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Bible insights of the feminists  

22 December 2016

Lavinia Byrne on their exegeses distilled


Wisdom’s Feast: An invitation to feminist interpretation of the scriptures
Barbara E. Reid
Eerdmans £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.69



I OPENED this book with a strong sense of déjà-vu. After all, when I was associate editor at The Way in the 1980s, I reviewed most of the feminist studies of the scriptures available at the time. As usual, I turned first to the bibliography, and all the big names are here: Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sandra Schneiders, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, plus a multitude of other, largely female, scholars.

And herein lies the difference. Barbara Reid claims that her book is intended for “Christians who do not have scholarly training in biblical studies” but who want to learn from what the feminists wrote and said. She presents a distillation, refined through the lens of time, examining their insights into the creation nar­ratives and “entry of sin” into the world; the place of Mary; as well as the part played by women in the parables of Jesus, at the moment of his death, and in the life of the Early Church.

Her starting-point is important, as it sets up the prism through which all female experience is interpreted, both within the Bible and well beyond. For Eve, read Everywoman. Unravel that conun­drum, and anything is possible.

The author seeks — and finds — a new understanding in scholarship that no longer seems either ex­ploratory or revolutionary. She is a Dominican sister who has been vice-president, academic dean and Professor of New Testament Studies at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

Thanks to her critical scholar­-ship, this timely little book places the principal perceptions of feminist studies firmly in the mainstream, and makes an admirable digest that is anything but outdated. Rather, it offers a hugely refreshing read, with mat­erial that could enliven a preacher’s sermons throughout 2017, gener­ating the wisdom promised by the book’s title.


Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.

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