The history of interpretation is an important subject for understanding Christian theology. One part of that history that is, thankfully, at last getting the attention that it deserves is the history of women’s interpretation. Amanda W. Benckhuysen’s The Gospel According to Eve is a fascinating look at this history that particularly focuses on questions related to women in Christian theology and practice.
Benckhuysen explores several topics from the perspective of women interpreters, drawing on women who wrote throughout Christian history on these fascinating topics. The main themes surveyed are Interpreting Eve–a chapter that focuses on how women interpreted the passages related to Eve; Defending Women’s Worth, in which women interpreters highlight the equality of women; promoting women’s education; Supporting Women as Wives and Mothers; Empowering Women to Preach and Teach; Forming the Character of Children; Advocating for Social Reform; and Influencing Gender Ideology.
There are many major points of interest found throughout the book. The chapter on women as wives and mothers sounds like it may be an affirmation of traditional gender roles, and some of the authors tended in that direction, but it also had fascinating early discussions from women about the beauty and wonder of breast-feeding and questions of class related to it. Here specifically Benckhuysen cites Elizabeth Clinton (c. 1574-c. 1630) and Hannah More (1745-1833) as two women who wrote on this topic. Clinton cited multiple biblical examples of women who nursed their children, but also broadened her argument beyond what was best for mother or child. She argued additionally that using wet nurses had a negative impact on lower classes due to taking away the autonomy of women, whose husbands often directly made deals over how much they’d be selling their services for (103-104).
The chapter on women preaching and teaching shows women both interacting directly with biblical texts often used to silence women’s voices, while also citing examples of pragmatic cases in which women needed to teach or preach. Benckhuysen also shows the array of women’s opinions on the topic, as some women agreed women should preach but still argued they ought to be under the authority of men. Time and again, in chapter after chapter, Benckhuysen shares portraits of women and their work that show the breadth of women’s voices throughout Christian history and the importance of hearing these diverse voices and opinions on a wide array of topics.
The Gospel According to Eve is a fantastic introduction to both the history of women’s interpretation and to investigating questions about the theological importance of women in Christian thought and practice. It is highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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