Autumn greetings from Sarah Sundin in California. Today I have the honor of interviewing Sandra Glahn, a multi-published author who focuses on the women of the Bible and gender issues—talk about timely topics! Extensive reading, research, and travel inform Sandra’s writing, and I think you’ll find her interview fascinating!
Sandra, tell us about your book, Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible.
I served as general editor for a compilation from a diverse team of theologians who, as the subtitle says, take a fresh look at Bible women who’ve wrongly been sexualized, vilified, and marginalized. We’ve sought to recover how God views women and their role in his kingdom.
What is the primary focus of your book?
Most of us have heard many sermons on “the woman at the well” otherwise known as “the woman of Samaria” or “the Samaritan woman.” And most of us have heard how Jesus confronted her for her sin of dumping five husbands and finally living with a guy. But when we view Jesus’s statement, “You’ve had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your own,” through a first-century cultural lens, we have to revisit our assessment. Because women could not just show up in divorce court. It’s much more likely this woman got dumped and/or was widowed a total of five times, and finally was either someone’s concubine or had to settle for a polygamous relationship in order to eat. And if that’s the case, Jesus was not confronting sin but meeting her at her greatest point of devastation.
Vindicating the Vixens revisits this woman as well as Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Huldah, Bathsheba, Mary Magdalene, Junia and even the Virgin Mary—whom many Protestants ignore because she’s “too Catholic.” And in the process of reconsidering how their stories actually work within the narratives where they appear, we find that we have not only missed the point about them but that in doing so, we have missed the bigger points they are helping to make.
That sounds fascinating! What surprised you the most during the research or writing of your book?
We thought we were setting out to vindicate these women. But what we discovered in doing so was the ramifications beyond our view of women and gender in the Bible—important as those are. We consistently saw that we’d missed the biblical focus on how God has a heart for the marginalized, the outsider, the one with no social power. And he wants his children to do the same.
What’s your favorite section in this book?
Eva Bleeker, who wrote the chapter on Rahab, just earned her third master’s degree—this time in Narrative Medicine from Columbia University in the City of New York. She is one bright scholar. And the chapter she wrote on Rahab blew me away. She reconsiders how Rahab functions in the Book of Joshua, and in the process answers ancillary questions about genocide as the children of Israel take the Promised Land. Bleeker also shows how “God is for God” rather than taking sides in those battles.
What themes do you return to again and again in your writing?
Gender and women’s history as they relate to the biblical text come up again and again in both my nonfiction and fiction. My research keeps drawing me to subjects like “saved through childbearing” in 1 Timothy, the infertility narratives in the Old Testament, women we have misunderstood, and how God has a heart for “the other” or outsider in the world. And certainly underrepresented voices. Vindicating the Vixens is a project I’ve dreamed of doing for about ten years, so I’m thrilled to see it come to fruition. We have black, white, Arab, Australian, and American people with surnames like Maalouf and Zazueta…contributing. Having eyes on the text from those who come from underrepresented groups helps us see details we’ve missed.
How has being a writer impacted your relationship with Christ?
Being a writer has driven me continually to wrestle with the specifics of what I believe about Jesus and his call on our lives. Madeleine L’Engle used to say people asked her if her Christianity affected her writing, but she said it was the other way around—that her writing affected her Christianity. I completely agree. When I find I’ve written something vague or abstract, I realize it’s because I lack my own concrete understanding of what I’m trying to communicate. So I have to go back and nail down what I really believe before I can explain it to someone else.
I’ve found the same thing! Do you have a “day job” or a previous career? Does it influence what or how you write?
Yes, my day job is teaching in the Media Arts & Worship department at Dallas Theological Seminary. I teach an on-site course in medieval art and spirituality in Italy; creative writing and writing for publication courses; one on gender that looks hard at women’s roles in the church; and I co-teach a course in sexual ethics. Not all during the same semester, of course.
The reading I must do in these fields influences both what I write and what I see missing, which helps generate ideas. Additionally, in my course on writing for publication, I try always to make myself do what I require my students to do. So if they have to send a book review to a periodical, I make myself send one too. I never want to forget how much courage it takes to keep bouncing back after rejection—but also how fun to receive the message that someone has accepted my article.
What do you read for pleasure? What are you reading right now?
Those are two different questions! Ha! I’m in the middle of three academic works on gender and Christianity; but that’s because I have to keep up with new releases in my academic field. As for what I read for pleasure, I’m always reading a classic novel—at the moment I have Don Quixote by my bedside. (Not my fave by page 678. Looking forward to finishing it.) And usually something on the bestseller list or Pulitzer list. So in the car, I’m listening to Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. I just finished listening to the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, and also one on great minds of the Medieval World (and not just the Europeans). I also try always to attend the biennial Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. That always provides me with a fabulous reading list.
Do you have pets, and do they inspire your writing or hinder it?
We have two cats. I’m a dog lover, and my husband is a cat lover; so for the first sixteen years of our marriage, we could not agree on pets. But in a moment of weakness one year on his birthday, I told him to go get a kitten. And he ran out the door before I could change my mind. Shadow and Jewel are not terribly cuddly—until I start writing. Then they like to step on my keyboard, mess up my papers, and generally demand attention on their terms. They have stolen my heart, but don’t tell my husband I love cats now.
That’s because cats rule. Please tell us about your next project, Sandra.
I’m already thinking about volume two on the same topic as Vindicating the Vixens—there are so many examples of people we’ve misunderstood!
That sounds wonderful, Sandra! Thanks for sharing with us today.
To learn more about Sandra and her books, please visit Sandra’s website.
Writing for Him,