The Feminine Spirit at the Heart of the Bible
Anamchara Books, Harding House Publishing.
978-1625244918 • Hardback • June 2019
978-1625244970 • ebook • June 2019
“Every writer trained in God’s Commonwealth is like a homeowner who keeps bringing forth old and new treasures” and Lynne Bundesen’s new book The Feminine Spirit in the Heart of the Bible does just that (the verse quoted above is Matthew 13:52, my translation). From the great trove of Jewish and Christian feminist scholarship, Bundesen offers light on the entire Canon of the Bible, conveying the insights of academic study in simple manner, highlighting their relevance.
Bundesen’s tour through the Bible maintains three perspectives. First, she asks “What if the biblical God is not male? What if the biblical Creator, in the original language of the Bible, spoke of Herself as a Feminine Spirit?” She does not seek to replace an exclusively masculine God-perspective with an exclusively feminine perspective but shows how “all genders are
aspects of the Divine One.” At the same time, she maintains the truth that “The Bible belongs to women. Its stories contain women’s perspectives and issues, and its messages are directed at women.” And throughout, she offers corrections to patriarchal translations.
While it aims for spiritual transformation, The Feminine Spirit is equally valuable as a reference book. I’m a pastor, and this will sit at the front of the desk in my church study because it offers preachable insights for each book of the Bible. These are offered in catchy terms but accompanied by citations at the end of each chapter, enabling access to the depth of the sources.
The book is multi-faceted, as Bundesen deftly weaves her portraits of individual trees (stories, characters, words) with the forest (the whole Bible). A career journalist, she has a fine eye for detail, picking up on specific words and drawing out nuances in a manner worthy of the Talmudic Scribes. Then she traces these words—such as “light,” “seed,” and “mist”—throughout the entirety of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.
Bundesen’s detailed study of the first chapter of Genesis introduces the Ruach Elohim—the Feminine Spirit—and other ideas that will resonate through following chapters. As she journeys on through the Bible’s story, strong women—Sarah, Hagar, Miriam and others—decide the course of history in partnership with God who is The Breasted One (El Shaddai) and the Living One (YHWH). Then in its section on Judges and the Monarchy, The Feminine Spirit takes an unflinching look at the texts of horror -- rape, enslavement, and violence toward women---in Israel’s formative years.
Some aspects of this book, such as ‘Woman Wisdom’ (Chokmah) in Proverbs, will be familiar to readers, though Bundesen’s perspectives may be eye-opening for those used to viewing the texts through a patriarchal lens. Yet other gleanings in the Wisdom Literature are more surprising, such as her explanation of how the Book of Job “is actually an account of how the Feminine Spirit silences traditional theology” and the way that Job’s wife—literally demonized by past interpreters—is actually Spirit’s mouthpiece.
Christian readers will resonate with the admiring view of Jesus in The Feminine Spirit. “Again and again, he speaks to women, makes friends with women; Jesus treats women as equals” and in Matthew 23:37 “Jesus identifies himself with Woman Wisdom.”
Introducing the Epistles Bundesen notes: “Today, some women have a violent reaction to Paul’s name...others, however, have found new meanings in his original words.” She then proceeds through egalitarian exegesis of the verses in Paul’s writings (or Pseudo-Paul’s writings) that are oft-used to clobber women. These explanations will be familiar to those versed in contemporary interpretation, but they are presented with clarity that I hope will lead some patriarchally-bent readers to open their hearts to more inclusive views.
The final Chapter of The Feminine Spirit, devoted to John’s Apocalypse, is (pardon the pun) a revelation. Bundesen takes this frightening last book of the New Testament and transforms it. She invites the reader to look at it through the lens of personal transformation rather than political or prophet perspectives, considers the 7 churches as 7 women (the names being feminine) and makes a bold move inviting readers to see even “the great prostitute” who benefits from the oppression of others as the reader’s shadow-self. This final chapter by itself would be worth the price of the book, in my estimation.
While filled with scholarly insights, The Feminine Spirit is more spiritual than academic in tone. Bundesen invites her reader to read the sacred texts as a personal journey of transformation, an intimate dialogue between the reader’s soul and the Feminine Spirit. The irenic tone of this new book may achieve something rarely seen in our age of dire division, it may appeal to readers across political and theological divides. For those who –with some feelings of regret--have kissed religion goodbye, she offers compelling reasons to re-consider the spiritual efficacy of the Bible. For Conservatives leery of feminist Bible interpretation, she reveals the feminine perspective that is unarguably there throughout the Scriptures.
Rev. Kenneth McIntosh,
Pastor, Honeoye United Church of Christ
Author, Water from an Ancient Well; and
Reading the Bible the Celtic Way: The Peacock’s Tail Feathers and Brigid’s Mantle:
A Celtic Dialogue Between Pagan and Christian