Have you noticed how many specialty Bibles line the shelves of most any bookstore? I can remember when the variation resulted only from which translation you chose, but now, the translation seems to be an almost irrelevant factor, most certainly less important than specific aspects of the reader. Well, one aspect mostly: gender.
By far the most numerous of these spectacularly marketed Bibles are the ones geared to women. So I decided to have a look at one: the trueidentity Bible for women published by Zondervan. On one of the initial pages, I learned this Bible was aimed at women in their twenties and thirties who were probably experiencing many changes in their lives, but that as a woman not in this age group, I would most likely still find it practical.
A list of apparently widely-believed myths are scattered throughout its pages, each debunked through the personal narrative of a woman. Some of these I was glad to see: having a man will solve all of my problems, for example, or that God is a republican. And, it is clear that by reading this Bible and thinking about the discussion questions posed throughout, one is supposed to understand that true identity is found in God, not in anyone or anything else.
And yet, something still felt disingenuous about the subtext. I decided to look at its commentary on specific narratives. Ruth, for example, is conveyed as a love story, giving no consideration to the complexities of its plot and the presence of conflict or deceit, or sex, for that matter. Leah is presented as a story of someone who stayed with her husband even though he didn’t love her. The moral presented is: even if your husband rejects you, stay with him and understand that God loves you even though your spouse doesn’t.
Too, I was disturbed by what I think are calculated absences. Is there really nothing to say about the Levite’s concubine in Judges who is raped and cut into pieces to circulate among the tribes? Or, does viewing a woman as an image for God (Luke 15) have nothing to contribute to one’s true identity? Or, is this the most important question I can ask myself about the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7): to what degree I should be concerned about the clothes I buy?
While I am disturbed on the one hand that so many readers seem to buy with a blind eye to the marketing gimmicks of a powerful publishing house, on the other hand, I am even more frustrated by the power of these gimmicks to twist Biblical narratives to fit assumptions about what it means to be male and female. And, in the process, readers, women in this case, are lulled into believing that they were made to fulfill some role despite the biblical evidence to the contrary.