Daughters of Eve: Women of the Bible Speak to Women of Today, by Virginia Stem Owens (NavPress, 240 pp.; $10, paper). Reviewed by Jan Senn, managing editor of Today's Christian Woman magazine.

Rape, surrogate motherhood, infertility, multiple marriages: these are issues as timely as the evening news-and as timeless as the Bible. In Daughters of Eve, Virginia Stem Owens challenges our preconceptions, exploring the stories of biblical women from a contemporary perspective.

Addressing such questions as "How much has life really changed for women?" and "Is there any gender-specific wisdom to be gleaned from the lives of scriptural women?" Owens suggests, "One way to tell is to look." And she has done just that-carefully searching the pages of Scripture to find 30 women, both familiar and obscure, whose stories often have been overlooked. (When was the last time you heard a sermon on Rizpah?)

Owens approaches these women's stories with her distinct blend of intellect and intuition. Although disclaiming any intent to produce "a work of scholarship," she stays true to the text and pays careful attention to word meanings, historical context, and cultural specifics. But it is her skill as a storyteller and shrewd observer of the human condition that brings these ancient women to life.

By noticing details, speculating on motives, reconstructing plots, and paraphrasing dialogue in today's language, Owens interprets the gaps in the biblical narrative, yet avoids filling them in with too much description-a pitfall she warns against in her review of Frederick Buechner's biblical novel The Son of Laughter ("Colorizing Jacob," ct, Sept. 13, 1993, p. 48): "Instead of explaining the biblical world in our terms, we must 'fit our own life into its world.' "

The combination of storytelling and reflection in Daughters of Eve recalls Owens's award-winning book If You Do Love Old Men (Eerdmans), in which she tells the tale of her grandfather's life and connects it with universal themes of aging and death. Even with centuries of change, she finds that biblical women and their modern counterparts are more alike than different in the issues they face. And she contends,"The ways in which they are courageous or cowardly, devoted or deceitful are, I believe, peculiarly women's ways, colored by the exigencies of gender."

But apart from her insights on "women's ways," it is Owens's way of seeing that is most compelling. As Flaubert wrote, "We must look at everything we want to express long enough and attentively enough to discover an aspect of it that has never been seen and described by anyone else. . . . It is in this way that one becomes original." Owens has looked long and attentively at these stories. In her version of Song of Songs, for example, the Shulammite maiden is in love with a young shepherd, but trapped in King Solomon's harem-a fresh rendering as plausible as other interpretations, but more intriguing.

While obviously marketed to women, Daughters of Eve will be of interest to men as well. These stories reveal the significant role women play in Scripture, and paying them this kind of careful attention is both instructive and inspiring. As Owens urges, "Go back and read the story closely and you'll see."


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