Book Review: Wicked Women Of The Bible

Wicked Women Of The Bible, by Ann Spangler

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Zondervan Press in exchange for an honest review.]

An unsympathetic viewer of the cover of this book, with its apple symbolic of Eve, who happens to be the first woman included in this book’s roster of twenty “wicked” women, might wonder why a popular author, one with a strong interest in the Hebraic roots of Christianity no less, would be devoting a book to writing about evil women, and what the point of such a book would be. Readers who are not immediately turned off by the title would be encouraged to read the back cover material, which talk about how no one, no matter how wicked in the eyes of the world, is too far from God to be redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Yet even these readers may be a bit puzzled by the pun contained in the title and the contents of the book, because the author does not merely write about wicked women who are evil, but also a few women who are wicked in a good way, to use the slang expression of wicked as a sign of admiration, one of the many ways that our contemporary society tends to view good as evil and evil as good. Nevertheless, despite the puzzling nature of this book and the way the author approaches the material, there is a lot of worth that can be gleaned for this book, without very much difficulty given its copious scriptural references and excellent prose style.

In terms of its contents, this book takes roughly 200 pages to discuss 20 women (or pairs of women) who are wicked in either a good or a bad way, mostly a bad way. Sixteen of the twenty chapters are from the Hebrew scriptures: Eve, Sarah, Tamar, Miriam, Rahab, Deborah/Jael, Delilah, Naomi/Ruth, Hannah/Penninah, Michal, Abigail, the Medium of Endor, Bathsheba, Jezebel, Gomer, and Esther. The other four chapters come from the New Testament: the woman of Samaria, Herodias/Salome, the woman who wiped the feet of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene. All of the chapters begin with a title page that gives the sort of wickedness the woman is known for, the name of the woman or women, the lesson the story demonstrates about the nature and action of God in their lives, and a thematic scriptural reference, then go on to a narrative summary of the life of the woman or women as they are stated or inferred in scripture, a discussion of the times the woman lived in, and several lengthy questions for reflection as takeaways from the story. The end result is a book that is not only practical to read but is also worthwhile as a way of provoking discussion. To give one example at random, one of the takeaways from the story of Abigail, who is said to be “wicked smart” for her ability to deter David from slaughtering the foolish Nabal (her first husband) and his household, is the following: “Abigail is the consummate mediator, effectively brokering peace in the midst of a perilous situation. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation, putting yourself at risk in some way in order to be a peacemaker? Describe the circumstances and the outcome (110).”

Despite the fact that this book is easy to read, full of wit and compassion about the women within it, and provides worthwhile material for thought and reflection, there are at least a few concerns I have about this book. For one, it is unfortunate that the author finds it necessary to discuss these women as women, to separate them by gender, which appears to be a common and lamentable tendency in her writing as a whole. Given the unity and harmony that we seek as Christians between men and women, and between any people or groups of people, to draw attention to women as a particular group is often done as a way of scoring political points, and often an unintentional, and in this case mistaken, signal that the lessons or material discussed is only of interest because women are involved, or that the stories would not be worthy of attention in the normal course of one’s comprehensive study of the Bible, similar to the way that various “history months” tend to be a subtle form of insult to the worth of the people discuss, because of the implication that this sort of history is studied for reasons of affirmative action and not for reasons of actual worth. Additionally, the author tends to give too much credence to the speculations of supposed biblical scholars, as in her introduction when she assumes the lack of literacy on the part of the people of the Bible, something that is demonstrably false as our sources for the Bible go back at least to pre-flood cuneiform documents that make up the material of the first part of Genesis [1]. Not having acquired enough scholarly knowledge and trusting too much in the interpretations of others sometimes leads the author astray in her marginal notes and in the way she frames her summary stories. That said, despite these flaws, this is a worthwhile book for those who are interested in learning valuable spiritual lessons from women who in many cases are often lamentably disregarded in sermon messages and texts, with the obvious hope that others who mine this same territory will be able to do so without feeling the need to appeal to gender politics.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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