Back to the Well: Women's Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels

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Westminster John Knox Press, 2004 - Religion - 192 pages
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Exploring six Gospel texts in which women encounter Jesus, Frances Taylor Gench encourages us to view these stories anew through the eyes of contemporary biblical scholarship. Summarizing and making accessible the work of a diversity of feminist scholars while also engaging many of the more traditional voices of the past, she examines each story's language, structure, and literary and socio-cultural context, and recounts many traditional and contemporary interpretations. In the process, she opens up new possibilities for reading these texts. Includes helpful questions for discussion.


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Here is an excellent book on some of Jesus' encounters with women. The text is often insightful and almost always beneficial. Almost? I am impressed with Frances Taylor Gench. She is a great exegete. I had to buy this book when I read her treatment of the Woman at the Well. However, she makes a point of saying that she is a Femenist and wants a femenist understanding of Scripture. To me that is like declaring that one is XYZ and desiring a XYZ view of Scripture... that is fraught with problems. But much to Gench's credit, she most often avoids giving an overtly feminist "reading" and instead supports her ideas with sound reasoning and exegesis. Then why give her "feminist" evangelistic warning? I see a few times in the book, she (usually through the lips of another feminist) gives a rather sexist reading. This is seen in her treatment of the Pericope Adulterae, saying, "Men's definitions of sin are maintained." in reference to the those definitions that come from Scripture and from Jesus. It is clear from her context that this is to be viewed as a bad thing. Then she laments that the woman caught in adultery is told not to sin like this any more by Jesus...saying that she is forced to live in a world that has "definitions of sin governed by men." Of course, there is no development of WHY this is bad... why it is that Scripture (written by men, she brings out) is harmful to women just because it was written by men. Would Ruth's message be any less powerful (to men) had it been written by a woman (as some believe)? I think not.
This short-coming is thankfully not always present in this fine book. You will find much great value here from an able exegete if you simply ignore the sexist ideas when they impose themselves on the text of Scripture without support.
As an aside, I agree wholeheartedly with Gench's definition of a feminist, so I suppose I am one in that broad definition. However, what ever I agree with or don't, it is no "better" to impose a philosophy of gender upon a reading of any text, than it is to impose any other philosophical, political, or racial worldview on a text that doesn't claim those positions for itself. Minus these short comings, "Back to the Well" would be a 5 star book. Still, highly recommended!


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About the author (2004)

Frances Taylor Gench is Herbert Worth and Annie H. Jackson Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of Back to the Well: Women's Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels as well as Hebrews and James in the Westminster Bible Companion series, all published by WJK.

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