Because so many women in the Bible are unnamed and even those who are named are often ignored by interpreters or portrayed as negative, I welcome Rev. Dr. Kanisha L. Adkins’ inspiring, informative book Less Than Virtuous—More Than Capable: Affirmations for Everyday Women. The title of the book refers to the unnamed woman in Proverbs 31, well known as the “virtuous woman.” I grew up in church hearing this woman praised as perfect in everything she did in her career, community, and family; she sounded like an impossible model to follow.
It’s refreshing to read Dr. Kanisha’s book that lifts up named women in the Hebrew Bible, some familiar and some overlooked, not as unattainable models of perfection but as women with flaws as well as many strengths. She invites all of us to explore the struggles and strengths of these women and to claim their strengths in our lives.
Less Than Virtuous—More Than Capable comes in the form of a daily devotional and journaling book. Each entry includes a Scripture passage that names a woman, “Her Story” told from her point of view, “Strength Affirmations” to empower us, and several pages for us to write about how we are affirming or will affirm these strengths in our lives.
In her Introduction Dr. Kanisha makes clear her purpose of focusing on the strengths of these biblical women, too often “portrayed in less than flattering and idealistic terms” or having significance only in “their relationships with sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles and masters.” Seldom are these women the “main characters of the stories” not just men’s wives, concubines, sisters, daughters, or mothers. In many of the stories the women never speak, and in some only the name of the woman is mentioned. Dr. Kanisha uses her “sanctified imagination” to give each woman a story, to give her voice and agency. Each story is told from “the woman’s point of view” and encourages us to embrace her strengths as our own.
Less Than Virtuous—More Than Capable begins with Eve, perhaps the most maligned biblical woman. Eve is well known, even to those who know little of the Bible or who want nothing to do with the Bible. Throughout centuries, people have distorted Scripture to blame Eve for all the sins of the world. Still today, women suffer much from these misinterpretations that many people still use to justify patriarchal, misogynistic, exclusive practices in church and society. Rev. Dr. Kanisha sets the record straight with her accurate interpretation of Adam’s shared blame for eating the forbidden fruit. But her focus is on Eve’s strength as a life-giver. Her depiction of Eve reminds me of If Eve Only Knew, by my friends Dr. Kendra Weddle and Dr. Melanie Springer Mock. They also present Eve as a strong woman who chose life, even with pain, emphasizing her life-giving power.
Also, I’m grateful to Rev. Kanisha for affirming Delilah, Rahab, and Orpah as women with strengths. Too often distorted characterizations of these and other women in the Bible still support a negative narrative about women, contributing to prejudice and discrimination against women and girls. This book is much needed to counter this narrative so that all the gifts of women and girls will be valued and nurtured.
In sermons and Bible lessons, I’ve always heard Delilah cast as the villain and Samson as the hero. But Rev. Kenisha commends Delilah as “a woman who knew how to persist until she found out the truth.” The affirmations following the story lift up Delilah’s strengths for us to emulate: “I am unshakable and determined. I will persist until I find the truth.” The Bible refers to Rahab not simply by her name but as “Rahab, the prostitute” (Joshua 6:25), again leaving women and girls without a positive model to follow. But Rev. Kanisha has the insight to present Rahab as a savvy businesswoman who knew how to negotiate to save her life and the lives of those she loved. In the biblical story of Ruth, Naomi, and Orpah, Ruth takes center stage, and most interpreters praise Ruth for following Naomi to Bethlehem and judge Orpah for returning to her homeland of Moab. But Rev. Kanisha makes Orpah the leading character, and affirms her admiration, respect, and love for Naomi, leading her to take Naomi’s advice to go back: “Orpah went back—back to her mother’s home, back to her people, back to the life that was best for her.” From this postcolonial viewpoint, Orpah is a positive character who holds to her religious and matrilineal traditions rather than assimilating into Israelite culture. Orpah is a good model for many women today who also struggle to survive in patriarchal, racist cultures and, like Orpah, try to keep their identities and traditions.
