Be Your Own Bible Scholar

All you have to do is think like a Bible character.

Pamela Tamarkin Reis is an amateur scripture scholar whose unconventional interpretations of Torah stories have been printed in prestigious Bible journals. Armed with a good knowledge of biblical Hebrew, she's reinterpreted some perplexing stories that have challenged established scholars. Her collection of essays, "Reading the Lines," was published in 2002.

Should people just take off and study the Bible on their own? A lot of people are doing just that, of course. You seem to have had success working independently.

There's the idea that you don't really need an intermediary to interpret the Bible for you, you can do it yourself. It's a Protestant idea, and I think it's true in many cases, if you read very carefully.

Your book indicates that modern biblical scholars don't always take into account the psychology of Bible characters.

Absolutely, especially if the Bible characters are women. I found it almost shocking, certainly annoying, to see how ignored women are by the majority of Bible scholars. It's true that the men are far more important in the Bible than women are. They're the heroes of the situation, but women are nevertheless involved. It seemed to me that women were ignored except as a partner for the men, a foil for the men.

Latterly, there have been women Bible scholars and they do pay attention to the biblical women. But I don't like their work, because in it, women were without fault. Every woman that the scholars looked at was just better than the next. I said, "This can't be." The men in the Bible are shown to be sly, conniving, lying, cheating, but the women are without fault? I don't think so!


In your readings, you work out that women are often behaving very shrewdly, for their own ends--sometimes meritorious ends, sometimes not so meritorious.

I wanted to paint both men and women as having warts. I consider myself a feminist, but not the kind who says the men are always wrong and the women are always right. Otherwise, they're just too good to be true, and If they're not true, they're not there. Let's have life the way it is.

You spend a lot of time trying to think like the characters, trying to get into their head space.

Exactly. I try to drop the 21st century. I try to think, "How would a person feel if that happened to them?" And then I try to feel that way, and when I do, I can better understand the characters, men and women.

In my book there's a chapter called "Take my wife, please." Three times in the Bible, twice with Abraham, once with Isaac, it happens that they're in a country where they fear the ruler will kill them because the ruler desires their beautiful wife. To save their own lives, they say to their wives, "If anyone asks about you, say that you're my sister." They do this so that if the ruler wants the woman, he doesn't have to kill the man to get her. She can be taken for a payoff.

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