- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

This feminist read on leading women of the Old Testament, Listen To Her Voice: Women of the Hebrew Bible by Miki Raver (Chronicle Books, $22.95, 176 pages), tells the inside gossip on what characters such as Sarah, Rebekah, Delilah, Dinah and Jezebel were really like when they walked the Earth 2,000-4,000 years ago. Buttressed by 86 full color plates of lush depictions (think Marc Chagall, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, James Tissot) ranging from a voluptuous Esther to a murderous Jael, the book is a rich tapestry about characters the Bible tells us little about.

Mrs. Raver brings forth some good questions, such asking why God plays the cosmic misogynist by punishing Moses’ sister Miriam far worse than He did their brother Aaron, even though the two were guilty of the same sin. And, in the giving of the Torah, Miriam was not allowed near Mt. Sinai, whereas Aaron at least was allowed part way up.

Mrs. Raver’s biblical insights are counterbalanced by outrageous assertions that many of these women, such as the matriarch Sarah, were actually goddess worshippers; a concept that is abhorrent to Judaism. One of the reasons Jews were sent to Babylon in the 7th century BC was to permanently divest them of idol and goddess worship. To suggest Jewish practice and goddess worship were casually intermixed by major biblical figures strains credulity. Can she prove that one of Leah’s sons, Asher, was named after the goddess Asherah? The New International Version of the Bible would dispute that reading, as it says “Asher” merely means “happy.”

The author, who directs adult and senior services at Osher Marin Jewish Community Center north of San Francisco, would have done better to be less PC in her read of Genesis. For instance, when she changes a mention of the patriarch Jacob’s 11 “sons” to “children,” she changes the meaning, rendering it incorrect. Jacob at that point had 12 children: 11 sons and one daughter. The Bible definitely needs to be read in the light of what the female patriarchs said and did. My concern is that the scholarship needs to be accurate as well.

Frank Peretti, Monster (Westbow/Thomas Nelson, $24.99, 451 pages), definitely likes to write horror stories, no doubt about that. He basically originated the “Christian horror genre,” which reads like a sanctified Stephen King. This book, set in the forests of Washington state, tells the tale of a female camper who is abducted by a Sasquatch.

These legendary beasts, who are like gigantic apes, are part of the lore of the Pacific Northwest, where Mr. Peretti (an Idaho resident) lives. Beck, the camper, finds herself abducted by the creatures and, as the days pass, she learns to survive with them and even sympathize with their sorrows and yearnings. The female Sasquatch who has kidnapped her, Beck learns, thinks the human captive is a reincarnation of a dead Sasquatch daughter.

Beck’s adventures are the best part of this tale. A subplot, containing a mad scientist who is trying to out-Darwin the evolutionary process by creating Sasquatches in a lab, falls flat. Its message — evolution is evil — doesn’t quite hold throughout the narrative. Better are the maps scattered throughout the book, which show the shifting locations of Beck, the Sasquatches, Beck’s frantic husband and some hunters who are trying to kill them both.

Mr. Peretti became famous as the author of “This Present Darkness” (1986) and “Piercing the Darkness” (1989), his first two swashbucklers about warring angels and demons that set a new standard for Christian fiction. “Monster” is a nice read for a lazy day by the pool but it doesn’t come close to his “Darkness” books in terms of the thrill quotient. Nor does it equal “The Visitation,” his 1999 novel (his best in subtlety and writing style) about a pentecostal minister, also set in Washington state.

Michael Card, who is best known as a contemporary Christian musician, has discovered a second career as a writer who can put biblical concepts into graceful, readable prose. His latest book, A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament (NavPress, $13.99, 207 pages) doesn’t reach the heights of “A Fragile Stone,” his biography of St. Peter, but it attacks a topic not often mentioned in evangelical Christian circles: how to deal with God when life is the dregs.

Mr. Card suggests how to express anger, frustration and sadness to God through what he calls “laments,” praying through psalms that have to do with suffering. He also counsels finding friends who can understand the hidden problems of the soul that struggles with God. Too often, churches condemn those who suffer, not realizing whole books of the Bible, such as Job and Jeremiah, are named after people who led wretched, unhappy lives.

He stumbles a bit by concentrating endlessly on “hesed,” a Hebrew word meaning the kindness of God. Mr. Card sprinkles this word about the text, even though it means nothing to the English-speaking reader. But he comes up with some marvelous insights on the Psalms and their main author, David, the king of Israel. David was able to write mournful psalms, the author says, because he was picking up God’s loneliness and feelings of rejection from His own people, the Jews. And if God feels sorrow, then it’s permissible for His followers to mourn as well.

John Eldredge, the newest Christian mens’ movement guru, has finally teamed up with his wife, Stasi, to produce something for women, Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul (Thomas Nelson, $22.95, 234 pages). “Captivating” is essentially the same material that Mr. Eldredge has written in previous books for men such as “Wild at Heart” and “Waking the Dead.”

“Captivating” offers the reader a first-time look at John’s better half and her life story. The book’s main theme is that all women are “captivating” to the Almighty, who took especial delight in creating each one.

How can a woman be strong and wise and good but not dominating and controlling? This answer: Seek intimacy with God. One’s interior gazing at God through daily prayer and Bible study stabilizes one’s spirit. The book is upfront about women’s sexual powers; they can be “scandalously” seductive of their mates, calling forth strength from their men. Women too must be strong, the authors say, because they are especially targeted by Satan as their unique beauty is a reminder of the beauty the devil once knew in heaven. Maybe that explains some of the difficulties the female sex has suffered down through the ages.

The book has some less obvious solutions to female passivity. Women can “arouse Adam,” serve as “warrior princesses” in the kingdom of God and flourish in church under the protection of spiritually astute men. Alas, too many churches are so filled with women that females are at best taken for granted and rarely cherished and the numbers of worthy men are few. Nevertheless, the book gives women hope and encouragement that their imaginings and dreams have godly origins and that a life directed by the Almighty can be a delight instead of a duty.

Julia Duin is The Washington Times’ religion writer.

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