Irmtraud FISCHER, Women Who Wrestled with God: Biblical Stories of Israel's Beginnings. Translated by Linda M. Maloney. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005. Pp. 149. $16.95 pb. ISBN 13:978-0-8146-5160-5.
Reviewed by John C. MEYER, Bradley University, Peoria, IL 61625

This book tells the story of biblical women who with their husbands and children comprised the people of God from the time of Sarah and Hagar until the time of Ruth. Fischer is professor of Old Testament and Women's Studies in Theology at the University of Bonn in Germany. Written with a Christian orientation, the book strives to be gender-fair in a patriarchal ancient society. It emphasizes the importance of these women of the Bible without whom God's designs might not have been accomplished.

The text takes into account contemporary biblical research and interpretation. It includes a careful, critical, and insightful exegesis of the biblical texts. While retelling the biblical narratives Fischer presumes that the reader is already familiar with the text, although adequate biblical references are given throughout. The story of Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham is retold to show how each woman influenced the biblical account. This continues in the story of the searching for and finding of Rebecca as a wife for Isaac. Rebecca is presented as taking Sarah's place in Isaac's life. The rivalry between the two sons of Isaac and Rebecca shows Rebecca favoring her younger son, Jacob, who with his mother's help wins from his father, Isaac, the blessing reserved for the first-born son, Esau. Following his mother's advice, Jacob then flees the land of Canaan to live with his uncle and wife's brother, Laban, where he ends up marrying Laban's two daughters, Leah and Rachel. The intrigue continues between his two wives who help to influence the life of Jacob by bearing him twelve sons with the help of their servants. While narrating the stories of these patriarchs of ancient Israel, Fischer emphasizes the importance of their wives and how they influenced and manipulated their husbands in order to bring God's word to fruition in their lives. The cleverness of these biblical patriarchs is contrasted with the ingenuity of their wives and daughters. At times the women of the Bible are unconventional in their deeds such as the stories of Tamar and Ruth. Fischer also shows how women of the Bible had been exploited, abused, and used by men in their lives such as Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah. Women's resistance to certain men in the Bible is detailed in the story of the birth of Moses.

The book continues with a study of the Book of Ruth which Fischer refers to as "...the women's book in the First Testament..." (p. 129). The author commonly refers to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible throughout as the First Testament and believes that the Book of Ruth was written by a woman. "In contrast to the other two ‘women's' books, Esther and Judith, the book of Ruth concentrates almost exclusively on women and their life stories" (p. 129}. Again without doing violence to the biblical text a gender-neutral approach with a feminist option is followed stressing the importance of Naomi and Ruth The book concludes by referring to Isaiah 51:2 which recommends that bible readers look to Abraham and Sarah stressing the importance of both the biblical men and the women who have influenced the story of faith in God. The English translation of the book is very readable throughout. The book is important not only for feminist gender studies but also for anyone who wishes to learn more about the influential women found in the biblical stories of Israel's beginnings.

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