Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Red Tent: A Review

You might think it strange for me to say, but I love the Bible.  I know, I'm a pastor, so I'm supposed to love the Bible, but I am surprised at how few pastors really appreciate the Bible.  Most Christian teachers scour the Bible for their own points of view, or review it quickly for their sermons, or for proof texts.  But I think the Bible is full of not only ancient wisdom, but of some of the best stories ever.  That's one of the main reasons the Bible survived at all, you know, because so many of the stories are unforgettable.  Not only are they memorable, along the lines of Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, they are short and easy to repeat.  You can just read them aloud in a completely different language and you can get a sense of their impact.

But there are some issues that are problematic with the Bible.  Not only those who claim more for the texts than the texts themselves allow, but also a matter of perspective.  There are only three stories that are told from a woman's point of view-- a spare book named Ruth, the story of Samuel's birth and a thinly told story of Jesus' resurrection.  All the rest of the Bible is told from a male point of view.  Yes, at times women are included, but more often than not, women are treated as possessions of men, with not even their names passed on.  There are certain heroes who are women: Sarah, Esther, Deborah, Abigail, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Tabitha.  But these stories are told from the wrong side of the ancient sexual veil, and their hearts aren't revealed, only actions.

Anita Diamant has written a book which breaks down that veil.  One of the most ugly, deeply disturbing stories of the Bible is found in Genesis, about Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, taken by a local prince who was taken vengeance upon by her brothers Levi and Simeon.  But what was her perspective?  And what about the four wives of Jacob, how do they see their co-marriage, their children, their husband's sometimes strange actions?  Daimant does a marvelous job of taking the Bible text and reading between the lines to understand the woman's perspective.  She not only understands the ancient women, but also their pagan perspective, so their stories are not given through the Yahwist's perspective.  The novel is raw, emotional and strangely joyful for all the ugliness of the original stories.  

Even if you aren't a fan of the Bible, if you like historical fiction in any form, this is a keeper.  It is powerful and dramatic.  In a sense, it might be better without knowledge of the stories of Genesis, because they can impact you better.  5/5

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