Book Review: Grit and Grace: Heroic Women of the Bible

Disclosure One: I was given a comp copy of this book for review.

Disclosure Two. I am not a Christian. I have, however, extensively studied Judeo-Christian mytho-poetic literature. I read a wide range of works regarding religion and spirituality. My interest in religion in general is on a sociological level regarding how religion is used to shape society. In particular, how religion is used to convey societal expectations on the adherents.

One of my fundamental problems with modern Christianity is that it so often refuses to acknowledge the horrible treatment of women in Biblical stories in any meaningful way. The same individuals so quick to condemn Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha don’t seem to have too much trouble with the rape of Hagar, for example. When the issue of how women are treated does come up, it is generally spun in a way that dismisses the behavior of the men and celebrates the women…obeying…and accepting what has happened as “God’s plan”.

And that ultimately is my problem with Grit and Grace: Heroic Women of the Bible. The fundamental “heroism” of half of the women presented is: horrible things happened to me, but in the end, it was okay because I prayed, and God gave me children.

The stories told in this book are important ones, as are the women depicted. The author notes that one of her reasons for writing this book was the severe lack of literature that focused on the women of the Bible available for pre-teens and young adults. Most of the available books for the age group focus on the male characters from the Bible, with the women left to the margins. So highlighting these women is a noble goal. But the trite, first-person narratives are so ridiculously presented as to be offensive on their face.

From the story of Queen Esther, immediately after explaining how King Xerxes had dismissed his wife for refusing to dance for his friends:

“And (I’m a little embarrassed to admit this-I hate to brag), one of the women they found was me.”

Yes, it is always something to brag about to be kidnapped from your home and forced to marry a madman. But okay.

A certain level of simplification is required to present these complex stories in a way that pre-teens will find engaging and accessible. However, the presentation is so hilariously oversimplified that these women are stripped of any real value. Only a handful of the stories demonstrate anything close to true heroism, such as Miriam risking her life by approaching the princess to help save the baby Moses.

The author apparently was aware of this problem from the start, as she points out in her Introduction that the lives of women in the ancient world were very different from our own. But instead of actually addresses this issue in a way that might truly demonstrate the genuine uniqueness of these women, it is mentioned more as a cushion to deflect future criticism.

This book should have been a powerful presentation of the women in the Bible who are so often pushed off to the sidelines. Instead, in too many cases, it is just another whitewashing of events meant to teach women subservience.