Skip to main content

Book Review: Women's Lives in Biblical Times

Since sexual ethics is an area of interest for me, it's critical to gain a solid understanding of gender relations in the Bible. Just how patriarchal were biblical times, and how does the Bible and did ancient Israelites view women? So, after wading through some reviews at RBL, I decided to read Women's Lives in Biblical Times by Jennie Ebeling, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Evansville.

Women's Lives in Biblical Times is an introductory text on the daily lives of women during Iron Age I (the period of the book of Judges). It is designed to be usable as a supplement for undergraduate courses in Hebrew Bible. There are seven main chapters covering seven major events or life stages in a woman's life - birth, childhood, first menstruation, marriage, childbirth, motherhood, and old age and death. Through these episodes the main aspects of women's life was explored (e.g., religious practices, food preparation, basket making).What sets Ebeling's work apart is the way she presents the material. Each chapter begins with a brief fictional narrative of a woman named 'Orah.' These sketches are one to two pages long and are based on Ebelings scholarly research. The rest of the chapter provides the backing behind every detail of her portrayal of Orah's life.

Ebeling reconstructs the life of a typical woman from a variety of sources. Her primary source is archaeology. The biblical text is a secondary source. There are a few reasons for that, but one striking one is that the Bible tells us virtually nothing about the daily lives of ordinary women. To a lesser extent she relies on other ANE texts and archaeological finds, iconography, and ethnography (in this case anthropological research done on 20th century Palestine).

For my purposes, the most significant result is Ebeling's claim in the conclusion that women were not as repressed as often assumed. One major reason is that the Bible was largely written later than Iron Age I and reflects urban culture, not the rural culture of the highlands discussed here, where women's contributions were too big to allow them to be totally marginalized.

On the whole, I found Ebeling's work to be very engaging. Using the fictional account served to make the material more memorable and enjoyable to read. The scholarly discussions moved along at a good clip and never weighed you down with too much data. Life is portrayed as it was (as best we can tell) without demonizing it, whitewashing it, or otherwise distorting it. My only quibble is that I didn't find the ethnographic studies to be helpful. Ebeling doesn't give much weight to it, but I don't see it as being of any more value than the fictional account she has already written. All in all, Women's Lives in Biblical Times is an excellent place to begin if one wants to understand what life was like for the typical woman during the time of the judges. I wholeheartedly recommend it.


Popular posts from this blog

Commentary Series Overview

When I write commentary reviews, one of my main goals is to assess how well the commentator hit the intended audience of the commentary and utilized the format of the commentary. This often necessitates cluttering up the post discussing issues of format. To eliminate that, I thought that I would make some general remarks about the format and audience of each of the series that appear in my reviews. Terms like liberal, conservative, etc. are not used pejoratively but simply as descriptors. Many of you are familiar with Jeremy Pierce's commentary series overview. If you don't see a particular series covered here, check out his post to see if it's reviewed there. I am making no attempt at covering every series, just the series that I use. Additionally, new series (such as the NCCS) have been started in the five years since he wrote his very helpful guide, so I thought that it might not be completely out of order to have another person tackle commentary series overviews. This…

Paul's Argument in Galatians 3:15-29

15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. 19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! Fo…

Commentary Review: Daniel

In my opinion, Daniel is not the best covered Old Testament book as far as commentaries go. This isn't an uncommon phenomenon among Old Testament books. Though I've looked at them, I'm not going to review some of the older Evangelical Daniel commentaries (like e.g., Baldwin). They don't provide much that you can't get in either Longman or Lucas. If you're unfamiliar with the series that one or more of these commentaries are in check out my commentary series overview.

It was a very close call but my favorite commentary on Daniel is Goldingay's. While there were a few places where I disagreed with his interpretation, I found the commentary to be exemplary. If you're going to teach Daniel, especially the apocalyptic portions, you need a commentary that provides you with a lot of background material. Goldingay, while not as broad as Collins, certainly provides you with quite a bit. His exploration of the background to the apocalyptic symbolism is very helpfu…