Thursday, March 1, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Woman's Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton & The Revising Committee

Happy Women's History Month! 👩 Knowledge is power, and, therefore, I'm recommending this read, written by an impressive group of intelligent, determined, and insightful women. Arguably, without them, women might not have the rights they have today.

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4.5/5 Stars

King Solomon took 700 wives and 300 concubines. 😦

Even stepping away from romantic fiction I still can’t get away from these manwhores! But, putting my romance reading commentary aside for a moment, I’m going to organize this review much like I did other women’s history texts that I’ve reviewed (see Who Cooked The Last Super? and A History of Women in America). I’m also going to rely more heavily on quotes from the women of the Revising Committee as their words show the profound thought and insightful analysis they provided on such a renowned text. 

What I found most interesting:  I found it quite revealing that when a group of women seek to analyze the Bible it causes more alarm than all the men who’ve been “translating” it and “revising” it for centuries. If that doesn’t illuminate the inherent sexism in most societies, I don’t know what does.

What does this book cover?
The Woman’s Bible essentially utilizes feminist and deconstructionist literary criticism to examine the ways women are presented and often marginalized in the portions of the Bible where they are included or referenced. The authors also grace us with some entertaining commentary on the “esteemed” men in these biblical women’s lives as well. This late 1800’s committee of women also looked at contradictions, omissions, and whether the women and men of these stories should be held as role models.

Relevant background/historical information:   
“Thus woman’s strongest foe have been of her own sex; and because her sense of duty and religious sentiment have been operative according to a false ideal, unintentionally women have been and will continue to be bigoted until they allow a higher ideal to penetrate their minds; until they see with the eye of reason and logic, as well as with the sentiment which has so long kept them the dependent class.” —Ursula N. Gestefeld
Published in two parts in 1895 and 1898, this title evolved out of the women’s movement, and representative of this movement, it reflects and addresses the differing schools of thought among women of their time, and in many ways still today. 

While Elizabeth Cady Stanton might have been the biggest voice of concerns regarding the interrelatedness of religion and women’s oppression, this title is a collection of various views and interpretations by a committee of women, including female reverends, called the Revising Committee.  “His Satanic Majesty was not invited to join the Revising Committee, which consists of women alone,” Stanton assures her critics in her often intellectual sardonic tone which keeps the commentary fresh and insightful.

There was no cohesive agreement in the women’s movement regarding the role of religion, and many didn’t want to touch the controversial subject. Those who did tackle the topic approached it from different standpoints, some affirming the Bible was originally the word of God but twisted over years of translation and, in places, conscious misogynist edits by men; others asserted that the Bible was not the word of God, but a historical document.
“…why should the customs and opinions of this ignorant people, who lived centuries ago, have any influence in the religious thought of this generation?” — Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Among these women, there were differences of opinion as to whether the book should be dismissed altogether or analyzed to expose the sexist rhetoric and produce social change.
“The only significance of dwelling on these women and this period of woman’s history is to show the absurdity of pointing the women of the nineteenth century to these as examples of virtues.” —Stanton
Yes, I thought the same thing, particularly when I got to the love triangle of Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah, all three seemingly obsessed with having children since that’s how their worth was measured during this time. Dude takes two wives and is miserable when both wives are constantly jealous of each other due to the fact that the first wife isn’t getting pregnant while the second is easily knocked up. Spoiler alert: wife #1 does finally get pregnant after he has sired many children with wife #2. Perhaps his greedy little peen should have stayed focused on the first wife and just gotten the job done instead of pumping away his sperm in wife #2!

Moving along…

There also appeared to be a sentiment among some of the participating women that the Bible was a mixed bag of positive inspiration, allegories, and subjection of women. Some among that line of thought felt that it was not for the masses as it has been consumed, but of an esoteric nature, and thus misunderstood by many societies and civilizations who interpret too literally. Ursula Bright in her letter stresses that it’s “quite misleading to anyone ignorant of its esotericism.”

