Book Review: Miriam’s Well

Miriam’s Well:  Stories About Women In The Bible, by Alice Bach and J. Cheryl Exum

In reading a book like this, I wonder why it it exists.  This is not to say that the book is bad, exactly.  It is marginally competent biblical fan fiction focusing on dynamic women (both good and evil), filling out the details in stories, but biblical fan fiction is not among the most notable genres of literature these days and the book does not appear to be a popular one.  The authors themselves state that this book is written in order to give a better understanding of women in the Bible, but then the authors undercut this by not providing very much of interest in terms of their approach to the works and then by engaging in two contradictory tendencies, one of them not regarding the Bible very seriously, and other being to regard Jewish midrashim and apocryphal works like Judith too seriously.  The result is among the more muddled books one can read about biblical women [1], and that is saying something as the subject is one that tends to be quite hazardous for many writers to deal with effectively.

This book is made up of short stories, and then a closing chapter of even shorter vignettes, about “biblical” women.  The authors invent some characters, but generally follow biblical incidents even if they often fail to do anything interesting with them.  After an introduction, the authors talk about Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, MIriam, Eluma and Hannah, Naomi and Ruth, Michal, Abigail, the wise women of Tekoa and Abel, Esther, and Judith in detail, and then give smaller discussions of women like Jezebel and Rizpah.  After this the authors give suggestions for further reading if a liberal Jewish approach to biblical woman is your cup of tea.  I must admit that I was disappointed with the book, but that I was not actively hostile to it.  The book may not have much of a reason for existing, but it is not the sort of book that is worthy of hostility.  The authors made a lot of puzzling choices, to be sure, but while these choices are worthy of criticism and commentary, they are not the sort of choices that lead to hostility.

Let us comment, though, on these odd choices.  For one, book equates the Bible with the Hebrew scriptures + the apocrypha, and so they do not include any of the women of the New Testament, among whom there are many outstanding examples that would have made this book better and longer (every Mary and Martha and so on).  Additionally, the authors add a lot of information from sketchy sources.  The Hebrew midrash are not the most reliable source of information to begin with, but the authors use them to flesh out details in a very workmanlike fashion.  As a person who reads and even writes literature based on the Bible, the plot and characterization here is rather thin, not rising to the level of Racine or even Lynn Austin.  The biblical stories on their own are fine, and most of them give a lot of credit to the women involved.  The authors appear to have been motivated for reasons of politics and worldview to write about women from the point of view of women who do not have a great deal of respect for the Bible, but do so without any particularly literary talent or flair.  If you want to write because of reasons of critical scholarship, write critical articles and other material.  Writing fiction requires a certain imaginative flair and an ear for dialogue and plot that these women do not have, and this book, sadly, suffers much from its confusion of purposes and approach.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/27/book-review-twelve-extraordinary-women/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/10/30/book-review-wicked-women-of-the-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/17/book-review-all-the-women-of-the-bible/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/08/03/book-review-what-about-women/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/07/30/book-review-we-confess-the-civil-war-the-south-and-the-church/

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About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Maternal Lines and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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