Sisters at the Well: Women and the Life and Teachings of Jesus

Sisters at the Well tells the story of each woman in the four Gospels who came to Christ’s well. Through these stories, the book allows us to see how Christ regarded women then and now.

With no claim to offer the “definitive or final word” (3), the Holzapfels offer lay readers a fresh perspective on what it meant to be a female and, especially, a disciple at the time of Christ. They make a welcome contribution to a general reader’s insight. For example, the story of the woman with an issue of blood who is healed by Christ (Mark 5:25–34) is enhanced by the authors’ explanation of the strictures regarding ritual impurity, the probable economic impoverishment of the chronically ill, the garments Jesus might have been wearing, the social code regarding male! female touching or speaking in public, and a linguistic analysis of the Hebrew word shalom (100–103). Multiply this incident by the many miracles, encounters, and teachings involving or directed at women in the Gospels, and you have an idea of what the Holzapfels offer in this volume.

An interesting chapter discusses Jesus’ “atypical” female progenitors. Other chapters consider women in the parables; women Jesus met “along the way”; and women in their roles as wives, mothers, and daughters. Three chapters feature women as disciples and allow us to see the Lord’s equal acceptance of women and men in this regard. The chapter on women as witnesses of the Passion is revealing and insightful. Initial chapters attempt to place the women of Palestine in the context of the Greco-Roman-Judaic world of their time.

Interested readers will appreciate the bibliography of sources which lists ancient and modern editions of the Bible and other texts, standard reference works, recent feminist volumes, periodicals, and many LDS contributions. The extensive footnoting, however, is sometimes distracting and not always useful. Photos of ancient artifacts add credibility, but the line drawings are less helpful.

Because of Jesus’ teachings and example, the Saints of the early days learned that a woman was “not less because she was female and not meritorious only if she was married and biologically capable of bearing children” (153). The Holzapfels have no axe to grind and incite no gender-based animosity. They conclude that men and women must be one in Christ, but they insist on our recognition that women were demonstrably among the first and most faithful disciples to drink from the well of living water.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 34:4
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