weaknesses. It’s okay to live with them and just let them be. It has been a time of letting go. Letting go of the demons that drive me that shouldn’t.

Not that the demons have gone any where. But their voices are not as loud. I’m not procrastinating as much. Fear is not freezing me as often. I’m having more ideas, and I am writing more. I’m exploring. I’m going to be taking some risks. It feels good.

This last week of Lent will be spent quietly. I plan on continuing daily prayer and centering prayer, letting myself breath, and allowing my hollows just to be. I plan on writing and posting, cooking and laundry, community time and solitude. And I’ll see where me and my hollows are on Easter.

"Writing the World Right" published in E-Quality

E-Quality published in article I wrote in their winter issue. You can find “Writing the World Right” in “Women and Writing,” Winter 2008 (This is a PDF file). My article starts on page 14, and make sure you read the other wonderul and informative articles too.

What I'm Reading

I have a habit of reading seven or eight books at the same time. I really try to just read one fiction and one nonfiction at a time, but that never happens. It starts with two books, and before I know I’ve got a stack I’m reading. Here’s what I’m reading now.


10 Lies the Church Tells Women J. Lee Grady

Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, UCLA) by Caroline Walker Bynum

Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories by Tikva Frymer-Kensky

The Answer: Grow Any Business, Achieve Financial Freedom, and Live an Extraordinary Life by John Assaraf and Murray Smith

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson


The Enchantress of Florence: A Novel by Salman Rushdie

In a Glass Darkly (Oxford World’s Classics) by Sheridan Le Fanu

Quite the collection, huh? What are reading?

Photo by ijsendoorn.

RevGals Friday Five: Summer Reading

Singing Owl said: Back in the day, before I went to seminary, I worked in the Children’s Room at the Public Library, and every year we geared up for Summer Reading. Children would come in and record the books read over the summer, and the season included numerous special and celebratory events. As a lifelong book lover and enthusiastic summer reader, I find I still accumulate a pile of books for the summer.

This week, then, a Summer Reading Friday Five.

1) Do you think of summer as a particularly good season for reading? Why or why not?

Yes, I think it’s because I was in school for so long, and summer was when I could read whatever I want.

2) Have you ever fallen asleep reading on the beach?

No, but I’m willing to give it a try.

3) Can you recall a favorite childhood book read in the summertime?

Anything by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

4) Do you have a favorite genre for light or relaxing reading?

Urban fantasy. Last weekend I read Jim Butcher’s White Night (The Dresden Files, Book 9) and Francis Clark’s Waking Brigid. I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning reading, and read both books in two days. I love doing that! Although it doesn’t happen as often as it used to. But there’s nothing better than being curled up in bed lost in a book as the wee hours tick tock by.

5) What is the next book on your reading list?

A book my friend Jen wrote. I’m eagerly awaiting for her to finish the second draft.

I swiped the picture from Singing Owl. 🙂

What I'm Reading (or soon will be)

After watching the Food Network in PJs all morning, I went to the library. It’s been a good day. 🙂 Here’s what I checked out:

White Night (The Dresden Files, Book 9) by Jim Butcher (I need a Bob fix)
Waking Brigid by Francis Clark

Feminist books for Career Women of the Bible
Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility and The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer

Thinking and Creativity
Serious Creativity Using the Power of La and De Bono’s Thinking Course, Revised Edition by Edward De Bono

When I came out of the library, I heard music and walked a block to the park by the library, and there was a Cool Jazz Festival going on, so I enjoyed that for awhile. It’s a gorgeous day here in Chi-town. It’s sunny with big, fluffy white clouds gliding by, in the 70s with a great breeze. Perfect weather for the pizza party that will be happening on the roof of our building this evening.

What are you doing this weekend? What are reading?

One of my favorite authors

This is one of the many reasons why Neil Gaiman absolutely rocks!

I know that David Tennant’s Hamlet isn’t till July. And lots of people are going to be doing Dr Who in Hamlet jokes, so this is just me getting it out of the way early, to avoid the rush…

“To be, or not to be, that is the question. Weeelll…. More of A question really. Not THE question. Because, well, I mean, there are billions and billions of questions out there, and well, when I say billions, I mean, when you add in the answers, not just the questions, weeelll, you’re looking at numbers that are positively astronomical and… for that matter the other question is what you lot are doing on this planet in the first place, and er, did anyone try just pushing this little red button?”

