With gratitude to Lifetime and Roma Downey for offering Women of the Bible as an introduction to The Red Tent and as Kate Shellnut observes, also the new reality series about nuns, it is good to pause and consider why the Christian women’s market is such a viable niche.
When we consider that the study of women in the bible is no easy task, that it requires much textual and contextual work to glean from a patriarchal narrative a counter narrative that names otherwise scandalous women as part of the in-breaking of liberation in and through the liberator, Jesus. What is true is, they are there and the contributions of these women are manifold, what’s more, it is clear that God worked in and through these women to accomplish the plan of salvation for the world.
This message, however, becomes complicated and convoluted when we consider that these stories do not come to us from the perspective of the women themselves. Rather, what we have are stories about men, recorded by men, handed down by men and admitted into the canon by men. What is more, we have for the better part of human history, had these stories told to us by men and in contemporary contexts they are dressed with sports analogies and offered up with illustrations that hail from a male sense of knowing and being in the world. Thus, we have never heard, the quiet, revolutionary non dominant stories that are there, buried under Abraham and Isaac, knit beneath the surface of Jacob and Joseph but they are there for those who wish to dig deep and to flesh these texts out with careful study and preparation.
This is why I’m grateful to Lifetime for the introduction of Women of the Bible to the main stream market and for the inclusion of a scholar in the all-female commentator line up. Though there were a couple of foibles--words of Paul attributed to Jesus and the perpetuation of the notion that the second temple period was 400 years when God was silent--for the most part it was accessible and a good many people posted on social media they learned something new. In my view this is what good scholarship and effective sermons should do, invite folks to sit with you, pour a cup of coffee, reflect and discuss, share and exchange insights and then move us all forward to share what we’ve learned with others.
The Red Tent received mixed reviews on social media ranging from people who were thrilled to see Anita Diamant’s stellar work come to life and others who were disgusted that the story was not biblical and therefore of no good use. I am a fan of Diamant’s book and have recommended it widely across the years. For her part, Diamant does an expert job of relaying the bloody, sexual and earthy cultic practices and religious ritual for ancient nomadic people. And yes, the biblical account follows Jacob and his sons and we do not hear from Dinah, here Diamant fills in the gaps and shows us the contours of a young woman in love and the system in which she is forced to live and find her way. The series seems well done with an impressive cast though most of them are several shades too pale to be historically accurate. Overall it seems important that we have conversations about the women in the story of God.
The reason Lifetime and others will benefit from reaching out to this niche market is because most women religious are starved for stories of our mothers. We have grown up with the hero, adulterer King David and the venomous temptress Bathsheba. For Protestants we have been locked away and cheated the texts Ben Sira and Wisdom of Solomon where the Wisdom of God is most certainly female and leads God’s children through the land. We are only allowed to talk about Mary at Christmas, otherwise, we’ll be suspected of turning Catholic and forget any discussions of Sophia or we’d be accused of worshiping someone other than the one true God. We are empty when it comes to knowing how God has worked in and through women throughout history and we are searching for anyone anywhere who will dare to tell us the old, old story.
The reason why The Red Tent received mixed reviews is because we have domesticated and tamed down wild texts about humans and stories of violence and bloodshed, rape and incest, love and rage until the persons in the pages of our sacred book are one dimensional, idealistic and nothing like you and me in our fallen skin. We need stories like The Red Tent to remind us that our fore parents were, like we are, blood and flesh, impetuous and envious, at times vile and self-serving, flawed and imperfect, yet, so loved.
I say kudos to Lifetime and keep ‘em coming and maybe we will know ourselves better because we remember who they were.