Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters

A Historical and Biographical Guide

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The history of women interpreters of the Bible is a neglected area of study. Marion Taylor presents a one-volume reference tool that introduces readers to a wide array of women interpreters of the Bible from the entire history of Christianity, from the early church to the twenty-first century. Her research has implications for understanding biblical interpretation—especially the history of interpretation—and influencing contemporary study of women and the Bible.

Contributions by over 125 top scholars introduce foremothers of the faith who address issues of interpretation that continue to be relevant to faith communities today, such as women’s roles in the church and synagogue and the idea of religious feminism. Women’s interpretations also raise awareness about differences in the ways women and men may read the Scriptures in light of differences in their life experiences. This text will prove useful to students, scholars, and pastors, who will be inspired, provoked, and challenged by the women introduced in the handbook. It will also provide a foundation for further detailed research and analysis.

Some of the interpreters referenced include: Elizabeth Rice Achtemeier Birgitta of Sweden Catherine Mumford Booth Anne Bradstreet Catherine of Siena Clare of Assisi Egeria Elizabeth I Hildegard of Bingen Julian of Norwich Thérèse of Lisieux Marcella Henrietta C. Mears Florence Nightingale Phoebe Palmer Faltonia Betitia Proba Pandita Ramabai Christina Georgina Rossetti Dorothy Leigh Sayers Elizabeth Cady Stanton Harriet Beecher Stowe Teresa of Avila Sojourner Truth Susanna Wesley

The international list of contributors includes: Christiana de Groot Beth Maclay Doriani Sharyn Dowd Peter C. Erb Susan M. Felch Edith M. Humphrey Arun Jones Sylvia C. Keesmaat Michael P. Knowles Elsie McKee Mary B. McKinley William S. Morrow Janel Mueller Priscilla Pope-Levison Christopher Rowland Joy A. Schroeder Marla Selvidge Kirsi Stjerna Laceye Warner Al Wolters


Endorsements

"This handbook is a gold mine, a must for all who care about women and religion or the history of the reception of the biblical texts. Page after page, article after article I found myself riveted by what I was learning."

Dale C. Allison Jr., Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament Studies, Princeton Theological Seminary

"This handbook is as important as it is fascinating--important for its unparalleled ability to give ear to voices long forgotten and often silenced and fascinating for the way it turns the spotlight on the difficult but spectacular story of how women have engaged the Scriptures as they worked to take their rightful places in pulpits, at lecterns, and around the tables of biblical interpretation. Turning page after page, I found myself sometimes amazed, sometimes humbled, and often inspired by the courage and wisdom of the biblical interpreters whose lives and contributions are here gathered."

Joel B. Green, professor of New Testament interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary

"This deeply researched and beautifully organized volume fills a huge gap, one which most biblical scholars and church historians never noticed was there. It yields insight into how richly and variously the Bible functioned in diverse communities from late antiquity to modern times as reflected in the lives and writings of remarkable women. The history of biblical interpretation will never look the same again."

Ellen F. Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School

"This most welcome handbook provides a wealth of information about an overlooked dimension of the history of biblical interpretation, the contribution of women interpreters. A fine collection of contributors focus on a wide variety of women interpreters through all periods of history. The array of interpreters covered here is breathtaking when one reads the biographies of those who, against deep odds and through major difficulties, provided biblical understandings that resonate today in many places. Marion Ann Taylor has made a real contribution in a number of ways with this expertly edited volume, which recovers and analyzes women's voices. This splendid work deserves a primary place among biblical interpretation resources and much praise for its extensive and exciting discoveries."

Donald K. McKim, editor, Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters

"What a gift and an invitation this book is! For too long I have been frustrated at my own lack of knowledge about the history of reception of the Bible and in particular the history of women's interpretive engagement with the Bible. With neither the knowledge of where to begin or even a sense of what I was looking for, I was helpless. Marion Taylor's astonishing book changes everything. The judicious choice of women interpreters from antiquity to the twentieth century, the succinct but informative articles, and the immensely valuable bibliographies suddenly make it possible to teach and to write about women's interpretation of the Bible throughout history. I can't wait to get started."

Carol A. Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Emory University

"For over sixteen hundred years now women have been carefully studying the Bible. Strangely, scholars have not seemed to wonder what they having been thinking about it all this time. Through pioneering and painstaking research, the Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters brilliantly puts on display the insights and reflections of women on the most important book in the history of the world. I have been waiting eagerly for this handbook, and I will henceforth consult it frequently and with delight. All serious students of the Bible need to add it to their collection--especially those who don't think they need it."

