In October I received a free review copy (from Cedar Fort Publishing) of the book Walking with the Women of the New Testament, by Heather Farrell ( beautiful art by Mandy Jane Williams). I knew right off the bat that my review would be biased. Heather Farrell and I, along with Felice Austin, Robyn Allgood, and Sheridan Ripley, co-wrote The Gift of Giving Life from 2009 until it was published in 2012.
I found Heather’s blog Women in the Scriptures back in 2009 doing an internet search about Eve. After clicking around on her blog and devouring a bunch of her posts, I told Felice, “We need her!” Not long after that, we invited her to join with us in writing The Gift of Giving Life. Over the course of the project, we eventually all met in person. I adore Heather Farrell.
Even though I’m not exactly unbiased, I hope you’ll still find this book review valuable. I tried to approach the book through the lens of what an ordinary woman might think, but… truth be told, I couldn’t keep that up very long. I found myself thinking pretty much every time I sat down to read it: Oh I love you, Heather. I heard the whole book in her sweet voice in my head as though she were right there teaching me. And I learned so much.
Walking with the Women in the New Testament is introduced with a quotation Heather has also displayed at the top of her blog: “The greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ” (James E. Talmage). Though I have seen this quotation many times on Heather’s blog, I don’t think I really got it until I was reading Heather’s book. At a time when women were often ignored and treated with little respect, Jesus Christ was unlike any other man. I love these quotes from the book’s introduction:
“The Gospels record his [Christ’s] ability to step outside the perspective of a Jewish male to see women simply as individuals. In a society where women were not allowed to study the scriptures, he taught the Samaritan woman at the well and he excused Mary from serving with Martha in order to study things of more value. Women were not permitted to function as legal witnesses, yet he allowed women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection” (Katherine H. Shirt).
“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last as the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man–there never had been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; . . . who took their questions and arguments seriously; . . . who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend” (Dorothy Sayers).
As I delved into Heather’s book and the lives of these women, I was astounded to finally understand how much Christ respected women. I think it’s hard for us, so removed from Biblical culture and customs, to recognize how radical and remarkable His behavior toward women (and children) was. Jesus Christ loved women. And women loved Him deeply in return.
Every section of the book, every woman’s story, I found myself thinking… that one was my favorite. I feel like I have a bunch of new friends who lived two-thousand years ago. Two, in particular, touched me deeply.
First, Mary Magdalene. As I was reading about Mary Magdalene, my eyes eventually found their way to some words I recognized. Hey, I got quoted in someone else’s book! Nevermind that she’s my friend… it’s still cool, right? But even if I wasn’t quoted in this section, I think I still would have been very touched by Mary’s story. Heather writes, “While we don’t know the details of Mary Magdalene’s infirmity, we might deduce based on what we know of the others whom Christ healed from evil spirits that she was tormented with some sort of mental infirmity. The fact that she had seven devils cast out of her suggests that her infirmity may have been severe” (p. 77).
Heather explains that Christ called Mary “Magdalene” (meaning “tower of strength”) probably in much the same way that he called Simon “Peter” (meaning “rock”). After her healing, Mary became a devoted follower of Christ and a likely “tower of strength” to those around her, including Christ Himself. Of all the people Christ could have appeared to immediately after His resurrection, He chose Mary Magdalene.
Being a woman who struggles with “mental infirmities,” I gather peace from Mary’s remarkable recovery. If Christ can turn an infirm and darkness-plagued Mary into a “tower of strength,” maybe then there is hope for me too?
The other story that touched me deeply was the woman taken in adultery. Heather gives historical and cultural details about this story that I had previously been unaware of. But these details make the story all the more powerful and beautiful. Women who were merely suspected of adultery (regardless of guilt or innocence) were subjected to horrific and humiliating ordeals under Mosaic law. Heather goes into detail about these harsh practices in her book. Then, she says, “If this was how a woman who was only suspected of adultery was treated, I can imagine that the treatment given a woman who was ‘taken in the very act’ must have been especially harsh” (p.100). Based on common practices, Heather suggests that this woman was likely naked or partially naked, tied tightly with a cord, forced to stand in the middle of the temple for all to see, and condemned to die.
And, when presented with this scene… a naked sinner being observed and judged by the crowd, Christ chose not to look. Instead, He wrote on the ground. Heather writes, “We don’t know what He wrote or why He wrote it, but it lets us know that when everyone else’s eyes might have been staring at this woman in her nakedness, Christ kept His eyes averted. In a gesture of consideration for her, He ‘wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not’ (John 8:6).” I have always assumed that there was so much more to this story than what little we have available to us in the Bible. Heather’s insight helped me understand some of those missing pieces so much more clearly, and all of this just made me love Jesus Christ all the more.
I think that’s the greatest thing about Heather’s book. In reading her insights about these women’s stories, I came to know and love Jesus Christ in a way I hadn’t before. This love is a beautiful gift to have received after so many months of darkness and infirmity, feeling disconnected from God. As I worked my way through Heather’s book, I was separately and simultaneously crawling out of my own darkness, reaching for Christ more earnestly than I had ever reached for Him before. If you want to come to understand and appreciate who Jesus Christ was, Walking with the Women of the New Testament will help you get there.
Something else I love about Heather’s book is how accessible it is. The brief sections, helpful explanations, and beautiful artwork make it ideal for introducing girls and teenagers to the women in the scriptures. I went 30+ years before I ever really knew who most of these women were, but I imagine my spiritual life and my relationship with Christ would have benefited so much from becoming “friends” with these women in my youth. I love teaching my daughters about them.
If you’d be interested in winning a FREE copy of the book, you still have two days to enter the Goodreads giveaway! Enter HERE.