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Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male-Dominated Church Paperback – September 17, 1994


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco; Reprint edition (September 17, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060675233
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060675233
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #263,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Spong, an Episcopal bishop and best-selling author ( Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism , HarperSanFrancisco: HarperCollins, 1991), provides a courageous look at the biblical stories of the birth of Jesus, and their implications. Spong is careful to acknowledge previous scholars and to distinguish fact or knowledge from speculation. He encourages a midrashish or imaginative approach to the Gospels and points out how literalism of scripture and creed in the Virgin Mary references led to sexism in church teaching. This book is a marvelous combination of scholarly, speculative, and imaginative reflection written in language accessible to the theologically unsophisticated. Highly recommended.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“How a one-sided portrayal of the Mother of God has been used to keep real women under wraps.” (Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves)

“Spong restores a flesh-and-blood humanity to the mother of Jesus.” (Ron Hansen, author of Mariette in Ecstasy)

“A marvelous combination of scholarly, speculative, and imaginative reflection written in language accessible to the theologically unsophisticated. Highly recommended.” (Library Journal)

More About the Author

John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey for twenty-four years before his retirement in 2000. He is one of the leading spokespersons for liberal Christianity and has been featured on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, FOX News Live, and Extra. This book is based on the William Belden Noble lectures Spong delivered at Harvard.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a child, I was taught that being a Christian meant that a person had accepted Jesus as his Savior. I was also taught that this meant that all non-Christian believing persons were going to Hell. This was something that I couldn't embrace and I turned against as I grew to adulthood.
Bishop Spong's books have opened my mind and allowed me to look at what being a Christian really means. Being a Christian doesn't hinge on believing that Mary was a virgin or that Jesus was resurrected. It is based on how you live your life.
This book brought tears to my eyes because it affirmed my right to question the things I was told to accept without question.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By James T. Kent on March 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
If you have read the other reviews, you already know that Bishop Spong quckly sets aside the literal "Christmas Story" and the "Virgin Birth" in this book. Much more intersting to me, however, was his careful tracing of the crafting of what we know today as the "Christmas Story" in the order the various references were written, starting with Paul (I didn't realize his account was written earlier than the gospels).

The core of this book is Bishop Spong's combination of the few clues in the Bible with the intellectual and political currents of the day in the early church, and how they effected the moulding of the traditions we know today as the "Christmas Story" and the "Virgin Birth".

When he has finished his interesting analysis, he then adds a final chapter to discuss how he feels the developing concept of the "purity of Mary" has influenced the state of women in the centuries since, to the present day. While this is somewhat disconnected from the rest of the book, it builds on the lessons of the previous chapters, and opens up the possibility of dialog on the subject.

There is no question that this book has and will offend many Christians, but for those who are intellectually curious and like to think "out of the box", this book is a treat.
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Much of the time I feel that I am exactly the kind of person that Christians love to hate, in that I find it very hard to disconnect my brain and accept uncritically things that are clearly at variance with reality.
It was therefore a huge relief to find a theologian (and a Bishop!) who espoused the same doubts as myself, and who didn't see anything wrong with rationalism, or even being an intellectual. If Christianity is to survive it needs more people like Bishop Spong.
The book brings a reasoned, historical and thoughtful approach to bear on the issue of the Incarnation and comes to an interesting conclusion that salvages much of the mystery and majesty of Christ, while ditching the myth. It will be challenging reading for traditionalists, but they should not find their faith damaged. If anything their faith should be deepened by the removal of mythological crutches. For doubters the book should be a revelation, and make Christianity look rather more attractive.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dr. James Gardner VINE VOICE on August 7, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Shelby Spong's 1992 book is subtitled "A Bishop rethinks the birth of Jesus" and in it he hopes to concentrate exclusively on the birth of Jesus. Needless to say the good bishop manages to devote only about 50% of the book to the issue of Jesus' birth, but don't let that detract from the value of the book. Spong's discussion of the gospels in general and the resurrection in particular only add to the value of the book.

The book is divided into 5 basic parts. Chapters 1 and 2 are general in nature and discuss biblical scholarship. Chapters 3 to 5 discuss the Pauline and pre Gospel traditions. Chapters 6 to 10 are devoted to Matthew and Luke. Chapter 11 deals with Mark and John, and the remaining chapters discuss the two Marys. The notes are limited, as is the bibliography.

Throughout the book Spong continues to hammer his point that the gospels are neither history nor biography, and must be understood within their theological and symbolic contexts. Spong is right in this regard, although his own context is relatively narrow and he rarely discusses the broader issues (e.g., the astronomical background to much of the gospel texts, the influence of mystery religions, the roman/jewish interface, etc.). He can rarely be faulted for what he does say, although one might have wished that he perused some areas in more detail.

The section on Matthew covers several issues:

- On the four (sinful, foreign) women, Spong believes that "irregular sexual activity initiated by the action of the Spirit [that] enabled the promise of Israel to move forward" is what unites these women's stories and links them to Mary.

- He believes that Matthew's midrash tradition of prophesy was mistaken by later Christians to be literalized.
Read more ›
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 9, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book gives insight into an interesting way of interpreting the meaning of Biblical content and also provides its authors conclusions. I think that the title "Born of A Woman" characterizes the theme of the author's research pathway regarding the origins of Jesus of Nazereth, the man, as told in the gospels. The title does not reveal much about his conclusions regarding the negative effects of masculine church leadership and perpetuation of the 'Virgin Mary' myths which have dominated the Christian churches since their original formulation.
The reader of this opus does not have to agree with the author's conclusions. For those, like me, who feel the need to embody Christian principles in real life as important contributions to human(e) endeavor but feel skeptical in the face of literal interpretation of Biblical stories, Spong provides a lens to view the information authored nearly two thousand years ago that is refreshing and revealing. Undoubtedly, his perspective is not totally original but it is very useful to me and I think it will be to many others.
I have seen just a bit of the orthodox and fundamantalist critics of Spong's work. I can understand their points intellectually but I cannot agree with some of their intolerence toward adjusting our understanding of Biblical meaning and Christian faith as civilization unavoidably marches on.
For insight as to my thoughts as I read this book: I believe in the approach to the Bible that emphasizes seeking an answer to "What does the story mean?" Personally, I am not very interested (any more) in "Why did it happen?" or "Is it literally true?" Spong's book is aimed at impressing folks who recognize the differences among these questions and want to seek answers to all of them.
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