Resource of the Month, May 2014

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Every once in a while people have ideas that you just wish you’d had yourself. Rachel Held Evans set out to do her best to live the teachings given to women in the Bible for one year. She broke up the commands into themes that she attempted to implement for a month at a time. Here are some of the things she did:

  • Wore a head covering
  • Called her husband “master” and obeyed his every word for one month
  • Stayed in a tent in her front yard during her period
  • Visited a polygamist community
  • Sat on her roof
  • Observed a Sabbath Day and prepared a Passover Seder

What is compelling to me about this book is that Evans is so endearing as a person; funny, moody, self-effacing…..but, at the same time, she is a master strategist with an agenda to stir the reader’s thoughts. In her research on how to live out different sections of scripture, she learns that many traditional interpretations have little to nothing to do with the heart of the Biblical commands. So she winds up challenging widely held teachings of many churches as she is attempting to follow those same teachings.

One of my favorite examples is what she learns through rigorous study of Proverbs 31, a passage that describes the “virtuous woman”. Christians have used this passage as a prescription; a list of commands that a woman must live up to be virtuous. The problem is, the list is impossible. To do everything in it, one must wake before dawn, prepare breakfast, have children, run the family business, sew, care for the poor, make her own bedspreads, watch everything in the household, and is never be lazy. Evans dutifully woke before dawn even though she was a miserable morning person. She didn’t have children, so she ordered a “Baby-Think-It-Over” that took her through the nighttime parenting ringer. She got a friend to teach her to sew, made a dress that looked a little like a maternity jumper. She sold a couple of homemade items on EBay to try her hand at “running the family business”. In other words, she exhausted herself in an attempt to be faithful. In the process, however, she met an Orthodox Jewish woman who began to unveil a completely different spin on this passage.

The Jewish tradition that her new friend described does not hold this Proverb as a checklist, but rather, a list of categories to enjoy and praise in a woman. She explained how the Proverbs 31 tradition in her own family is applied as the family notices qualities they appreciate in her, and they exclaim, “woman of valor!”

As she reflects on the difference between how she internalized this passage out of her own background and how her Orthodox friend internalized it out of hers, she steps into a controversial space that she winningly maintains throughout her book. What does it actually mean to take the Bible seriously? The result is a thoroughly enjoyable book that invites believers to carefully consider their assumptions about men and women’s roles, modesty, motherhood, and results in a grounded and vital faith.

To find the book, click here

2 comments


  • Susan Nop

    I loved that book. On my shelf next to John Stackhouse’s Finally Feminist.

    May 1, 2014
  • Colleen

    Thanks for sharing Janice! Looks like a really interesting read… I want to check it out. Thanks for being a model of Biblical womanhood for me and sharing your process of growth and understanding in this area.

    May 1, 2014

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