FOUR years ago, a small group of women in an Episcopal church in
the United States - Trinity, Excelsior, in Minnesota - sat down to
study the words spoken by women in the Bible.
They ended up counting all of the 14,000 words voiced by women -
out of a total of 1.1 million spoken words recorded in the Bible -
and this research has now been turned into an award-winning book,
Bible Women: All their words and why they matter. Its
author, the Revd Lindsay Hardin Freeman, said that she and the
three others in her group - including a teenager and a librarian -
were stunned to find out that no one had studied in detail before
the voices of women in the Bible. Counting the words spoken was
only "incidental" to the project to document those words and learn
from them today, she said.
"We went through the entire Bible, word for word, then put their
words on spreadsheets, documenting each one. We then looked at each
woman: Who was she? What was her context? What were her personality
attributes? Friendly? Outspoken? Faithful? Resentful? We found out
there were 93 women who spoke.
"It was only at the end of the process that we counted the
number of words each woman said, giving us as complete a picture as
possible. Some of the most famous women in the Bible said very
little, surprisingly, and some of the ones who talked the most are
very unfamiliar - Mary, the mother of Jesus, utters 191 words, and
Eve just 74. In contrast, Judith in the Book of Judith in the
Apocrypha, has the most to say, with 2689 words.
"We didn't count the words of Bible women to do an intellectual
exercise. We counted them because we really wanted to know what the
women had to say."
The book won the gold medal for Bible study in the Illumination
Book Awards last month. It is published by the Forward Movement, in
Cincinnati, with funding from Episcopal Church Women.