Judith SCHUBERT. 100 Questions & Answers on Women in the New Testament. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2014. pp.115. $16.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8091-4845-5. Reviewed by Marie CONN, Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, PA 19118
The very nature of this book, part of the Paulist Press “100 Questions” series, makes it difficult to review. The questions are asked and answered in the space of 103 pages, necessitating brief answers to multilayered questions.
Early on, there is a question which I found rather silly. It asked how the Jewish women of the New Testament could have been influenced by the women of the Old Testament (4-5). Most women in the Christian scriptures were, in fact, Jewish. The comparison of Anna to Miriam, Deborah, and Haldah seems to be stretching the point.
In a question regarding Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” (18-19), Schubert gives three answers without further clarification. For example, the third explanation is that “brothers and sisters” could be “cousins.” But this comes from Jerome, not always an accurate translator from Greek to Latin. Other biblical scholars tell us that the Greek can only be translated as “brothers and sisters.” The second explanation, by the way, that the brothers and sisters were children of the widowed Joseph and not born of the union of Joseph and Mary, is reflected in older traditional versions of the Christmas crèche where, near Jesus’ manger, are the young Mary and the much older Joseph.
One of my favorite New Testament figures is the Syro-Phoenician woman. The story of Jesus’ encounter with her is one of the most powerful scenes in Mark’s gospel. Schubert’s exegesis is quite disappointing (23). She had the chance to discuss the role of proverbs in the Eastern culture of Jesus’ day. Unlike Westerners, who argue to arrive at the “truth,” Easterners used proverbs. In a very real sense, the woman “out-proverb-ed” Jesus and he admired her tenacity.
There are also many instances of solid answers. Schubert’s discussion of the Widow’s Mite, for example (54-55), gives good background on the structure of the temple. She also grapples nicely with the apparent between Jesus’ love of the poor and his apparent praise of a widow giving her last money to that temple. Schubert gives a nod to those who focus on the widow’s “generosity” but then makes it quite clear that Jesus was actually condemning religious leaders who “devour the poor” in the words of Luke 20:45-47.
Schubert also handles the story of the Samaritan Woman quite well. It has long struck me that this woman, hated as a heretic by the Jews and apparently looked down on by her neighbors (hence being at the well at noon when no one else would be there), exhibited honesty and courage, both in her exchange with Jesus and in her determination to get her neighbors to come and see for themselves.
Other strong answers include the albeit brief discussion of Mary Magdalene and the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter morning (70-71). While John 20:1-9 is used on Easter Sunday in all three cycles, the following Sunday’s gospel is John 20:19-31. Schubert rightly points to the questionable relegation of John 20:11-18, Jesus’ first and only appearance of an individual, namely Mary Magdalene, to the Tuesday of Easter week. Omitting the scene, with Jesus’ directive to Mary to go and tell the other disciples what she has seen, diminishes the gospel’s clear recording of woman’s leadership in the early communities of Jesus’ followers.
All in all, this small book serves a particular purpose. It is meant to provide accessible answers to questions Schubert heard over the years from her students and other audiences. It does this, but in many instances at the cost of cursory explanations of complex biblical and historical circumstances.