These are the 10 books that empowered me to be the woman and leader that Godde called me to be. I hope they will empower you to be the woman Godde created you to be too.
All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today by Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty
This book was instrumental in helping me claim my life as my own as a leader in the church and as a single woman who didn’t know if she wanted to get married and have kids. I did get married, but I chose not to have children for the simple reason I am not called to be a mother (and The Hubby is just fine with being Uncle Tracy, thank Godde). This book gave me that option as a Christian woman. Scanzoni and Hardesty systematically take the reader through the Bible pointing out where mistranslations, mis-interpretations, and neglect have been used to caricature the women of the Bible as wives and mothers and nothing else. They lay solid biblical and theological groundwork for why women were created to be more than wives and mothers (without diminishing those roles: they are important!), and they illustrate how women were merchants, business women, spiritual and political leaders in The Hebrew Scriptures and The New Testament.
Ten Lies The Church Tells Women by J. Lee Grady
Grady, the former editor and now contributing editor for Charisma Magazine, systematically goes through the lies that most women grew up with in church:
God created women as inferior beings destined to serve their husbands.
A woman should view her husband as the “priest of the home.”
Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities pose a serious danger to the church.
Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband and children.
Women shouldn’t work outside the home.
Grady goes through each lie telling how he has seen it effect women in many churches through the years, and giving women solid, conservative, biblical positions to stand on if and when Godde calls them to be leaders in their church or calls them to a secular vocation outside of the home. If you’re on the conservative side this is the book I recommend you start with. Grady has a high regard for the inerrancy of the Bible, and conservative women won’t feel like he is manipulating Scripture or putting traditions and world cultures ahead of the Bible.
Harlot by the Side of the Road by Jonathan Kirsch
This is one of my all-time favorite books, period. This book began when Kirsch, a Jew, decided to start reading The Hebrew Scriptures to his son at bedtime. He was amazed at the stories they hit not too far into Genesis: a drunk and naked Noah. He went on to discover adultery, gang rape, incest, and war. He didn’t remember any of this from when he learned the stories as a child, so he began investigating the forbidden tales of the Bible and out came this wonderful book. These are the stories that all of us who claim The First Testament as our holy scriptures want to leave out. Here are a few of the chapter titles to give you an idea of the forbidden tales he uncovers:
- Life Against Death: The Sacred Incest of Lot’s Daughters
- The Woman Who Willed Herself into History: Tamar as the Harlot by the Side of the Road
- The Bridegroom of Blood: Zipporah as the Goddess-Rescuer of Moses
- God and Gyno-sadism: Heroines and Martyrs in the Book of Judges
This well researched book is very accessible to readers who are not scholars and theologians. Kirsch helps us see some of the women in the Bible who have been considered as sexually loose or whores in a new light. He also helps us to see how we, as people of The Book, can start navigate the abuse and violence of our world in a biblical context.
Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
Here’s what people don’t realize about women working and financially supporting their families: women’s work drove the ancient economy. Women’s work, weaving and textiles, fueled the ancient economy of trading. The money women made from their looms was their own to manage how they saw fit. Women have always worked to support their families. It’s just in the first 20,000 years almost everyone worked from home (with the exceptions of soldiers and traders). Men used to work from home to support families too up until Industrial Age divided work and home into two separate spheres. Wayland Barber shows how women’s work made trade and ancient economy go round. I found the history and her research fascinating. It is also a very accessible book: you don’t have to have a specialized vocabulary or a degree in history to read this book. Here are two of my favorite excerpts.
We also have many letters that the traders’ wives wrote to them from far away in Ashur, the capital of Assyria [Syria]–letters not just about how the family was getting along, but also about business matters. For at least some of the wives, daughters, and sisters were in business for themselves, acting as textile suppliers to their menfolk six hundred miles away in Anatolia [Turkey] and taking considerable profit therefrom to use for their own purposes (p. 169).
In the early layers of the Late Bronze Age sites in Israel…we suddenly begin to find locally made clay imitations of Egyptian fiber-wetting bowls, developed for just this purpose [splicing and twining linen]. The appearance of these humble textile tools, used only by women, alerts us that this is a time when women had just arrived in Palestine from Egypt in considerable numbers and settled there–and there is no other such time that we have found. Thus out of the several points in Egyptian history that scholars gave suggested for the date of the Exodus, the women’s artifacts tell us that this one (around 1500 to 1450 B. C.) is the archaelologically (sic) most probable layer to equate with their Exodus from Egypt (p. 254).
A Woman’s Place: House Churches In Earliest Christianity by Carolyn Osiek, Margaret Y. MacDonald with Janet H. Tulloch
This is a more scholarly book but well worth the time it takes to read. Osiek, et. al. unearth the structures of ancient households and the churches meeting within them during the first 300 years of Chrisitianity before the Christian religion was legalized and churches began to be built. One of the reasons given that women should not be pastors and bishops is that a woman’s sphere of influence should be the home. But the early churches met in homes where the matriarch of the family ruled. The authors show how much responsibility women had within in their homes and how much power they wielded within their homes, which translates into women having power within the churches that met in their homes.