Timothy Larsen, McManis Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College

"The Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters is an elegantly written collection of entries examining women's influential reflections on Scripture and their own female identity. Each entry provides an enticing glimpse of a woman's engagement with the biblical text and frames her contribution in its historical setting. These readings of Scripture speak afresh into our own time, enriching and invigorating our understanding of the Bible."

Lynn H. Cohick, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College

"This exhilarating volume can justly be described as one of the finest fruits yet to be harvested from the past half century of work on women's history and women's relationships to the interpretation of the Bible from the early church to the present. Marion Ann Taylor has included a judicious but generous selection of women biblical interpreters; individual contributors rank among the world's experts; and the articles themselves frequently treat readers to excerpts from these women's original writings. Those who go in search of particular entries will find themselves drawn to read more than what they went looking for because the stories encapsulated here are by turns surprising, fascinating, wry, poignant, and heartening."

John L. Thompson, professor of historical theology, Fuller Theological Seminary; author, Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis That You Can't Learn from Exegesis Alone

"Taylor and Choi provide a fascinating glimpse into the stories and writings of women across two thousand years of history. We are introduced to such diverse biblical interpreters as Elizabeth Achtemeier, Marie Guyart, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Sayers, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Bringing together 180 female interpreters into a single volume provides a rare gift since women's voices have often been neglected in the history of interpretation. This handbook is a unique and valuable resource for any seeking to understand Scripture by listening to the historical community of faith."

Jeannine Brown, Bethel Seminary

"What an extraordinary, fascinating, enthralling, moving, and mind-expanding volume! This guide has achieved a vital recovery of interpretive sources and makes it clear that these interpreters must be explored and seriously considered not only by those thirsting to find women's voices but also by anyone who desires to be comprehensively informed about the true scope and history of biblical interpretation."

John Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Kathleen Goldingay

"The strength of this volume arises from the range of interpreters of the Bible, the theological spectrum they represent, and the new doors that they open on history. To cover so many women, many of whom were silenced or forgotten, and to do so with evenness and compression is a remarkable achievement. Anyone interested in the history of biblical interpretation, preaching, and Bible teaching will find essential, captivating reading in these pages."

Paul Scott Wilson, professor of homiletics, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto


The Authors

  1. Marion Ann Taylor

    Marion Ann Taylor

    Marion Ann Taylor (PhD, Yale University) is professor of Old Testament at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, where she has taught for more than twenty-five years. She has devoted her scholarly research to the history of the interpretation of the Bible...

    Continue reading about Marion Ann Taylor

  2. Agnes Choi

    Agnes Choi

    Agnes Choi (PhD, University of St. Michael's College) is assistant professor of New Testament at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.

    Continue reading about Agnes Choi

Reviews

Word Guild 2012 Canadian Christian Writing Award
Honorable Mention, The Grace Irwin Prize (2013)
2012 Book of the Year Award,
Foreword Magazine

"Texts about biblical interpreters are nothing new; what separates this one from others is its focus on women. . . . Women interpreters and their work over two millennia are analyzed in concise, well-researched entries that each include a short biography and an examination of the interpreter's context and methods. . . . Each signed entry concludes with a list of primary and secondary sources and cross references to contemporaries of the subject entry. . . . This handbook is an important contribution to the field of biblical interpretation. It provides a voice for women who were marginalized, forgotten, or silenced. The material presumes some knowledge of scripture but is otherwise easily accessible for most readers and is especially apt for seminarians, academics, and religious professionals. Highly recommended for academic libraries and seminaries."

Jacqueline Parascandola,

Library Journal (starred review)

"This volume clearly demonstrates that there is indeed a history of women reading and interpreting the Bible and provides us with a substantive guide to its scope, diversity, and complexity. . . . This volume offers a rich treasure trove for the student of women's religious history. . . . Over ten years in the making and drawing together contributions from diverse fields--women's studies, biblical studies, religious studies, English, and history--this handbook is a monumental achievement and will be the standard guide to women's reception history for years to come. This volume will be an important addition to reference-room collections as well as personal libraries. Students will appreciate the easy access to authoritative yet accessible overviews of these brilliant and sometimes prophetic women, many of whom have rarely been celebrated or studied."

