Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters is a product of modern scholarship's quest to include the female perspective in every discipline, including theology. The editors and authors of this volume unhesitatingly assume that men and women have an equally authoritative perspective on Scripture. As Marion Ann Taylor remarks in her introduction, "Discovering what the Bible meant to women in the past helps us in our quest to discover its meaning for today. . . . Women's wisdom through the ages deserves careful consideration" (21-22).
The bulk of the text is filled with 180 biographical entries of female interpreters that were written by distinguished scholars. The entries range in length from two to ten pages, and each entry is followed by a bibliography of the female interpreter's work and important secondary literature. Interpreters covered in the volume include Jewish, Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, and Quaker women. Every major tradition and most minor ones are represented, with the notable exception of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Chronologically, the entries cover female interpreters from the Roman poet Proba in the fourth century to the biblical scholar Elizabeth Rice Achtemeier in the twentieth century.
Taylor and her coauthors write from an egalitarian premise, but even more than that they believe strongly that the perspective of the women they feature is invaluable because they are women. In this study, gender trumps orthodoxy, theological education, and even biblical literacy. Though I disagree with that perspective, I still find this volume worthwhile reading. It is a useful tool for the historical theologian, since it points out unusual biblical interpretations not commonly found elsewhere. The bibliographies are current and relevant, making this book an excellent starting point for anyone researching a female theologian.
Moreover, Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters is enjoyable reading in its own right. I was pleasantly surprised by how engrossing this biographical dictionary is. The biographies of the women are inspiring at times and infuriating at others, but never dull. For every Mary Sidney Herbert, who produced a metrical translation of the Psalms with her brother Sir Philip Sidney, there is an Eleanor Davies, whose books were burned by her first and second husbands and who was later imprisoned for insanity. Despite the inclusion of so many Quakers, Shakers, Diggers, and Levelers, it was encouraging to see how many women earnestly studied the Scriptures in every period of church history.