Another strength of Less Than Virtuous—More Than Capable is that it gives voice to women denied a voice in the Bible. For example, Dinah suffered the devastating violence of rape by Shechem, but in the biblical account we never hear Dinah’s voice. Her rapist Shechem, Shechem’s father, her father Jacob, and her brothers Simeon and Levi all get to speak in the story, but Dinah doesn’t get to express her feelings about being raped. In Dr. Kanisha’s telling of the story, Dinah’s feelings of outrage and fear are front and center. We read the story from her point of view as a strong woman who struggled against her rapist, and cried out against him to her family. The “Strength Affirmations” following the story remind me of the current #metoo movement: “I will speak the truth if I am abused. I will not be silent if I am mistreated.”
Less Than Virtuous—More Than Capable includes some of my favorite biblical women, such as Shiphrah, Puah, and Miriam, all of whom I’ve featured in hymns. Rev. Kanisha gives the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah the credit they deserve for thwarting the evil Pharoah’s plot and saving Hebrew baby boys. Rev. Kanisha writes that “while he was focused on death and dying, Shiphrah and Puah were focused on life and living.” Instead of the familiar emphasis on Miriam as Moses’ sister who helped save him from another of Pharoah’s plans to kill Hebrew boys, Rev. Kanisha celebrates her as a gifted prophet and leader of the Exodus: “Miriam was one of the most gifted women among her people . . . one of God’s mighty prophets.”
I was also delighted to find Achsah and the Daughters of Zelophehad in Less Than Virtuous—More Than Capable. I first learned about Achsah in a sermon, “Womanist God-Talk: Ask for What You Want,” by Rev. Kamilah Hall Sharp, co-pastor of The Gathering, A Womanist Church. Rev. Kanisha in this book also affirms Achsah for her initiative in getting what she deserved: “Achsah, like her father, was not shy about getting what she believed she had a right to have.” In Badass Women of the Bible, by Rev. Dr. Irie Lynne Session, the other co-pastor of The Gathering, I discovered the daughters of Zelophehad: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Rev. Dr. Kanisha, like Rev. Dr. Irie, lauds these sisters for bringing about change in unjust laws so that women in the Israelite community could inherit land. Rev. Dr. Kanisha affirms them as advocates and trailblazers: “They decided to change the system. The sisters stepped forward and spoke for themselves.”
In Less Than Virtuous—More Than Capable I learned about Asenath, Mahalath, Elisheba, Shelomith, and Cozbi. In all my years in Sunday school and church, I had never heard of these biblical women. The Bible includes only the names of these women, not their stories. Rev. Kanisha not only names these women, but uses her imagination to give them stories and feelings.
The book concludes with Rev. Dr. Kanisha’s challenge not only to “say their names,” but to learn the stories of these biblical women. “No longer should we gloss over these women as flat and one dimensional, or confine them to the role of being dependent and pitiful characters. No longer should we rush past or stumble over their names in biblical texts in order to get to more familiar names and stories.” She urges us to give these women “a chance to be fully human and to be fully engaged in their lives” and to see them “as models of strength.”
Less Than Virtuous—More Than Capable contributes to gender equality by highlighting the strengths of biblical women, and I recommend this imaginative, insightful book to people of all genders and races. Rev. Dr. Kanisha’s book is ideal not only for empowering women, but also for laypeople and pastors of all genders to use in personal meditation, Bible study groups, and sermons. Written in an accessible, engaging style, this book invites us all to affirm the strengths of these biblical women in our own lives.
Rev. Dr. Kanisha L. Adkins, an ordained Baptist minister, is a gifted writer, preacher, and public speaker who draws on her professional training to address faith, social issues and culture, as well as personal accountability, growth and development. She has served the local church for more than twenty-five years, offering her gifts of preaching, teaching, counseling and administration, as well as conference and small group facilitation and instruction. In addition to a Juris Doctor degree, she holds Master of Divinity and Social Work degrees. She is a Virginia licensed attorney with more than two decades of experience in administrative laws, conflict management and resolution. Rev. Dr. Kanisha is the author of the book Help! There’s a Judas on My Job! 9 Steps for Surviving Workplace Betrayal.