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Monday, July 02, 2007

Song of a Valiant Woman: 1

By serendipity I have just found and purchased The Song of a Valiant Woman: Studies in the Interpretation of Proverbs 31:10-31, by Al Wolter. The brief review for this book says,
    This superb academic text examines in detail the history of the interpretation of the woman in Proverbs 31. It also provides ground breaking form critical, philological and Christian worldview studies on the 'Valiant Woman'.
It is an extremely far-ranging book encompassing trends in biblical interpretation over 2000 years. It is neither a feminist treatise nor a simplistic study on how to be a good wife - although there must be some of that. It includes the study of this song as a hymn and heroic poem; it covers interpretation from the Patristics, rabbis, the Puritans and more. The "woman" is understood allegorically as a wife, the church, the Torah, Wisdom or the soul. It is just the sort of grounded historical treatment which should interest everyone. I am going to blog excerpts from this book over the next few weeks.

The subject is once again germaine to our concerns regarding how to translate Ephesians 5. As an introduction I would like to quote a feminist response to this song and an unusual Puritan response.

Denise Charmody, 1989, writes,
    In a single text, then we find the ambiguity of the heritage bequeathed women by the Hebrew Bible. Even at its moment of high praise, the Bible reflects a man's world. From the Eve created as the helpmate of Adam to the good wife who eases the life of her senatorial husband, woman is the second sex. This patriarchal view is simply not acceptable. (Wolter, page 141)
However, here is how Wolter describes the interpretation by the Puritan theologian Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603),
    A point which distinguishes Cartwright's treatment of the Song from that of most others is his concern to apply it to men as well as women. ... After commenting in connection with verse 11, that the Valiant Woman should take care never to appear unchaste, Cartwright adds: 'This same point is also to be applied to the duty of the husband toward the wife.' Or again, after stating in connection with verse 12 that the wife should do good to the husband whatever his age, health or wealth, Cartwright adds 'These things must be performed also by the husband for the wife.' (Wolter, page 123)
Here is the irony, that a feminist would reject the text because the wife is seen as the auxiliary of the husband, but a Puritan finds reciprocity and mutuality of relations in this passage. The role of women in the narratives and songs of the Hebrew scriptures may be seen as that of a valiant and benevolent reciprocal partner, rather than as person under authority and a net beneficiary of male strength.



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