Professor publishes book on Old Testament women


PROFESSOR AND AUTHOR — Japinga hopes that her new
book will help pastors’ difficult stories about biblical women. (

Who was the “medium” at Endor?

Dr. Lynn Japinga of Hope College’s religion faculty is hoping to teach readers that she is not a “Star Wars” character from the forest moon inhabited by Ewoks but actually a figure from the Old Testament. She is doing so in her new book entitled “Preaching the Women of the Old Testament”.

The new book by Japinga explores the stories of more than 40 women featured in the Old Testament, ranging from Eve and Ruth to others not even named, like the “medium”.

Published earlier this year by Westminster John Knox Press of Louisville, Kentucky, the book is designed as a resource for pas- tors who want to know more about the many women of the Old Testament. It teaches pastors how to better incorporate them into their sermons, but it also is accessible to the layperson seeking new insight into individuals who Japinga notes haven’t always been fully or fairly considered.

“The preacher who chooses to explore these texts faces some significant challenges,” said Japinga, who is also an ordained minister and a specialist in the history of American religion and feminist theology.

“First, people know very little about women in the Old Testament and what they think they know is often wrong,” she said. “The preacher often needs to deconstruct what people think they know about the text, particularly the stories about Eve, Bathsheba, Delilah and Jezebel. Second, preachers and commentators throughout history and down to today have read their own assumptions (and, of-ten, their own prejudices) into the text.”

Each of the women discussed in the book receives her own chapter. Some of the stories, like the familiar tale of Ruth and her devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi in the Book of Ruth, are uplifting. Others, like Jephthath’s sacrifice of his daughter in Judges 11, are not.

“The biblical stories function as a mirror to say something true about human experience, both in the ancient world and in the 21st century,” Japinga said. “They can be horrifying and depressing. People dominate, hurt and abuse each other, both then and now. The stories also show people being courageous and graceful and resisting evil.” For example, Japinga out lines the story of the “medium” of Endornamed simply for the village in which she lived in Lower Galilee in ancient Israel. Seen in 1 Samuel 28, the medium was capable of summoning spirits and brought the deceased prophet Samuel at the request of Israel’s King Saul, who sought advice for a battle with the Philistines the next day. God had stopped communicating with Saul, and Samuel’s angry spirit confirmed that Saul had fallen from God’s favor and would die in the fight. Saul was distraught and hadn’t eaten all day, and the woman, seeing that he was terrified, insisted that he rest while she fixed a meal for him and his servants.

The story isn’t in the lectionary, and commentators, Japinga said, have frequently dismissed the medium “as either sinful or inconsequential” or have even suggested that her power came from demons or Satan.

The biblical text, Japinga said, doesn’t criticize the medium at all. Instead, she said, the woman modeled compassion and might be interpreted as a source of grace, even when God seems absent.

“Saul received genuine com- passion and hospitality and communion from an unlikely source,” Japinga said. “The woman saw his exhaustion and confusion and offered understanding, sympathy and food. She chose to be gracious and caring, not because she was commanded to do so, but because she saw Saul’s pain and responded to it. God is mostly absent from the story, even though Saul desperately sought God’s advice and approval. But perhaps God was present in this ‘last supper’ between the two of them.” Readers and pas- tors can expect to find similar explanations and discussions in Japinga’s book.

Japinga graduated from Hope in 1981, completed a Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1984 and completed her doctorate at Union Theological Seminary in 1992.

Readers can find her book on the Amazon website.

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