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Head Librarian & Professor
The Rev. Judy Fentress-Williams, Ph.D., Professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary, recommends the following books as part of the Bishop Payne Library’s monthly series highlighting a faculty member’s “picks”:
Renita J. Weems. Just A Sister Away. San Diego, CA: LuraMedia, 1988.
It has been almost thirty years since Renita Weems’ first book, Just A Sister Away, was published. Weems wrote this book while working on her dissertation. Encouraged to write a collection based on the Bible studies she was doing on women in the Bible, Weems wrote from head and heart, applying the stories and situations of the biblical women to contemporary contexts. The intended audience was church women, so each chapter concludes with questions to encourage discussion. The result was a groundbreaking work in Womanist Theology and Biblical Studies that was popular with church women, seminarians and biblical scholars. It is utterly accessible and still rings true.
Weems was one of the first biblical scholars to read the story of Hagar and Sarah through the lenses of ethnicity, class, economics and sexual exploitation. I continue to admire the way she invites social location into the work of biblical interpretation. Dr. Weems creates a dialogue between the ancestral women and black and white women in contemporary America, offering insights that inspire and challenge our preconceived notions about their stories and our own. Similarly, the chapter on the story of Miriam and Moses’ Ethiopian wife gives voice to womanist traditions of biblical interpretation that had previously been ignored in mainline biblical interpretation.
Just A Sister Away reminds us of the importance of having a diversity of voices at the table when it comes to biblical scholarship. I am one of the many who are indebted to Weems for her very first book. I offer this “pick” for those who may not be familiar with this foundational work.
Wilda C. Gafney. Womanist Midrash. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.
Wil Gafney is an Episcopal priest and Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School. This, her latest book was released earlier this month. “Womanist Midrash” is the term used to describe her approach to scripture as a “womanist hermeneutic influenced by classical rabbinic and continuing contemporary midrash” (p.3). Gafney outlines her framework and then dives into an imaginative and academically rigorous exploration of women’s stories in the Torah and the throne (Saul and David) stories. The Genesis chapter, begins with Gafney’s life-giving exegesis of God’s name, and torah – and then she takes us to b’reshiyt of Genesis 1:1. I will warn you right now. You will not want to put this book down. It is engaging and delightful, powerful and probing. It is clear that Gafney loves the Bible and embraces those traditions that invite us to wrestle with the text. She reads with the text and against the text, with attention to detail. Her translations and exegesis are on point and her analysis is truly intertextual as she moves from scripture to poetry (Tupac) to classical and her own midrash with ease. This is a book you will refer to again and again. Besides, who can resist a book with an invitation like this?
“The supper invitation is the guiding metaphor for this book. Schoolmates, family friends, and some folk who we never figured out just how they arrived at our tables were all welcome. And so you are welcome, whether womanism and feminism are familiar, beloved, or altogether new and strange dishes. You are most welcome.” (p.2)
Yaa Gyasi. Homegoing. New York: Vintage Books, 2017.
This beautifully written novel is an extended toledot or genealogy, tracing the history of one family through half-sisters separated by slavery. The story of Effia and her descendants in Ghana and Esi and her descendants in the United States is told in alternating chapters, moving between country, time and context, offering a profoundly dynamic history. The book’s structure allows for the realization that our stories and traditions are a part of something much larger. Whatever we know about our identity is only a part of the story and there is a pervasive sadness in the novel that results from what the characters don’t know about themselves. Every chapter is powerful and Gyasi’s writing is eloquent. Homegoing declares that the ancestors, known and unknown, are always characters in our stories.
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Just a reminder that Alums retain borrowing privileges with the Bishop Payne Library and can request these as well others in the catalog be sent at no cost. Alums do pay the shipping costs for the books’ return.