Mother Goose, Mother Jones, Mommie Dearest: Biblical Mothers and Their Children

Mother Goose, Mother Jones, Mommie Dearest: Biblical Mothers and Their Children

Edited by: Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan and Tina Pippin
Publisher: Brill Academic Publishers
Publication Date: November 2009
ISBN: 978-90-04-16927-2
Reviewed by: Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.
Review Date: June 2010

“The Bible remains a paradigmatic text in the West for exploration and analysis of human and divine relationships,” writes one of the contributors to this anthology. “In some contexts, the authority imputed to the Bible makes it normative and definitive (within specific communal interpretative frameworks). In other contexts, the biblical text represents normalization of hierarchy and androcentrism.” (pg. 23) The target audience of this interesting collection of scholarly essays that use references to pop culture to discuss biblical and modern motherhood seems to be, first, African diasporan, Bible-reading, Protestant Christians and, second, those who somehow missed 20th-century feminism. That’s a pretty large readership.

After the mothers in the title are explained in introduction, the book opens with two essays on subjects of great concern to the modern world—father-daughter incest and rape-marriage. Madeline McClenney-Sadler describes how she has been led to a church whose pastor has been raping his two daughters while his wife does nothing to protect the girls. The church, of course, gathers around its pastor and hires a lawyer to defend him. McClenney-Sadler takes the side of the younger girl and testifies on her behalf. In her examination of incest, she cites Leviticus 18 and concludes, "Mothers of incest victims must reclaim the Levitical authority given to them to consider it, take counsel, and speak out … when their rights and the rights of their daughters are violated. Their efforts must be supported and not subverted by those who seek to maintain the father’s right to be the king of his castle, even if he behaves like a barbarian." (pg. 19) Considering how often social workers are forced to deal with brutal fathers and enabling mothers, this is good advice.

If incest is not new, neither is rape-marriage. As Wil Gafney writes, the early Hebrews captured women “for the purposes of Israelite progeny,” that is, to get more children for the tribes. The Hebrew tribes invaded Canaan and raped the women, Naomi gave Ruth to Boaz so he could show his power and have heirs. The legionaries of early Rome captured the Sabine women (humorously retold in the movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), African slaves were regularly raped by their owners, and today women around the world are raped both as a show of power and to “provide progeny for an alien culture.”

Other essays compare Bart and Marge Simpson to Sampson and his unnamed mother; examine the use of anesthetics in modern childbirth in opposition to God’s curse on Eve; and compare the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 with the mother in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer, Mommie Dearest as seen by Joan Crawford’s adopted children, and Mother Courage. Other essays consider the sexy god who impregnates barren women and becomes the lover modern evangelical women sing to and write about; Jesus as Jerusalem’s mother hen, but “hardly an ancestor of Big Bird”; and black working mothers like Julia, Florida Evans, Louise Jefferson, and Claire Huxtable, as compared to unwed mothers, hot mommas, and hoochie mammas.

One contributor does a neat little riff on Mother Goose. “What seem like little rhymes,” Mignon R. Jacobs writes, "offer perspective on reality and an underlying message. We recite these rhymes as children, but the lessons transcend childhood. The Mother Goose rhymes are so unassuming in their mode that most miss the wisdom and ideology communicated through them." (pg. 82) But Tina Pippin writes that some of the rhymes open up as “Hitchcockian nightmares.” She “always felt an apocalyptic chill” when reading them. She also offers a wonderful survey of winged beings (including Lilith and other archaic bird goddesses) and “birds gone wild.”

Quill says: Although some of the essays in this book are so highly exegetical as to be almost incomprehensible, most of them are worth reading. Even for readers who are not part of the target audience, there is much to be learned here.

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