I can hear David Tennant as The Doctor saying this in my head at this moment! And David is going to be Hamlet? Okay, that I am going to have to see. Anyone think he’ll be as broody as Kenneth Branagh was?

If you’ve never read Neil, I suggest you make a trip to the library. He’s a wonderful sci-fi, urban fantasy, modern fairy tale, with a little horror thown in for good measure writer. The man knows how to tell a good story, and you can see from above he knows his way around words. My favorite book is Neverwhere: A Novel and my second favorite is Stardust. I cannot wait until The Graveyard Book comes out. His blog is a very good thing for all writers. Writing is always hard work even for those who are published multiple times and famous. They still have to put their butts in a chair and do the work, whether they feel like it or not, or feel inspired or not.

Now I need to hit the button on my Doctor Who Tardis 4 Port USB Hub, so the light will flash, and it makes the Tardis sound. My Wonderful Geek of a Husband got it for me as part of my anniversary gift. *que Dr. Who theme*

The image is from

Updated Book Review: Saving Women from the Church

I have upadated my book review after comments Susan left. Please make sure you read her comment. There’s somef good stuff there. Thank you Susan for stopping by!

Today is the release date of Susan McLeod-Harrison’s first book Saving Women from the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide (Barclay Press, 2008). Upfront I have to say I’m not sure I can review this book objectively. Susan’s story is very close to my own. Reading this book, I wished it had been published about eight years earlier. That is when I was going through my own struggle on whether or not to remain in the Church. And I do mean Church with a big C. I wasn’t thinking of only leaving my denomination, I was thinking of leaving the Church period. I was in seminary and on the ordination track. I did not see a place for myself in Christian ministry. I was single; I was evangelical; and I was called to preach and pastor. I was also asked in various churches if I was going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife. I had come to the point where I wanted to leave. I wanted to walk away. I just did not see a future for myself in the Church.

Saving Women from the Church addresses several of the myths that woman hear in church. Some of the chapter titles are: “If you’ve felt alienated and judged in the church,” “If you believe women are inferior to men,” “If as a single woman, your gifts have been rejected or overlooked,” and “If you’ve been encouraged to deify motherhood.” In the Introduction, she starts with my favorite starting point on women in the church: creation. Both men and women are created in the image of God, and therefore, image God with their gifts and talents God has given them. In each chapter she starts with a fictional account of a woman who is experiencing and living one of the myths. She follows it with a imaginative portrayal of how Jesus treated women in a similar position in the New Testament. She follows the biblical story by explaining what Jesus was doing and with questions for discussion. Each chapter ends with a meditation meant for healing. Saving Women does a great job of translating theology into practical, everyday examples in language normal people use. The history and sociological work she does for each passage, explaining the culture of the people, at the time is also well done.

I think this book would make an excellent woman’s study or small group study. It addresses most of the myths women in the evangelical church have grown up with and still deal with. It would be a great conversation starter, and it is a valuable addition to other books on this subject. The language and tone of the book make it much more accessible and understandable to the typical lay person than most books in this genre. In the conclusion, Susan recommends women in abusive churches leave and gives a list of churches that are egalitarian and open to women in ministry. Saving Women does a good job of acknowledging and describing the myths, and encourages women to get out of these environments. The Recommended Reading at the end of the book also has books that would help in this regard.

Overall I am very pleased that this book is on the market. It starts with the premise that women are made in the image of God and called to build God’s kingdom. Then it deals chapter-by-chapter with the destructive myths that have prevailed in evangelical culture to keep women as second-class citizens and powerless in the pews. It is an excellent resource to begin busting these myths and helping women find their God-given ability to be equal partners in building God’s kingdom with their brothers.

Health Update and Book Meme

I went to my OB-GYN and had an ultrasound done this week. It looks like the lump I found is an enlarged lymph gland. It has nothing to do with my breast; it is under the pectoral muscle. I have made an appointment with my primary care doctor to see what she thinks we should do. I see her Feb. 22. Thank you for all you prayers, comments, and emails.

