"Out of the Garden: Women Writers on the Bible," edited by Christina Buchmann and Celina Spiegel (Fawcett Columbine, 351 pp.; $12.95, paper). Reviewed by Phyllis Alsdurf, coauthor of "Battered into Submission" (InterVarsity).

If women who are not biblical scholars read the Bible as creatively and imaginatively as they would any other book, what interpretations would emerge? Wrestling with that question led Christina Buchmann and Celina Spiegel to compile the 28 essays that make up "Out of the Garden: Women Writers on the Bible."

"We were surprised to find out how many women had an essay on the Bible that they had always wanted to write," Spiegel said during a 1995 book-tour stop in Minneapolis. "And we were surprised at just how fearful women writers were to take on the Bible. They felt intimidated by it."

The authors sought women who were good writers and good readers to interpret the Bible as laypersons. Contributors were invited to choose any passage, character, or theme, whether or not the Bible was personally relevant in their lives.

"Our assumption is that there is no one way to read the Bible," Spiegel said, "so the pieces conflict with one another. The book brings a whole range of perspectives. We weren't trying to answer the question of how to read the Bible as a woman. There are all sorts of lively questions raised in this book that, as far as we know, have not been asked before. Its richness reflects the richness of the Bible."

The book's title was chosen to indicate an "openness on the subject," said Spiegel. "It looks both forward and backward, both at what women have taken from the Garden and where it has taken them."

Spiegel said she has been pleased at the enthusiasm expressed for the book. "People have thanked ...

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