Thursday, October 27, 2016

The CEB Women's Bible - A Review

From the moment I it slid out of the envelope, I knew this was the Bible I have been waiting for. The CEB Women's Bible cover does not feature flowers or pastels or curlicue fonts, as so many books marketed to Christian women seem to do. The cover is a rich burgundy, and the WOMEN'S is in bold capitals. Before I turned one page, I knew that this is a Bible that would not, with its layout or commentary, patronize to me as a woman, or indeed, as a human being.

 The rest of this Bible does not disappoint. With thoughtful introductions to each book and a reflection on each chapter, sidebar articles on topics of historical as well as contemporary interest, character sketches of over a hundred named and unnamed women in the Bible, an index of all the women in the Bible, questions for individual or group devotions, reading plans and sixteen beautiful maps, this is a treasure.

 The reflections encourage deeper consideration of the context of each chapter of each book. Some of the reflections provide historical or literary context of the chapter to come (reflection on page 97 describes the difference between the Ten Commandments and other Covenant Codes, for example). Others of the reflections are an invitation to prayerful reflection (Luke 11:1-13, p. 1309 "...the promise is that God, as a loving parent, will give us the presence of the Holy Spirit. This gift affirms that regardless of the state of our emotions, our faith, our schedule or our discipline, God is with us and will help us. All we have to do is ask"). And still others are a call to action (as in Esther 4, page 598, "Then and now, this chapter challenges hearers to use power and position for the benefit of others.") While the reflections themselves are powerful and helpful, my one very small quibble with this Bible's layout is that the word "reflections" is so very light that it's nearly impossible to see.

 The CEB Women's Bible commentary allows and even encourages women and men to be critical readers, questioning without dismissing the text. For example, a sidebar on "disability" on page 1274 warns that "the cure stories of the Gospels are not necessarily unmitigated good news for those faithful people who live with various disabilities..." and then goes on to note modern assumptions about the connection between healing and faith. But rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, a more careful reading is encouraged, "Most of the healing stories make no mention at all of faith or lack thereof."

 Women and dangerous sexuality have too often been conflated in the religious imagination. The CEB Women's Bible effectively takes this issue head on. Commentaries lift up those places where healthy sexuality between loving adults is celebrated in the Biblical narrative (examples in sidebars in Song of Songs, for example, or in Collossians 3). At the same time, stories and regulations about sexual exploitation and violence are also noted, sometimes with encouragement to see parallels in our own world today. I have not read every word of commentary, but I did not find explicit mention of the "clobber texts" too often used to batter members of the LGBTQ community. With such careful regard paid to so many marginalized groups from orphans to elders to immigrants to those with disabilities, this omission does seem like a missed opportunity.

A note on the CEB translation: I own several versions of the Common English Bible, and have already appreciated how this new translation makes accessible without dumbing down even the most complicated language. As with any new translation, some of the language may be jarring. Matthew 5:6-7 ("Happy are people who are hungry and thirst for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. Happy are the people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.") jumped out at me, for example. And yet, these alternative translations can also provided a new perspective and lead to the reader into deeper thought about those passages that we think we know by heart.

 All in all, I can highly recommend this beautiful and thoughtful Bible. I know in the years to come, it will be my close companion - for preaching, for study, for devotion and for inspiration.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.)

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