Controversies: Obviously religion. Even during its [The Woman’s Bible] inception, many fellow suffragettes didn’t dare think or speak to question the role religion was playing in their subordinate position.  Responses to this publication are also included.  As modern readers, whatever your beliefs, this is a publication worth studying. The authors offer not just interpretation but plenty of food for thought.  
“Every religion, says a modern thinker, has curtailed the rights of woman, has subjected her to man’s ruling; in emphasizing the life beyond, the earthly existence became a secondary consideration.” –Clara B. Neyman
Assets of this text:  Multiple viewpoints from different selections are presented. It’s a great starting point for insightful discussion as it allows for varying interpretations. It is organized by books of the Bible and the corresponding verses are included.

Shortcomings of this text:  I don’t feel this is a shortcoming as it allows the text to keep it’s focus, but it is worth noting that commentary is mostly limited to passages including or referring to women. In essence, it does not cover the entire Bible.  While some readers have criticized it for “picking and choosing,” a popular practice among religious followers, the authors aren’t making a sermon or preaching a gospel; they are conducting a critical analysis more akin to a scholarly level where it is customary to limit discussion to the quotes and points relevant to the thesis.

How I felt reading this book:  

Accepting anything at blind faith can be risky and dangerous. If nothing else, it’s contrary to how we learn and grow. As a former English lit major, I feel every piece of writing is open to analysis and critique and no work is above reproach. That being said, I think The Woman’s Bible is an often forgotten but valuable publication that has never reached the wider audience it was intended for and who would benefit from it.
“The ideal womanhood portrayed by ancient writers has had by far too much sway. The prevailing type which permeates all literature is that of inferiority and subjections….Ancient literature is wholly against the equality of the sexes or the rights of women, and subordinates them in every relation of life. The writing of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, are no exception to this rule.” –Louisa Southworth
Is this a feminist text? 

Yes. The Woman’s Bible sets out to discuss the far reaching effects that this most widely read, and often revered, publication has had on the rights of and attitudes towards one half of the population.

Why this text is still relevant: 
Amen Elizabeth!
With churches and religious groups still influencing public policy as well as vast institutions (such as marriage) across the globe, this title is still very relevant.
“The greatest block to advancing civilization all along the line has been the degradation of women.” — Stanton
It’s also worth noting that Frances Ellen Burr includes a discussion on other translations and commentaries in the works and recently published at the time of The Woman’s Bible’s publication.  On the eve of a new century, she imparts a hopeful tone and predicts a day of spiritual enlightenment when the Bible is “not above the application of reason and of common sense.”  Bright also felt that in due time the future generations will exalt in the good of the Bible while righting the wrongs for “the needs of humanity and the advance of knowledge.”  It’s now over 100 years later; have we reached that level of enlightenment?

 “So long as they mistake superstition for religious revelation, they will be content with the position and opportunities assigned them by scholastic theology. They will remember to ‘keep their place’ as thus defined. Their religious nature is warped and twisted through generations of denominational conservatism”  —Gestefeld
“You would better educate ten women into the practice of liberal principals than to organize ten thousand on a platform of intolerance and bigotry.”  —Susan B. Anthony
How I got this book/Why I read this book/My background: 
I downloaded a free e-book version of this text from Amazon. The formatting as a result of  being a scanned text was not perfect, but it was still easily readable. I’ve included this publication as part of my children’s homeschool studies curriculum for social studies/women’s history. I have children of both genders and aim to provide a more comprehensive study of history and political science than most textbooks offer. It’s just as important for girls to be knowledgeable of their heritage as it is for boys to learn the value women have provided to societies since the dawn of time alongside the subordination they were thrust into in order for our current society to continue working towards equality of the sexes.  I have a background in women’s literary theory.

Genre:  Non-fiction/World History/ Women’s History/Political & Social Sciences/Gender Studies/Theology

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