I usually conclude my reviews with my recommendations for how you might use the book featured in the review. I’m going to change that up now and begin with my recommendation. First, some questions:
- Have you been looking for an accessible book on the stories of biblical women from a progressive perspective?
- Have you sought a book on biblical women that connects the issues of those women with the issues facing modern women across the globe (not just in the house)?
- Have you wanted a book that has an interesting and compelling exegesis of the widow and the oil in the context of entrepreneurship?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then I have a book for you! Women Rise Up: Sacred Stories of Resistance for Today’s Revolution by Katey Zeh fits the bill for these needs. Her book places some of the stories of biblical women alongside eternal and contemporary issues of infertility, agency, empowerment, resistance, and oppression.
Zeh’s work as an activist for maternal health, women’s empowerment, and inclusion of stories informs her unpacking of biblical stories with new eyes. What does it mean to think of Hannah’s grief as a response to infertility? What would it be like to linger on the reality of Rachel’s death after childbirth and the story of the midwife who consoled her? Are Shiphrah and Puah the original “persisterhood”?
For me, Zeh’s reflection on Elisha and the widow was a new and original reframing of this story. The widow is led to reflect on what she has, not what she doesn’t have, and then how to use what she has- through her own ingenuity and problem-solving. The prophet gives her a boost, but doesn’t solve her problem for her.
When as readers we know a miracle is coming, we easily skip over the circumstances that created the need for such a miracle to occur. After hearing the widow’s plea, Elisha’s response comes off a bit flippant and dismissive. “What shall I do for you?” he asks (2 Kings 4:2). He does not have an easy solution to her problem. What she needs is money, and he has none to spare. Elisha becomes a thought partner in helping the widow solve her problem. He asks her to consider what she has in her possession that may be of some value. At first she comes up with nothing. Then she remembers a single jar of oil that she does have. Alone, this resource is not enough to protect her family, but with Elisha’s help, it will serve as the sustenance for their long-term survival. (120, in the uncorrected proof)
I was grateful for a story I didn’t expect to see in a “women of the Bible” book and for this interesting perspective on the story. The book goes on to offer more surprising insights relative to stories both well-known and those less familiar. Zeh gives a good wrench to the Mary vs. Martha of Bethany false dichotomy by pointing out the genuine translation of Martha’s diakonian, the “no lies here” fact that Jesus could have helped her as well, and the call to understand hospitality as sacred work, as sacred as the ability to rest and not to burn one’s self out through care.
Zeh is careful not to be prescriptive in her writing. So a reader who wants a specific direction for how to respond to certain social issues will not be given one. The questions she asks within the chapters are the direction she offers for conversation and contemplation.
Do you need another book or potential small group resource on women of the Bible? If you are going to buy one, I’d recommend this one. And even if you weren’t, this is a good church library resources or recommendation to a younger women’s reading group.
** I received a free copy of this book for a fair review. No promises were made exchange for this copy. This review is my honest opinion of the book. I received no other compensation in exchange for this review.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Big Timber, MT. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit and is President of the board of RevGalBlogPals, Inc.
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