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From Widows to Warriors

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From Widows to Warriors was an interesting book to read and enjoyed it. I would love to read more by Lynn Japinga in the future. Four stars.

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HIGHLY recommend - wonderful stories of women from the Bible that are well-researched and evocative. This should be read by women and men alike. Thanks for adding this, Netgalley team!

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“[A]nother student wondered why she did not learn about [Deborah] in Sunday school. “It would have made me and other girls grow up so much more determined and powerful.” She had been taught that women were either sinful like Eve or pure like Mary. She wondered why neither society nor religion could find a more realistic view, which acknowledged that women could be both virtuous and sinful.”

From “Widows to Warriors” allows us to see the the real, human women behind these familiar (and unfamiliar) Old Testament stories. It is a book that allows us to sit with questions without the need always, to answer them.
(Ex. “Why is it easier to think about divine violence when it is directed against the firstborn of the Egyptians than when Moses, Zipporah, and their family are threatened?”)

It does not iron out the tensions within the text but embraces them and allows them to fully be brought under the light of the historical context. It illuminates the “image bearer” that can be found “even” in the so-called bad women of the bible, like Jezebel and Delilah.

“Job’s wife has lost everything that he has lost, with the one exception of personal health. Why, then, are her faith and her questions not also important to the book of Job?”

Lynn Japingaat provides not only cultural contextualization, but also includes and utilizes more modern examples of people or stories that parallel or contrast a particular aspect of the Old Testament stories. She leaves no stone unturned, allowing us glimpses of the apparently invisible women whose names were at times not recorded or alternatively, whose stories were simply overshadowed by their male counterpart.

This is a wonderful resource that you will want to return to, not to reread in its entirety, but perhaps to more deeply lean into a particular story you’ve been studying. The author does periodically include LGBTQ+ interpretations but if that is not a worldview you agree with, don’t let it keep you from picking up the book. I found I didn’t always agree with Japingaat’s conclusions or interpretations but that is expected and only goes to show the breadth and depth of all that she covered.

“And yet, it is still God’s world, and God is still creating, still gracious, still inviting human beings into relationship.”

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Through the years, I have heard comments from various people, especially women that the Bible is too patriarchal for their comfort. With the gradual activism of feminism and groups that advocate for gender equality, women's rights have formed a big part of Western society. Many people could readily remember key Old Testament characters like Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, and so on. Yet, when asked about women characters, they might recall relatively less. Of course, the books of Esther and Ruth are named after female leads, but in terms of time and space allocated to various gender leads, most of the prominent biblical characters are male. This might explain the general perception about ancient society being more patriarchal than in our times. The thing that spurs author and professor Lynn Japinga into action is when she saw so many people who miss out on women in the Old Testament. Plus, stories about women were often deemed uninteresting or mainly about sex and violence; or stories that paint women in a negative light. This is Japinga's contribution to correct that. She offers a way for us to discern how God uses these women in spite of their weaknesses. At the same time, she offers us another way to "dive deeper" into these stories not only to see them in another light, but also to see them for who they are. With over 46 female characters, the book categorizes them as follows:

- The Matriarchs
- Women of the Exodus
- Women of the Promised Land
- Women of Israel and Judah
- Women and the Prophets
- Other Old Testament Women

For each character described, the author begins by first relating the character's story from the Bible. After noting the conventional interpretation, she challenges us with an alternative view. She then offers us a chance to dive deeper into visualizing the nuances of the character. She then gives us a couple of questions to reflect on and discuss. For instance, when reading Hagar, why accuse her of her role when she was clearly a pawn being played between Sarah and Abraham? Anyone wanting to blame Lot's daughters for incest with their father should blame Lot who failed in his duty to protect the honour of his daughters. Remember how he offered his daughters to the strangers to be raped? We learn how Moses's life was saved by his sister Miriam, the midwives, Pharaoh's daughter, his wife Zipporah, and all of them women! Among many commentaries about Michal being a "killjoy" of David's happy moment, Japinga shows us that Michal was plainly human. These and many more would give readers a thrilling ride of seeing the role of biblical women through an alternative lens.

My Thoughts
Japinga gives us a compelling and refreshing orientation with regard to seeing female biblical characters by asking: "If women can learn from the lives of men, why can't men learn from the lives of women?" She even argues against male commentators who tend to interpret female characters negatively. In asserting the differences of commentators' interpretive contexts, readers get to ponder on the importance of considering the readers' context in Bible interpretation. In other words, be careful not to let our own modern sense of justice and morality unduly bias our understanding of the Bible. Moral education is not the goal of the Scriptures. One important observation of Bible characters and the narratives is how the Bible reports or states things as they are. At the same time, there is a sense of withholding judgment until the appropriate time. For that reason, it is always a risk to try to concretize any one interpretation. For that matter, Japinga's arguments could easily cut both ways. Any criticism she makes on male commentators apply equally to female commentators. Maybe, gender-based interpretation might even mislead our reading altogether.

I find this commentary particularly useful not only because it challenges the norms of the traditional interpretation of the role of women, but because it provides us an additional opportunity to nuance our understanding. There is no need to be dogmatic about any one particular view, and the author seldom projects her own views on us. Rather she gives us room to ponder the alternative. That way, readers can be free to arrive at their own conclusions, perhaps even a third view.

For group discussion, it would be interesting to have groups of different gender combinations study the texts. Perhaps, an all-male group, an all-female group, and a mixed-gender group might provide three different interpretations! It is not easy to distance ourselves from our own biases. In group settings, we are challenged to listen to others. More importantly, we open ourselves for further illumination from God as we interact honestly and humbly.

Lynn Japinga is Professor of Religion at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. An ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America (RCA), she has served as a pastor and interim pastor of a number of RCA congregations. Japinga is the author of several books and articles, including Feminism and Christianity: An Essential Guide.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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As a reader, From Widows to Warriors, is a different book than I imagined. From Widows to Warriors profiles women that are found within the Old Testament of the Bible. The Author explains the context around each woman that is profiled and gives her opinion on the woman and her interpretation of what happened in the Bible. The Author’s views and interpretations were interesting and I respect her opinion. Thank you to NetGalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to read this book. (This review is also on GoodReads.)

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I was really excited about this book at first. As the author states, it is a shame that the stories of women in the Bible (apart from Eve, Mary, and I would add Ruth and Esther) are not spoken of more often from the pulpit. In this book, the author sheds much-needed light on the stories of the women of the Old Tesament. While I did gain some insight and am encouraged to pursue further studies on my own, unfortunately, I found the commentary to be quite progressive and as a conservative Christian, I disagreed with a significant portion of its contents. Therefore, I would not recommend this book, though I really appreciate the idea behind it.

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I love reading about how people view the women of the Bible, this book is no exception. There's always many new perspectives to learn along the way. The new and different insights are valuable.

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