The books in this list are scholarly and use a lot theological jargon, but I think they are worth the time it takes to read.
She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse by Elizabeth Johnson
This is the book that showed me I could explore the Divine Feminine and remain a Christian and true to my biblical roots. Johnson is the one who introduced Sophia into my religious life: Spirit-Sophia, Jesus-Sophia, and Mother-Sophia. This book showed me that women’s experience of the divine was just as valid as men’s (i. e. normative) experience. After reading this book I started seeing how women’s experience of Godde was marginalized and neglected.
In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza
For me Schüssler Fiorenza picked up where Johnson left off. Schüssler Fiorenza dives into how women’s roles and experiences were marginalized, suppressed, and lost to history. Her reconstruction of early Christianity focusing on female disciples and apostles, and the roles that the Bible and sacred history hint at, flesh out a “theological reconstruction of Christian origins.” This book continued to show me how much of Christian history is that: his. It made me realize how desperately we need to balance out our religious experiences, traditions, worship, and Godde-talk with women’s words, women’s experience, and re-discovering the Divine Feminine.
Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories by Tikva Frymer-Kensky
If you only have one scholarly, wordy book about the women of the Bible on your shelves, this is the one. Technically the Bible we’re talking about here is the Hebrew Scriptures. Frymer-Kensky was a Jewish scholar and Middle East Historian par excellence. As far as I’m concerned no one could pick apart of piece of Scripture in the Hebrew, put it back into English, then add the historical, sociological and cultural background and make me wonder what I can learn from this woman and how can I apply this to my life. In fact, the last chapter is “Mirror and Voices: Reading These Stories Today” helps us start thinking about how these women’s stories can possibly change our own lives and culture.
Unfortunately Dr. Frymer-Kensky passed away in 2006 after a four year battle with breast cancer. Her first book In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth would be #11 on this list. After reading her two books, I was devastated to find out that would be all I would read. I would love for her passion for Scripture, helping us see the hard truths we don’t want to acknowledge, and the hope of change her work still gives people to live on in a few more books. If you light candles to honor those who have passed on, please light a candle for Tikva.
Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context by Carol Meyers
As In Memory of Her reconstructed early Christian origins, Meyers book seeks to reconstruct the ancient Israelite culture the creation stories in Genesis spring from. Discovering Eve, published in 1998 seeks to show what women’s lives in ancient Israel were like as a result of recent archeological finds at the time. Rural villages had been unearthed, and with them, glimpses of women’s lives. Meyers sees Eve as an archetype: Everywoman in the Bible. She shows us what the typical woman’s life would have been like when the Genesis creation stories were being told orally from one family to the next, one tribe to the next. Starting with the typical life and working backwards to show how Adam and Eve as the ideal Everyman and Everywoman came to be and why the Israelites were living in a dry, arid land where eeking out enough crops to live on was so hard instead of living in the water rich Eden.
Meyers also gives an incredible translation of Genesis 3:16 that would revolutionize how we think about women and their roles in the home and society if anyone was interested in an accurate translation of the verse:
I will greatly increase your toil [work/labor] and your pregnancies;
(Along) with travail [physical work] shall you beget children
For to your man is your desire,
And he shall predominate over you.
Meyer’s theory is that not only will the women’s pregnancies increase, but the physical work she does will also increase. Meyers also makes the observation, that in context, the husband only predominates over the women, so that she will have children. Large families were needed to farm the dry, arid land, but with the large infant mortality rate (half of all children born did not live to their second birthday), and mother mortality, the woman would be hesitant to have sex. The husband could rule over her in this for the work that needed to be done to survive. Meyers points out that we no longer need large families to survive, and with modern birth control, the husband predominating over the woman is now a moot point. I think it’s a moot point since Jesus: Jesus came to reverse the curse, including this one. But Meyer’s additional reading of this verse, strictly in the verse’s context is absolutely brilliant.
The Saint Helena Breviary: Personal Edition
I will always be grateful to the Episcopalian nuns in the Order of St. Helena for this gender inclusive prayer book. The nuns chant the Daily Office: four services of prayer through the day that include Psalms, readings from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, and prayers. The nuns grew tired of the masculine-only language for Godde. Over a number of years they wrote liturgy and chanted; this breviary is the result. It’s imaginative language and poetic meter help me to see Godde in new ways.
Hopefully in the future there will be more resources for fairly orthodox Christian women using Divine Feminine language for Godde. A good friend of mine is creating a Sophia Daily Office (which I hope a publisher will have the guts to pick up), and I am working on The Christian Godde Project. We are translating the New Testament using Diving Feminine names and pronouns for Godde to begin to balance out the male language only versions (Heaven help us).
If you know of prayer, worship resources, or liturgies using Divine Feminine language, please leave them in the comments.
This page was originally two posts I wrote for the Day 2 Challenge, Write a List Post, for 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge at The SITS Girls on BlogFrog:
Empowering Women: My 10 Favorite Books, Part 1
Empowering Women: My 10 Favorite Books, Part 2
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