A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Reviewing the new CEB Women's Bible

I have lots of Bible. Numerous translations and paraphrases, ancient and recent; well-worn from study or barely touched; purchased, gifted or inherited; in print and electronic formats, fill my shelves and my Nook. I really didn’t think I needed another Bible. In particular, given other gender-specific Bibles I’ve seen, I was pretty sure I didn’t need a “Women’s” Bible. And yet, church nerd and Bible geek that I am, when members of an online women’s clergy blogging group to which I belong were invited to write reviews for the new CEB Women’s Bible, I was happy to accept the invitation. I have never seen a Bible like this.

The CEB (Common English Bible), first published in 2011, is a fresh, scholarly translation of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. (Some versions are available with the apocrypha; this edition does not include the intertestamental literature.) It has been widely embraced; my own denomination approved it for public liturgical proclamation soon after it debuted, and we use it in my parish at one of our two Sunday services.

But the appeal of this edition of the CEB goes beyond its translation. Several features stand out, among them an index of every woman in the Bible, named or unnamed. The often discounted place of women in our sacred story is lifted up: “Women often take a role in the countertraditions,” says the introduction to Genesis, “and we observe God working in the countertexts as well as the traditional ones.” Introductions are provided for each new book, chapter, or narrative; numerous sidebar articles (indexed alphabetically and canonically) offer reflections on topics as varied as reproduction, idols, fragrant oils, being “married to Christ”, and the complexity of women’s relationships with other women (to name but a few), relating the scriptural treatment of these topics to contemporary understanding. In doing so, the writers and editors name the particular challenges that arise from trying to bring ancient meanings into present-day interpretation, and while presenting ideas to consider, do not provide easy answers.

The standard features one expects from study Bibles are here. Indexed maps (16 in all), covering all the major eras of Hebrew and nascent Christian history, are clear, detailed, and colorful. Reading plans suggest ways to read through the scriptures in periods of time ranging from a month to a year. Another notable highlight of this edition is a series of discussion and reflection questions, based on the three-year Revised Common Lectionary readings and presented seasonally.

But what really makes this latest CEB stand out is that the editors and the authors of the articles and reflections – eighty of them - are all women: biblical scholars, pastors and church leaders, and novelists. They love Holy Scripture, are committed to telling its story, and hope to provoke that same love and commitment in their students, congregations, and readers. It is a tremendous feat that they have accomplished, and any disappointment I might have with the lack of inclusion of the apocrypha (what would they have to say about Judith? I wonder) pales in comparison to my admiration and respect for their painstaking and diligent work. My only concern is that in calling it a “women’s” Bible, the information and insights it offers to all people might be initially missed.

“You’re not alone when you open a Bible,” the preface to the CEB Women’s Bible begins. “God is with you and so are the voices and influences of all with whom you’ve journeyed through life…. When you open a Bible, you see that a variety of voices have always been part of God’s good creation.” Amen. The Bible truly is the story of all God’s people; we who practice the faith and follow the story must find our places in it. This new edition will surely aid both women and men in their faithful pursuit of that holy task. Visit www.CEBWomensBible.com.

I guess I did need another Bible after all!

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