Alice A. Keefe,

Review of Biblical Literature

"This is indeed a groundbreaking masterpiece for feminist scholarship. Feminist theologies and biblical interpretations have long recognized the need to reclaim and imagine the presence of women in history, but accomplishing this seemed to be an impossible and overwhelming task. Marion Ann Taylor, Associate Editor Agnes Choi, and the contributors have succeeded with this handbook. Now that this has been accomplished, I am sure this will help jump-start many important and related works on women biblical interpreters from different parts of the world to come."

Nancy Tan,

Review of Biblical Literature

"A dictionary unlike any dictionary I've seen. . . . This book achieves beyond anyone's expectations: here you will find story after story of women Bible readers who are all but unknown in the church. So, pastors, buy this book and get it in your church library or make it public and think about using some stories here in your sermons. Each entry--180 of them--has a short biography, a sketch of her interpretive work, and then a bibliography. This could be a fantastic book for a class on hermeneutics or church history--assigning each student to do some work on one of these women Bible readers."

Scot McKnight,

Jesus Creed blog

"This volume . . . exhibits careful analysis of and appreciation for its subjects and their work. . . . Taylor's introduction is itself a worthy piece of writing, as she provides a valuable synopsis of themes from the entire volume. . . . [This volume] offer[s] . . . the voices of women interpreters of Scripture to a wider audience than would be possible in other formats. The methodological analysis provided is useful for comparing these female interpreters to their male counterparts in any particular historical period. My favorite parts, upon reading one entry after another, became the carefully chosen excerpts from the writings of these diverse women. Hearing these women, from across the span of centuries, in their own words, provided moments of insight, clarity, empathy, and even humor. And we have Taylor and Choi to thank for this gift of access to the voices of women interpreters of Scripture."

Jeannine K. Brown,

Bulletin for Biblical Research

"For as long as there has been a Bible, there have been women interpreting it for others in public, often assuming great risk. This splendid handbook spanning seventeen centuries pulls 182 of them out of the shadows to which the church's historical amnesia has relegated them. This collection of biographical sketches consistently rewards and redoubles curiosity. Few reference books in any field can claim that."

Matthew L. Skinner,

Christian Century

"Arranged alphabetically, [this book] explores the often-overlooked contributions of women interpreters of the Bible, drawing from the entire history of Christianity. But you don't have to bee interested in biblical interpretation specifically to enjoy reading through all of these fascinating women's biographies--from Saint Birgitta of Sweden to Catherine Mumford Booth to Anne Bradstreet to Catherine of Siena to Sojourner Truth."

Rachel Held Evans,

blog (rachelheldevans.com)

"The majority of the entries are sketches of 'popular voices.' This does not invalidate their insights. Rather, it underscores the role the Bible has played in the lives of ordinary people. . . . This is a very interesting collection of information."

Dianne Bergant, CSA,

The Bible Today

"One area of Biblical Studies that has not received much attention is the history of women interpreters of the Bible. To fill this lacuna, Taylor and Choi provide a one-volume reference tool that introduces readers to the many women interpreters of the biblical text and the main contributions that each woman has made to the field. The volume includes contributions from 130 scholars who focus on both famous and forgotten female interpreters from the early church to the twenty-first century."

Old Testament Abstracts

"A most valuable reference guide to Christian women and their interaction with Scripture throughout the Christian era. . . . Each entry concludes with comments on the woman's influence or legacy as well as a helpful bibliography of both primary and secondary sources. . . . Several features at the end of the Handbook enhance its usefulness as a textbook or handy reference. An alphabetical List of Entries includes the dates for each woman. A Chronological List of Women Biblical Interpreters is most useful in studying the women of a particular era. . . . A search of particular topics women addressed in their works is made easy with the comprehensive Subject Index. The Scripture Index allows one to find works in which women dealt with particular passages of Scripture, as well as to notice which passages of Scripture women most frequently discussed. The Handbook is a beginning in the restoration of a missing voice to the history of biblical interpretation. In this volume, many women and their writings on the biblical text have been brought to light that were previously forgotten, hidden, or lost. . . . A useful tool and resource for both men and women in the study of history, theology, and biblical hermeneutics."

Diana L. Severance,

Themelios

"Other reviewers have justifiably heaped high praise upon this pioneering compendium due to its breadth of coverage and the depth of research that supports each biographical entry. . . . Rare will be the reader who does not encounter a new personality in this handbook. . . . A good number of articles include substantial quotes from their subjects, giving the researcher a window into original source material. . . . Scholars will be greatly aided by the back matter to this text. . . . Fairly accessible to lay readers as well as academic audiences, this handbook is essential for undergraduate, graduate, and other research library reference collections."

