A Butler colleague of mine who I also had as a professor for his Historical Jesus class recently released a brand new book, What Jesus Learned From Women.
I sent a photo of the cover to a female friend of mine who said, “Jesus, God incarnate, needed to learn something?” This is likely the response James expects to hear.
Of course, Christians shouldn’t be opposed necessarily to the idea that Jesus learned things. After all, Luke 2:52 notes that “Jesus increased in wisdom,” and the author of Hebrews says that Jesus “learned obedience.” Additionally, we affirm that Jesus was truly human while simultaneously being truly God. But what presuppositions might be hidden behind such a question? Is this a “gotcha book” that claims Jesus isn’t actually God? My inclination is to say no. I don’t think Jesus’ deity will be explicitly rejected in this book. I expect that it will likely be affirmed only as a faith conviction and not something an historian can claim with any certainty. That’s my hypothesis of the author’s position.
So what does that mean this book is about? Here’s what the back cover explains:
“Dehumanization has led to serious misinterpretation of the Gospels. On the one hand, Christians have often made Jesus so much more than human that it seemed inappropriate to ask about the influence other human beings had on him, male or female. On the other hand, women have been treated as less than fully human, their names omitted from stories and their voices and influence on Jesus neglected. When we ask the question this book does, what Jesus learned from women, puzzling questions that have frustrated readers of the Gospels throughout history suddenly find solutions. Weaving cutting edge biblical scholarship together with an element of historical fiction and a knack for writing for a general audience, James McGrath makes the stories of women in the New Testament come alive, and sheds fresh light on the figure of Jesus as well. This book is a must read for scholars, students, and anyone else interested in Jesus and/or in the role of ancient women in the context of their times.”
So we get the sense that the book goes beyond what Scripture says explicitly to try to piece together connections between Jesus’ interactions with women and Jesus’ actions in the world. So on one hand, hopefully there’s much that everyone can affirm; and on the other hand, there will likely be conclusions that not everyone will agree on. I expect to both agree and disagree with James at various points throughout his book.
I received this book for free from the publisher, Wipf and Stock, for an honest review. Though I’ve had it a few days at this point, I’ve only had a chance to read the Preface. Besides having a connection with the book’s author, I also have a connection with the student who first gave James the idea for this book, as I took Religious Pluralism with her and also had her as a student in a career course that I teach. McGrath explains that she approached him to help with her honors thesis and independent research “that would allow her to explore two things that she had previously felt were in tension, her Christian faith and her feminism” (ix).
I was encouraged by a mutual acquaintance to blog my way through James’ book instead of merely posting an overall general review as I normally do on Instagram and Facebook. So that’s what I’m going to do. Ideally I plan on reading a chapter each week and then writing about it here. My point isn’t to begin reading it with an agenda to disprove its claims, though I know that James and I have divergent beliefs and affirmations about a few particular things already.
So if this sounds at all interesting to you, then please join me on my journey through What Jesus Learned From Women.