Categories: Arts, Religion, Women in the Bible
Lynne Bundesen is a renowned author writing on religious and political issues and has won major awards for her column on Women and Religion. Most recently, she authored The Feminine Spirit: Recapturing the Heart of Scripture. During our interview, Lynne shared how she became hooked on studying the women in the Bible. She talks about the feminine concept of God, explains how women really are equal to men, and provides unique insights regarding biblical women and the Christ. Read on to learn more.
How did you become interested in the women in the Bible?
Almost 30 years ago, I was visiting in the U.S., but I lived in Paris with my daughter and son. There was some problem with my daughter, and I was in turmoil. I remember standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window, which is where I get most of my inspiration. I got to thinking about Ruth and Naomi in relation to my daughter and me. My daughter is only 18 years younger than I am, so we're also very good friends. I decided to read Ruth again. When I got to the end, I thought, "I wonder what happens next?" It was as if I were reading a novel.
So I read the next chapter, which is 1 Samuel. It starts with Hannah, Elkanah's wife. She was barren and prayed for a son. What grabbed me in the text was that "the Lord remembered [Hannah]" (1 San 1:19 ESV). She gave birth to Samuel, who was a great prophet and counselor to Saul in the time of David. I kept reading and looking at the women in the Bible. Some of my more intellectual friends were asking me, "What's a nice girl like you doing reading the Bible?" It was so interesting to me that I was hooked. Nothing else is as interesting to me.
What did you discover about women and God?
I had been studying women who were active in religion and interviewing them for about six years, looking at them separately from men. Women have been told, "Be a good girl; mind your husband; find the joy in what you are doing." There's nothing wrong with this approach, but it's practice bordered on domination. There was also the concept that a woman's husband was her lord. And actually, according to the Bible, God is the Lord, and that should not get missed.
As I researched the Bible more, I discovered that "Lord" isn't always male. In many places, Lord means the Almighty, which means Breasted One. The Bible's early healings were of women's barrenness, which coordinates with the concept of God is Mother. God is female in the Hebrew Bible until way after Rebecca and Rachel, when the thought is that God is male. And the concept of God being Mother is not the same as the concept of the "goddess," which was resurrected in the 1970s or 80s. God is more than that -- Mother and Father. Once I got started on really examining the women in the Bible, a publisher asked me to write a book, and another one, and another one.
What stands out to you about the women of the Bible?
I have a take on Ruth and Naomi and Hannah and Abigail that I don't hear from too many people. I've lived with the texts, and it's the text around the women that stands out to me.
With Ruth and Naomi, it's the line, "… that the LORD had visited His people by giving them bread" (Ruth 1:6 NKJV). The significance of this passage is not that they were brave women to set out to find bread. It's not just that there was food in Bethlehem and not in Moab. The point is that they actually heard that the Lord was visiting, giving bread. The implications of "bread" are significant. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35 NIV). Naomi and Ruth realized that the Christ was there. And if the Christ was there, then the activity of the Christ was there.
This activity of the Christ includes justice for women as well as for men. The women's lives are redeemed when Ruth marries Boaz. The activity of the Christ continues with them, manifesting itself on through their great-great (and great) grandson David. Recognizing the Christ just became the family pattern, impelling them to great works. David unified Israel, which is quite grand and monumental. And from this line came Jesus.
A different phrase will reach each of us and comfort us. There's hardly a place where the Comforter doesn't exit.
How did the writing of The Feminine Spirit come about?
An agent called me up and asked if I still had the rights to The Woman's Guide to the Bible because he wanted to republish it under a different form. I was thrilled because I had learned so much more since I had first written The Woman's Guide (which was not easy for me, but was absolutely necessary). I gained the ability to go through the Bible verse by verse and draw out what I then saw about women and how God works in their lives for the benefit of all of us. There was a discipline about it and a love of the universal biblical God that impelled me. I had become less afraid of the Hebrew language and was able to study more deeply. I really wanted to rewrite it. There's so much more in The Feminine Spirit than The Woman's Guide, which served as a first draft.
Did you find you had collegial support for seeing the feminine God?
