By Niamh M. Middleton
The Lutterworth Press, 2022
Paperback: 185 pages
Reviewed by Amy Rivers
In Jesus and Women, Niamh M. Middleton sets forth a scholarly framework for envisioning a Christianity that transcends patriarchal culture and allows women to reclaim the position Jesus intended for them.
The publisher’s description says that “Middleton combines insights from evolutionary biology, feminism and the #MeToo movement to highlight the revolutionary attitude of Jesus towards women. Her careful exegesis, comparing the treatment and depiction of women in the Old and New Testaments, illuminates the way forward for the treatment of women by Church and society. More importantly, however, it holds the potential to greatly enrich our understanding of Jesus’ divinity.”
Despite being written for a general audience, Middleton’s approach relies on significant prior knowledge and academic analysis that make the book hard to navigate at times. Structurally, the book has a few issues. The ties to the #MeToo movement, Princess Diana, and Mother Teresa seem somewhat incidental. These contemporary references are meant to resonate with modern readers and create a bridge between historical principles and modern-day circumstances, but their placement and treatment makes them tangential to the larger scholarly work.
That being said, in a very small amount of space, Middleton presents fascinating questions about the role of sexuality in our evolutionary history, the cultural impact of patriarchy and legalism on the development of Christianity over time, and the courageous female outliers who suffered persecution and even death but continue to provide a model for women in a religion that often has left them out.
For instance, the discussion of evolutionary biology is riveting. Looking at the Old Testament, Middleton tells the stories of particular women and men through an evolutionary lens, noting the role of sexual competition and selection, two concepts tied closely to the reproductive abilities and goals of the sexes, in behavior, social norms, and justice. She discusses the biological differences between the sexes, most notably the limited number of eggs to the seemingly unlimited supply of sperm, and how those differences have been co-opted culturally to subjugate women.
The coming of Jesus could have been key in re-establishing equality and harmony between the sexes, at least in a religious context. Middleton illustrates the revolutionary treatment of women by Jesus and the critical role they played in his life and teachings. Ironically, the legalism Jesus criticized in Judaism found new roots in Christianity, largely through the role of the Roman empire and the eventual rise of the Roman Catholic Church.
At the heart of this book is a call for women to reclaim Christianity from the stranglehold of the patriarchy. Using the examples of the #MeToo movement, as well as the relationship between Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, Middleton shows the destructive power of the subjugation and exclusion of women in terms of both political and social power, and in equality in religious participation and authority.
© 2022 by Christian Feminism Today.
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