What Jesus Learned From Women (A New Book Project)

What Jesus Learned From Women (A New Book Project) October 7, 2018

Let’s be honest. If I keep having ideas for books that I should write, I’ll either be one of those people who finally well into retirement writes books that they’ve been promising/hoping to for decades, or I’ll never write many of them. Either way, maybe it is OK. But serving as supervisor for a student’s research on Christianity and feminism and how the two relate (or are at a disconnect or even at odds with one another) when it comes to Jesus and/or the biblical text) has given me an idea for a book project that would actually relate not only to that student’s work, but also other things that have long been on my radar, in a wide variety of ways.

Here are some of the possible chapters I’ve outlined so far:

Jesus the Student and Lifelong Learner: Introduction

Jesus at Home and at Grandma’s House

No Longer Dogs: The Syro-Phoenician (Canaanite) Woman

Relativizing Geography and Religion: The Samaritan Woman

Healing Flows Stronger than Impurity: The Woman with a Menstrual Ailment

Get Up: The Vulnerability of Young Women

From Demonized Enemy to Friend: Mary Magdalene

From Housework to Pursuit of Education: Mary and Martha

Poor Widow Gives All

From Servants to Supporters: Wealthy Women Behind the Scenes

From Ill Repute to Model of Forgiveness: Lavish Ointment and/or Tears

Exposing and Opposing Systemic Inequity: A Woman Accused of Committing Adultery Alone

In most if not all of these cases, the response and commentary of Jesus as well as that of his disciples indicates that he had not made the matter clear previously. And so these incidents in the life of Jesus should not be treated as mere illustrations but as moments in which Jesus learns these things and makes the discovery part of his public teaching. His insight and openness to learning makes him a more powerful and meaningful teacher than does the assumption that each of these points is simply a divinely-revealed truth that he knew before he was born.

I’ve been in contact with a publisher about the idea, and said I would mention it on my blog to see what kind of interest there is. And so this is where you come in! I’m planning to blog about this subject in coming weeks, but already starting now, you’re invited to provide input about whether the book is one that would interest you. If not, I’m pretty sure I’ll still blog about it and try to change your mind. But knowing about initial impressions is also important!

Of related interest, see the article in Sojourners about #MeToo founder Tanara Burke, who said, “‘Jesus was the first activist that I knew, and the first organizer that I knew, and the first example of how to be in service to people.” There is also an article about how blaming women for men’s sins is as old as the Bible.


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  • RF

    I just added it to my to-read list.

  • Marcia Culligan

    I think the need for a book like this is more pressing now than it ever has been. I would buy it to donate to my local (small town) library, for sure.

  • John MacDonald

    Rahab was apparently interesting for some NT writers. The author of the book of James reminds us the prostitute Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies. (Joshua 2:4-6); (James 2:25). I wonder if this may have inspired the story in John about Jesus lying to his family about not going to the party, but then going in secret (John 7:8-10)?

  • The Mouse Avenger

    I LOVE the idea of that book! ^_^ Where might I be able to buy it? 🙂

  • I have all of your books and I hope you will continue to publish! I just bought David Limbaugh’s, “Jesus is Risen” and really interested in what it will discuss about Paul and the early church, (part of its title.) I must add that I enjoy your podcasts when I have the time to listen. Very informative!

  • lagibby

    So are you collaborating with the student whose work gave you the idea?

    • I suggested that and am still hopeful it might happen, but at the moment she is inclined to take her project in a different direction.n.n.

  • lagibby

    I’m intrigued by your project. I’ve been working on a book about Jesus too (Love Your Enemies: How We Can Stop Fighting Each Other and Come Together). But this comment is not about me. I only mentioned the title to introduce myself as someone who has, in the last few years, been immersing myself in the gospels and Jesus and recent books on the subject. I’m responding to your open question.

    I haven’t read a lot of your writings (yet), so I don’t know how you are approaching a feminist analysis of the gospels. With trembling? (As a man, writing about women — “Who do I think I am?”) With confidence? (As a professor who knows his subject and seeks to understand women and how they fit in scripture and life?) The last link you shared seems to indicate to me that you are aware of the nuances of how women are treated in scripture.

    Your focus is on Jesus, no surprise and a perfectly good approach. It’s intriguing to think of Jesus as open to instruction. But suppose you turned it around: “What Women Taught Jesus.” How might that change your point of view? I’m reminded of Phyllis Trible and how she revolutionized our thinking of Genesis. Is your book a similar approach?

    I guess I’m getting at the question of whether you are seeking to change our image of Jesus as the teacher above others into Jesus as the student willing to humble himself and see women as equals (on a human scale at least).
    Along with that, are you lifting up the teachers, or simply admiring how Jesus is able to learn from those pesky, brazen ladies? I don’t think you are suggesting the latter characterization of women, at least not consciously. But it’s a trap you could fall into without hearing the voice of a pesky, brazen lady like the Canaanite Woman. 🙂

    A side note: “Jesus at Grandma’s House”???? (warning: I’m a grandma.) Is this an examination of the lore that grew up over the millennia speculating about Jesus as a child?

    In conclusion, write that book!
    And if you desire a sparring partner 😉 I’ll send you my analysis of “The Woman Jesus Calls ‘Dog.'”

    • I would be thrilled if you continued to spar as I dig into the details! I approach the topic with a mixture of trepidation and at least hope if not exactly confidence, for precisely the reasons you suggest.

      Since titles are usually decided on by the publisher, I haven’t worried too much about its precise form. But my wife made the exact same suggestion you did: why not call it “What Women Taught Jesus”? Part of it is because I am not sure that the source material, focused primarily on Jesus, gives us enough information to really say as much as we would like to be able to about the women who taught Jesus these things – and so there’s a practical reason to focus on the learner rather than the teachers. I also suspect that highlighting Jesus’ active role in learning will both lure in readers, and at least slightly lower the hurdle that will be there nevertheless because most people don’t think about Jesus as learning anything, from anyone. And so I’ve got my work cut out for me, to say the least! But I am still thinking about those two titles, and am open to others as well.

      In short, I admire both Jesus’ openness to learning from anyone, across boundaries not only of gender and age but religion, nationality, ethnicity, and others; and those who taught him or at least facilitated his learning. That too might be a reason to stick with “What Jesus Learned From Women” – in some cases, it isn’t clear that the women in question were consciously or deliberately engaged in a teaching role. The widow giving her money to the temple may not have known anyone was watching, indeed may never have known that her story was told widely.

      I look forward to continued conversation about this – and would also love to hear more about the book you’re working on, too!