Prostitutes, Virgins and Mothers: Questioning Teachings About Biblical Women
By Dr. Paula Trimble-Familetti
Personhood Press, 2014
Paperback, 215 pages
Reviewed by Marg Herder
How can women possibly know themselves outside of their patriarchal context and history? Are the stories we are told and the images we are shown truly reflective of women’s experience, or are they just examples of patriarchal expectations projected for our consumption? Are the stories of women in the Bible intended to inspire and comfort, or to shame and control? Is it possible to discover and accurately convey the real experiences, the real emotions, the real motivations behind biblical portrayals of women?
In her new book, Prostitutes, Virgins and Mothers: Questioning Teachings About Biblical Women, Dr. Paula Trimble-Familetti explores these questions.
The book is divided into chapters in which different groups of women are discussed, starting with the women of Sarah’s family and ending with women of the early Christian church. In each chapter, specific women are given their own section.
Each woman’s section is divided into three parts, starting with a brief overview of the biblical material. The next portion can best be described as an imagined first person portrayal of the biblical woman’s experience —a midrash (method of interpretation and commentary) based on the account in Scripture. In the final portion of each section, Trimble-Familetti goes into detail about relevant historical material and translation issues.
I found the book’s content engaging and the information the author provided quite interesting. Trimble-Familetti has done her research, and has taken care to package her scholarly material in a very readable and understandable manner.
I especially enjoyed reading the first person midrashic portrayals. This is ancient history, and for me looking back from the twenty-first century, it’s always been very hard to relate to the women in the Bible. The differences in cultural experience usually leave me feeling as though I’m trying to see something at too great a distance. But Trimble-Familetti took me inside their stories in a way that brought them closer. What were just names became people. These women, though often mentioned only briefly in Scripture, somehow became friends I recognized.
I think the book works well for the individual reader, but I can see how it could really shine as a text for a group exploration of women in the Bible. I can almost hear the great discussions that would arise as the group reacted to the vast information and intriguing interpretations that Trimble-Familetti provides.
Certainly this book could be meaningful to any Christian wanting a good overview of the women in the Bible, but I also feel the book could be interesting reading for feminists wanting to understand the way layers of patriarchal interference over the years have worked to influence Christian behavior and attitudes toward women. With that said, I don’t think this book is “too feminist” to have a wide audience.
My one reservation with the book is the cover image. I know a book exists for its words, for the content, but a book’s cover image often dictates whether or not someone will pick the book up off the shelf.
I’m inclined to think this book’s cover might be off-putting to both feminists and more conservative Christians. Feminists might object to the digitally manipulated “perfect” female image displayed in a rather sensational manner. Christians might find the cover too provocative, a naked women with a blood halo dripping above her head. Indeed, one major big box retailer has already refused to display the book in its religion section, expressing concern that shoppers could be offended.
I asked Trimble-Familetti about the cover and found her reply worth sharing. I’ll quote it in part below.
“She is me. She is the image of my younger—blond hair, blue eyed— self. On her face is the pain of sitting in Sunday School and wondering, where are the women? The pain of being told over and over again that I am a sinner. She is the image of me living in a woman’s body that was never thin enough or had big enough breasts or had to be kept safe because it was always in danger. She is me praying and bleeding and longing for things to be different.”
I hope readers of this review will get past any negative reaction they might have to the cover image and immerse themselves in this thought provoking volume. Trimble-Familetti provides the reader with an approachable and engaging work of biblical scholarship. The book will certainly inspire interaction and conversation when used as a part of a group study.
Marg Herder is Director of Public Information for EEWC-Christian Feminism Today and author of the Where She Is blog.