For a long time, mine was quite a solitary pursuit. When I first started learning Hebrew, my teacher had written a book on Job. He never identifies God as "He." Rather, he identifies God as the "Voice" which spoke to Job "out of a whirlwind" (Job 38:1). He clearly identifies God as feminine. So when I started finding other scholars from different backgrounds and theologies who were seeing the feminine God in the Bible, I felt a lot more secure in my writing. I didn't want to make a major mistake in my book because once it's in print, it doesn't go away. Since The Feminine Spirit was published, I've been translating words for God back into the original Hebrew and discovering that there are so many more words for God that indicated that God was feminine.
There are women from different religions and theologies working along the same lines as I am. They are trying to bring out what prophets really said about women vs. what has been culturally accepted and practiced in Judaism and Islam. I count them as my colleagues who are just working with a different text, or the same text in a different way. We all have one Father, one Mother, and this God is universal and impartial. We read in Isaiah, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters" (55:1 KJV). Then how come women aren't equal to men? The answer is that they are equal. Is it just that no one told you differently or that you didn't look for yourself?
Why is it that some people are willing to accept women as inferior, even quoting biblical passages for support?
So many of us will accept what people tell them, even if it's bologna. I like to ask, "Are you happy with a halfway answer? Does it satisfy you? Or do you want a whole answer?" To find that whole answer, you have to find it yourself. It's there in the text.
This whole notion that women are less than men is being challenged and is changing rapidly. Alison Cheek was one of the first Episcopal women priests ordained in 1975. Today, half the people in theology school are women. We've come a long way in some parts of the world. My mother couldn't vote, but just look at the change in the U.S. Any woman who founded a religion was considered weird or trivialized, and having a woman on the platform wasn't even considered (even in the 1960s). Now, it's taken for granted in many places. Of course, there are still pockets in the world where equality is not the norm.
There are pockets of people who still live in the Islamic/Judaic time zone of 2000+ years ago and deplore modernity. There are even pockets of Christians who take issue with modernity. But modernity isn't going away. There are things to be deplored in modernity, but some issues that get linked to modernity aren't modern; they were there 2500 years ago – the materialistic pursuit of money, prostitution, sensuality.
What have you learned about working with people of varying religions or faiths?
Find a common value. It could be in treating others with respect or kindness, being good to children or parents, observing fast days, quoting text accurately. Finding whatever you have in common, be it big or little, is the best and the only real way to start working with others. You also have to love people, even if you don't have the same values. I always admire people who have strong beliefs. They may not be my beliefs, but I can't fault them for having different ones.
Currently, I'm reading Plato's Republic. There are a lot of ways that you could say that it's an interpretation of the Bible without it being the Bible -- the concept of oneness, goodness, and that all the good is God. But rather than force something onto Plato, we can realize that the idea of one universal Mind has lived forever, and that different people glimpse it in different ways. It's so interesting that texts have survived so we don't have to rediscover this concept.
What advice would you give to people who want to study the Bible and get really good inspiration?
Take heart, dear Bible reader. It'll all be fine. Try to pick up the Bible as if you read it all the time. Sit down quietly and open it for yourself. Let the Word of the Bible speak to you. It doesn't matter if you're a Sunday school teacher and have a lesson plan in front of you, and you have a lot to do, or if you're completely outside of a system of organized religion. Let the Word gather you in.
That's what Ruth was doing in the field. She "gleaned" the grain. If Jesus said that "the fields are white for harvest" (John 4:35 ESV), why do we insist on only seeing a tanned woman picking up corn or grain on the ground? Why don't we see this intelligent woman filled with inspiration -- gleaning the inspiration of the Christ? We owe these women more. We owe Sarah more; we owe Rachel more. Of course, we musn't overlook their faults. We don't overlook men's faults. But we need to see the spiritual insight and strength of these women. Indeed, the way they understood God enabled their children to get a clearer understanding of God and be better. And isn't that what we all want – our children and grandchildren to be better than us? As we understand God as Mother, as well as Father, we come to know ourselves better, which ultimately leads to knowing and loving each other better.
For more information on Lynne, visit her website - www.lynnebundesen.com.