Julie tagged me to do this book meme:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. No cheating!
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

The book nearest me did not have 123 pages: Carol Meyers’ Households And Holiness: The Religious Culture Of Israelite Women (Facets). But the book under it does: Phyllis Bird’s Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities (Overtures to Biblical Theology) (I’m doing sociological research for Career Women of the Bible). I had to go to page 124 because 123 only has two sentences. It’s a title page with a lot of footnotes.

A legacy of the long and intense theological interest in the imago Dei has been an atominzing and reductionist approach to the passage, in which the attention is focused on a single phrase or clause, severing it from its immediate context and from its context within the larger composition, a fixation and fragmentation which has affected exegetical as well as dogmatic discussion. A further legacy of this history of speculation has been the establishment of a tradition of theological inquiry and argument with a corresponding body of knoweldge and norms separate from, and largely independent of, exegetical scholarship on the same passage. The rise of a biblical science distinct from dogmatic theology resulted in a dual history of scholarship on the passage with little significant dialogue between the respective specialists.

Now you know why it’s been awhile since you saw any original posts from me. Between this and sermons, I haven’t had much time. The other books I’m reading right now are Carol Meyers Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context and Carolyn Osiex and Maragret MacDonald’s A Woman’s Place: House Churches In Earliest Christianity. If you want to do the meme consider yourself tagged.

Just When You Think…

Just when you think there are ten people reading your blog, including family, you find out differently. Last week I mentioned in a post how disappointed I was in the last chapter of Carolyn Custis James’ Lost Women of the Bible. Today I received an email from Carolyn:

I deeply appreciate your comments about my book, Lost Women of the Bible. I take feedback seriously and am always interested in finding ways to improve and communicate more effectively. I must confess, however, to feeling saddened by your disappointment in the final chapter on Paul and the Women of Philippi, particularly because your disappointment was tied to something my book (and that chapter in particular) never intended to address.

In the chapter in question, I am addressing an aspect of the problem women face in the church that impacts every Christian woman, and not simply the women who feel called to pastoral ministry. My goal is to establish the fact that men (even men who are senior pastors) need women in the battle with them—ministering at their side and also ministering to them personally. That is why I’m talking about male pastors. So the logic goes, if these men need us, then surely every man needs the spiritual ministries of women. I doubt female pastors would have any difficulty in valuing the ministry of other women with and to themselves, so I wasn’t addressing them.

My books address a general audience. I purposely do not address specifics about what women can or can’t do in the church. I intentionally do not take a public position on the ordination question. I leave that discussion to others. I know this frustrates many readers. My purpose is to get both sides to look at the deeper issue of why the spiritual gifts and contributions of women are not just permissible, but essential to the whole body of Christ. I hope my books cause church leadership to wrestle with how that looks in their particular setting. It won’t look the same in every church, but every church needs to think this through and hopefully, begin to make progress in how men and women serve God together.

I think it is very cool that Carolyn, not only keeps track about what is being said about her books, but takes the time to email to correct reader mispercecptions. This was my response:

Thank you for writing me about Lost Women in the Bible. Thank you for clarifying what your purpose was for the book. I will re-read the last chapter with what you’ve said in mind. I really did like the book, and the scholarship you did was excellent (I’m a geek and a sucker for really good scholarship). You are also a great storyteller. I’m studying both Lost Women and When Life and Beliefs Collide because I am still trying to figure out how to keep a conversational tone throughout my writing instead of vacillating between conversational and academic.

I do think you are filling a huge gap for women with this book. When it comes to books about women in ministry it seems women are caught between women’s and children’s ministries or going for ordination. It’s good to see a book for women that does holistically address women’s spiritual gifts and both women and men working side by side to build God’s kingdom. I am glad that how I read the last chapter was not what you intended. More than likely I was reading through my own experience and what I thought should be there instead of staying with what you stated in the introduction was your intention with the book.

Thank you so much for taking the time to email me. It means a lot that you keep an eye out on what is being said about your books and taking the time to respond.

I am going to re-read the last chapter, and I have a feeling that my response is going to be different. I also have a feeling that the book review is going to be different as well.