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Equality is Biblical: Lifting the curse of Eve, by Penelope Wilcock

by
11 September 2020

Katharine Dell looks at women and choices

“WE SEAL our fate by the choices we make,” Gloria Estefan sang in a famous song. This short book clarifies the choices that we face in Christian discipleship today, and looks back at the interpretative choices made by our ancestors in faith.

It challenges us to think carefully about the kind of society in which we wish to live, both within the Church and outside. It encourages us to read scripture with a fresh lens. It urges us towards equality, good communication, and inclusivity.

It is a short book of seven chapters, each with questions for reflection. Each chapter is to be savoured rather than rushed through, as there are many thought-provoking reflections packed into each one. Penelope Wilcock likes to push against the status quo in a refreshing way that makes one sit up and rethink old assumptions.

This book is predominantly about gender equality. Wilcock explores the story of Adam and Eve in the light of Genesis 1.27: “in the image of God he created them; male and female, he created them”. She shows how many centuries of interpretation have blamed not only the infamous snake in the garden of Eden, but Eve, too, for the fall of humanity, and how feminist interpretation can help to redeem such readings.

She also looks at the New Testament, at Jesus and St Paul in the same vein, drawing out positive aspects of their attitudes to women. She also draws out some of the worst examples of misogyny among the church Fathers, whom she blames for traditional attitudes in Church and society in the past, but balances them with a brief look, in chapter 5, at some of the more inspiring spiritual and mystical women of medieval times.

She promotes binary choices — there is received authority versus “receiving the light”; discrimination versus discernment; the way of the sword or the way of the cauldron; secrecy or communication; closed structures versus the “living way”; and the cross versus the chalice. While I appreciate that life is full of such choices, many of them an “either . . . or”, there is to my mind a danger of oversimplication here: as Wilcock points out herself, some people, past and present — such as women suffering oppression in many varying contexts around the world — haven’t had the kinds of choices that others of us take for granted.

As for received authority and the church structures, which she sees as limiting openness to change: on the other side of the argument, such institutions can give helpful authority and framework to our lives; it is the abuse of such frameworks that we should be condemning. Life is, perhaps, somewhat more complex than binary choices might suggest.

Wilcock uses vignettes to illustrate her points which make the book readable and interesting. There are many ways of reading scripture, but this helpful book points us in some good, fresh directions.

 

Dr Katharine Dell is Reader in Old Testament Literature and Theology in the Divinity Faculty in the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of St Catharine’s College.

 

Equality is Biblical: Lifting the curse of Eve
Penelope Wilcock
SPCK £9.99
(978-0-281-08300-8)
Church Times Bookshop £9

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