Book Review: “The New Perspective On Mary And Martha” By Mary Stromer Hanson (Wipf & Stock, 2013) -- By: Judith A. Diehl
Book Review: “The New Perspective On Mary And Martha” By Mary Stromer Hanson (Wipf & Stock, 2013)
Judith A. Diehl did her PhD work at the University of Edinburgh and currently teaches New Testament and hermeneutics at Denver Seminary. Married, with two grown sons, she has had an interest in gender issues for decades. Her other areas of interest include the Gospels and tools of biblical interpretation.
Recently, as I was listening to a Christian radio station, the female announcer shared that she was feeling guilty about her busy life. She made reference to the biblical “story of Mary and Martha,” typically feeling at fault because she was not taking ample time to “sit at Jesus’ feet” properly. She went on to say that Martha had it wrong because she was more concerned about her chores than she was about being in the presence of the Lord. These two sisters are examples, one positive and one negative.
I drew a deep breath. My first reaction was shock at the self-reproach expressed, and then I was horrified to realize that a multitude of women were listening to the radio station, as I was, and were exposed to this inadequate and potentially damaging interpretation of a “familiar” New Testament story.
Mary Stromer Hanson’s recent publication is written for pastors, teachers, church leaders, and interested laypeople. It is particularly enlightening for Christian women and proves to be a valuable teaching tool as well as a call to ministry for women. As a teaching tool, Hanson’s book demonstrates that we must learn to use good hermeneutical methods to understand biblical characters and their stories correctly. As a call to ministry, Hanson has challenged women to see both Mary and Martha as different role models than we have previously been taught.
Hanson is right: Mary and Martha “have become a cliché over the centuries. The mere mention of these two names brings up visions of sisters squabbling over the kitchen work” (3). Over the years, laypeople and biblical scholars alike have stereotyped the Bethany sisters into erroneous “role models” for Christian living—one sister is vilified while the other is complimented. Such interpretations have cast unnecessary burdens on women who carry around an armload of guilt because they have incredible responsibilities to attend to in this life and are unable to spend a great deal of time “sitting at the feet of Jesus.” Hanson’s book is a much-needed starting point in the process of unlearning what we thought we knew about Mary and Martha and a relearning process as it pertains to the New Testament narratives. Certainly, a fresh look and a new perspective on these characters are overdue. Mary Hanson has employed both good history and good hermeneutics. She opens with a historical reflectio...
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