Bible Review 16:2, April 2000

Bible Books

Talking Back to the Bible

Knowing Her Place: Gender and the Gospels

Anne Thurston (New York: Paulist, 1998) 147 pp., $12.95 (paperback)

Martha serves while Mary listens. As Jesus speaks to the crowd assembled in the home of the two sisters, Martha attends to her guests while Mary sits at the Lord’s feet and attends to what he is saying. When Martha complains that her sister has left her with all the work, Jesus (not Mary) reprimands her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part” (Luke 10:38–42).

Today both sisters leave women uncomfortable and angry, argues Anne Thurston, because both sisters play traditional subordinate roles: One serves people, the other remains silent and receptive. Writes Thurston: “Women have, like Mary, listened; now, like Martha, they are talking back.”

In her study of women in the Gospels, Thurston, who has developed her interpretation of the story in women’s church and feminist discussion groups, suggests spiritually wise and humane ways for women and their church communities to understand 13 difficult biblical texts. She teaches readers to talk back to the Bible.

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