Mara M. J. Egherman,

Feminist Collections

"Taylor has assembled an international team of experts each contributing to what is nothing less than a biographical encyclopedia of women interpreters of Scripture. She has done so masterfully. The volume is thoroughly uncluttered, commencing with a brilliantly written introduction. . . . This volume fills quite a significant gap in both our knowledge and in our appreciation for the 'giants upon whose shoulders we stand.'. . . Besides the biographical materials included in each contribution there is also a bibliography for each entry, many of which cite online resources which readers can access with great ease. . . . This is a terribly important resource and one which, frankly, should have been written decades ago. We have missed learning a lot because some of our best teachers have been, till now, virtually unknown to us. Thankfully, Prof. Taylor has rectified that situation and pointed us all in the right direction. We all owe her a debt of gratitude."

Jim West,

Zwinglius Redivivus blog

"This will be news to some, but women have played an active role in Christianity from the very beginning, not just in the nineteenth century. Marion Ann Taylor's work will show . . . the contributions of women as well as how the previous dictionaries have failed when they have excluded the vast amount of women from biblical interpretation. Unlike other works of the genre, Taylor and her contributors create something more than a pericope of a person. These articles are, depending on the amount of information we have, extensive and in depth. . . . Each essay is filled with information that will not be mistaken for platitudes. Instead, the contributors seem to care for their subjects. The contributors, like the women who range from time and place, color and culture, contained herein, are a variety. Both men and women, theologians and biblical scholars, have contributed to this marvelous handbook of women reaching from the earliest days of Christianity up until the present. . . . This book should not be stuck in a classroom, although it must be used in the classroom. No, this book should be used in the home as well, as a way to encourage our daughters, wives, and sisters. . . . Finally, husbands, brothers, and sons should read this to remind us that the word of God did not come to us only."

Joel Watts,

Unsettled Christianity blog

"A significant contribution . . . offering biographical/literary introductions to a number of women in church history who contributed to the discipline of biblical interpretation. . . . One of the strengths of this work is exposing the reader to a host of women interpreters who are largely unknown or to more well-known women whose writings perhaps are not as widely known. . . . The collection of references and bibliographic detail on obscure or otherwise unknown women who influenced Christianity and the larger culture admirably fulfills the stated purpose to encourage future study on women biblical interpreters."

Dennis M. Swanson,

Master's Seminary Journal

"Editors Taylor and Choi and 129 contributors to this volume have plowed rich new ground. . . . Thorough indexing contributes to the usefulness of this handbook for a pastor's library."

Alice and Willard Roth,

Sharing the Practice

"This is a truly fascinating volume. Handbooks are seldom enticing enough to be read from cover to cover; this one is an exception. It held my attention from the very first page and, as I turned the final page, I realized what a tour de force the book constitutes. Some of its articles astonished me: why did I not know of this woman and her accomplishments? Most of the articles humbled me: these women interpreters had been through so much hardship, faced so much opposition, and yet persevered."

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer,

Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception

"Perhaps the most thorough compilation of female interpreters to date. . . . [Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters (HWBI)] belongs on the shelves of every theological library. As the editor points out, it is an extremely helpful resource for those wanting to include the writings of women in courses on Scripture, theology, history, religious formation, and preaching. Scholars and graduate students will find HWBI a great starting point for a variety of research projects. . . . Given my unabashed enthusiasm for this invaluable resource, I would say it belongs in every academic library that has a modicum of interest in women's history and/or church history. . . . No serious student of women's history wants to miss this important work. . . . I believe we are just beginning to re-discover the works of women who taught and preached with authority in the past. HWBI is a timely resource in this regard and includes many such examples."

Joan G. Brown,

Africanus Journal

"I have done all my degrees in Bible and theology (undergrad, master's, and now working on a doctorate), but I have gradually come to realize how few women and other marginal voices were required reading in the classes I took. So when Baker published Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters . . . I was intrigued. . . . This book is thorough, well designed, and an excellent resource for scholars at various levels. . . . By hearing and engaging minority voices, be they women, non-Western, or some other marginalized group, we come to realize the magnificence and difficulty of the biblical text. We have our eyes opened to new perspectives that both complicate and enrich our own readings. Taylor provides a refreshing, stimulating work."

Stephanie A. Lowery,

For Christ and His Kingdom blog (Wheaton College)

"The book's strength is the concise detail of each woman's life and work. . . . Eager students will also appreciate the bibliographic information at the end of each entry, enabling further study. . . . This handbook is a must-read for church historians and biblical interpreters."

Craig Sanders,

Towers


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