A Post Mortem on A Year of Biblical Womanhood

I think Evans did her readers a disservice by not distinguishing clearly between what was and was not actually found in the original text of Scripture.

I also knew that much of what Rachel Held Evans was literally living out was not actually in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t command a woman to call her husband master and so forth. But though I knew that much of what she was literally living out was not actually in the Bible, I didn’t realize how often she put Scripture references in her book that didn’t say what, in retrospect, I feel she was making the reader feel like the Bible actually did say. 

 

I’m four years too late with this post, but I just had a major, disturbing revelation about A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans last week, one that some likely had long before me. But I do think that many approached the book the way I did and had similar assumptions about Scripture that I had after reading it.

I am a student of the Bible, but I realize that I assumed much about the accuracy of the Scripture references in the book. Because I didn’t meticulously read each reference, I assumed things about the Word of God that were wrong. I am disappointed in myself and feel misled by how the book referenced Scripture that didn’t say what was being lived out in Rachel Held Evans’ experiment.

When I first began to interact with AYOBW, I knew that it was an attempt to show that our applications of the idea of Biblical womanhood were so varied among different groups to make the phrase virtually meaningless. The goal seemed to show holes in complementarian thought and to relieve women from the idea that they needed to be stay at home moms cooking organic meals in order to be a “biblical woman.” I existed at Mars Hill Church under Mark Driscoll’s teaching long enough to accept that as a reasonable issue to address.

I also knew that much of what Rachel Held Evans was literally living out was not actually in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t command a woman to call her husband master and so forth. But though I knew that much of what she was literally living out was not actually in the Bible, I didn’t realize how often she put Scripture references in her book that didn’t say what, in retrospect, I feel she was making the reader feel like the Bible actually did say. 

I’m going to focus on just one chapter, the one on Leviticus 15’s instructions around menstruation.

She says:

□ Camp out in the front yard for first three days of impurity (Leviticus 15: 19) (Kindle Locations 2752-2753)

The thing is Leviticus 15:19 doesn’t say to camp out in a separate tent during your period. Women sometimes did that, and there is a fictional book, The Red Tent, with this as its central plot element. Later, Evans acknowledges that she gets this idea from a fictional book and not the Bible, but she spends enough time focusing on it that her disclaimers didn’t stay with me as much as my impressions of Scripture from her experiment.  But that verse also never mentions the number three.  It talks about seven days, the average length of a woman’s period.  I don’t know where Evans got the idea of three days, but not from Leviticus 15:19 which she references.

She also says this:

Throughout the twelve days, I was forbidden to touch a man in any way: no handshakes, no hugs, no pats on the back, no passing the salt (V. 19). (Kindle Locations 3064-3065)

The thing is that the Bible does NOT forbid a man to touch a woman in verse 19, and Evans did NOT clarify this in her book. This thing she was doing was purely Jewish tradition, the kind of adding to the Law like tithing your spice rack that Jesus rebuked in Matthew 23:23.

Now you may think I am nitpicking through these examples. And maybe the book didn’t affect other readers this way, but when Evans gave a Scripture reference that sounded somewhat like what the Law would say, my brain made the connection that this was actually what the Law said. Because the Law repeats itself at times between Deuteronomy and Leviticus, if I didn’t immediately see the “command” in one place, I assumed it was in the other. But mostly, I was focused on other aspects of the book and didn’t look up references with a fine tooth comb that I now see I should have.

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