“You may have to drag me away from this podium because I’m very excited about what I’ve been learning from my research.”
So began Professor Amanda Benckhuysen as she presented some highlights at a recent Seminary Town Hall event for the book she is writing for Intervarsity Press.
The purpose of her research is to recover the forgotten voices of women writing about biblical texts from centuries past when women were denied a place at the tables and in the halls where Scripture was seriously studied, including universities and the church.
She introduced Anna Maria van Schurman, a 17th century Dutch woman who had the exceptional encouragement of her father to pursue education. In fact, she was one of the first women to graduate in Europe, having taken her degree from the University of Utrecht.
But the accommodation she had to accept as a female student was to sit behind a screen in the lecture halls. Not seen and not heard, but listening and learning nevertheless.
Van Schurman was the exception to the norm that persisted for centuries. But in spite of many barriers, women were reading Scripture and expressing their deepest thoughts about God’s Word in their lives.
Yet if the theological textbooks and commentaries don’t record women’s contributions, where can these voices be found? In the prayers and poems they were inspired to record—and that’s where Benckhuysen has been digging.
Another woman Benckhuysen is studying is Christine de Pizan (1364-1430), who wrote a poem called “Letter to the God of Love.”
De Pizan was taught that women were responsible for the fall of creation because of Eve’s sin in eating fruit from the forbidden tree. But in her poem, de Pizan wondered if the Creator himself is being demeaned by judging Eve as a damaged creature who led Adam into sin. She wondered if demeaning the work of creation that God declared very good was, in fact, demeaning the Creator.
Instead, because both male and female were created in the image of God, the imago dei—image of God—was the birthright of men and women bestowed by God himself.
From these and several other examples, Benckhuysen is giving special attention to reflections on the first three chapters of Genesis from which a second-class status for women has been embraced through much of history.
What Benckhuysen found striking is that these devout women, many centuries ago, found culture to be the culprit in limiting women’s full potential in the church and society, not Scripture. In their reading of the Bible, God’s Word for their lives, they received hope and dignity.