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.

When I read other exegetes' explanation of this, they concentrated on poor Abraham, poor Isaac, look what a fix they're in. Not one said anything about how the women felt.

I thought about it. It's true that no ruler has ever desired me (laughs). But twice it's happened that my husband and I have been dining out, and a man at a different winked at me repeatedly. Such that I had to say to my husband, "there's a man over there winking at me." I don't know what I expected my husband to do, and I'm sure his life didn't feel threatened. But I do know that I did not expect him to walk over to the man and say "You want her? You can have her."

Or "She's my sister."

Right. Once you're married, there's some possessorship, some obligation that develops. When Abraham said yeah, you can have her, she's my sister, and the king gave him a lot of oxen or whatever, I think those women felt bad. So when I realized that, I thought "I wonder how they made their husbands pay." Because in the economy of marriage, you don't just forget about things like this.

When I looked at the text from that point of view, I could see not only how the women made them pay, but how the people they tricked made them pay--in one case, the Egyptians, in another, the Philistines. I could see how that trick worked out on the domestic level and national level. Also, I could see how it worked on the literary level. I understood why all three stories were necessary., It's very difficult to make people believe that this incident happened three times.

When you're just reading the Bible you do think, along with the source critics, that "uh oh, there must have been just several sources, and they were all put together. The redactor didn't feel competent to privilege any one over the other, so he threw in all three of these stories." But I worked it out that all three stories were necessary. It's like a game of 3-D chess: how players move on the top chess board also affects how they move on the second and third board. The three stories work together as a device. And I could understand why source critics were at a loss to explain why three different, but so similar, stories were included.

The Bible's author has such a brilliant and subtle mind