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The Spymistress

December 5, 2013

There seems to be an ongoing dearth of good books about women of faith who are dynamic leaders in stereotypic male domains. The women exist, the books exist, so here are a few of my recent favourites. I already mentioned (I think):

The Creation of Eve about Sofonisba Anguissola, an Italian portrait painter in the Renaissance. Of further interest is this book, Invisible Women, about approximately 100 women painters of the renaissance. I have always loved women artists of this time for the touching portrayal of mother love, of female agency, of human beauty, and the great innovation of painting people with their mouths sometimes open. Such a novelty! It is clear that women were recognized, contributed, innovated, earned a living and supported their families by painting.

The next book which honours women is The Making of the Modern Jewish Bible by Alan Levenson. Yup. There is a great chapter on Nehama Leibowitz, who is called “the most influential Bible teacher of the twentieth century.” Yes, a woman.   (Theophrastus introduced me to her on the blog – somewhere – a few years ago.) Also some discussion about feminist approaches  to the Bible and especially that of Tivka Frymer-Kensky, whose book Reading the Women of the Bible, is a model of interpretation for me.

Now I am reading the recently published book, The Spymistress, about Elizabeth Van Lew, a 45 year old single women, who with her widowed mother, of a wealthy class, started a Union spy ring in Richmond,  Virginia. Elizabeth Van Lew was recently inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame. These women were not supported or lead by any man or men, or males of any species. They were single independent women who decided to remain loyal to the Union and spy for the North. They defied all men in their social circle and deceived the Confederates that they dealt with. Their main mission was to bring aid to Union prisoners of war held in the south, and to pass military information to the north in order to shorten the war. Another woman of the same type is Clara Barton who founded the American Red Cross.

Then I also read Song of Songs by Tremper Longman, about a book, perhaps written by a woman, where the woman initiates lovemaking. This reminds me, funnily enough, of Daniel Silva’s thriller series, which I enjoy, about an Israeli assassin. The women, various lovers, usually initiate the lovemaking, and contrary to conservative rhetoric, it is she who embraces and takes her lover into herself. Funny this, because Grudem likes these books, books of strong women who initiate lovemaking. Who knew? Of course, the main character is emotionally loyal to his wife who lives on in a catatonic state in a nursing home after a terrorist bombing. She is the perfect silent woman. (I shake my head in puzzlement. Having it both ways?)

Anyway, the mainstream Christian blogs have got to get their butt in gear and write about women of faith as exegetes, innovators and creators of important trends and organizations. These are all books about women moving in the mainstream, not on the margins. No mamby pamby stuff here.  Of course, for Christmas, I will buy my daughter-in-law a baby book for her growing baby bump. I am not an unregenerate feminist. And a tie dye onesie in a tiny size.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2013 10:04 pm

    This makes the second time this week that I’ve had Tivka Frymer-Kensky’s Reading the Women of the Bible recommended to me: our deacon will be using it to facilitate a parish bible study in the spring.

    Stories and images that center the experience of women other than as wives and mothers are so important. Thanks for these suggestions!

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    December 6, 2013 12:03 am

    OH, I am also reading Dracula for the first time. Almost forgot to mention that. Woman as sweet and pure and all that.

  3. Alan Leveneson permalink
    February 4, 2014 11:38 am

    Thanks for mentioning my book The making of the Modern Jewish Bible. You were, of course, correct: I WAS trying to highlight the contriobutions of Nehama Leibowitz, the greatest Torah-teacher of the 20th century — female or male.
    Best, Alan

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