Photograph by David N Martin/ © MKphotography

'Fierce-ass' women of the Bible

Photograph by David N Martin/ © MKphotography

Photograph by David N Martin/ © MKphotography


Ready to meet some “fierce-ass” women of the Bible?

Alice Connor is a campus minister at the University of Cincinnati, Episcopal priest, and debut author. Her book Fierce: Women of the Bible and Their Stories of Violence, Mercy, Bravery, Wisdom, Sex, and Salvation was just published by Fortress Press.

I’m proud to say that Alice is also my friend. Here is the endorsement I wrote for her book:

Riess endorsement

But don’t just take my word for it (cause, like I said, we’re friends). Old Testament heavyweight Walter Brueggemann raved about it too:

Brueggemann endorsementIf you like a good story, read on as I talk with Alice about the book. --JKR

RNS: There are lots of books about women in the Bible. Why’d you write this one?

Alice Connor: I wrote this because I am sick of a) the stories of women in the Bible being ignored (which is a little harsh; we do read about some of them, but for the most part the stories we tell are masculine); and b) the feminine story being only about a woman as a wife and mother. I am a wife and a mother, and I could definitely be better at both those things, but that’s not all that I am.

And for the most part, that’s not what the Bible stories are about. They’re about being a wife and mother only because the women in that era, and in many eras, are wives and mothers, but that is the veneer on what the writers and what God is trying to tell us with their stories.

61LKICShqWL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_RNS: Can you give me an example?

Connor: Ruth’s story would seem to be entirely about being a wife and mother. It’s a sort of romance novel where she and Boaz fall in love, and she provides a grandchild/child for her mother-in-law Naomi. And it’s not not about that, but it’s also about how we care for each other.

Specifically, it’s about Naomi and Ruth caring for each other—Ruth refusing to leave her, in contrast to Orpah, and Ruth’s labor that she does when they get to Israel. That’s why Boaz is attracted to her, when he sees how she labors to care for her mother-in-law. And so the beginning of their relationship, it’s about how Boaz is caring for her. Maybe there’s a sexual component in the beginning, but he sees her and knows she is a woman of kindness and truth, and he tells her to drink water, to take grains from the stalks rather than the stuff that falls to the earth. It’s an allegory for fertility and the nation of Israel feeling dead in a lot of ways, and coming back to life in the coupling of Ruth and Boaz. In the Jewish tradition it’s read at Shavuot, the festival of the harvest. It’s all about plenty, and coming back to life in a time when it feels like everything is dead and dying.

So it’s very much a story for women, but it’s not just about women. It’s for everybody, because everybody needs that experience of coming back to life.

RNS: You have a great chapter on Song on Songs, which you say is the only book in the Bible that’s written by a woman.

Connor: Yes, as far as we know anyway. She speaks in the first person in the text, with no framing sequence. There’s nowhere else in scripture where that happens. Here we get her unmediated thoughts and desires.

Song of Songs is a really good example of how scripture is R-rated, but it’s not light and pretty and fun. Mostly it’s not. We Christians have a habit, particularly recently, of making Christian films that teach good moral messages about being kind. They don’t have swearing, and there’s no nudity. It’s not that they don’t deal with weighty things, but they do so in a simple way. I don’t think that’s fair to scripture.

If you were to go back and read any of these stories I’m telling in the book, but also most stories in scripture, they’re pretty dirty. I mean literal dirt and metaphorical dirt. And we skip that. The story of Noah’s Ark gets done in nursery paper and cute books for kids with little round, fat animals and rainbows. You can probably find some of those books in the library here in this room [gesturing to the church library where we’re sitting]. And the dove, and the cute little ark. Those things are in the story, yes, but the story is about destruction, and God’s repentance that God made us. That’s not cute and childlike. It’s always been odd to me that we use that as a children’s story. Not that we shouldn’t tell them the story, but it’s the cleaning up of the story, the making it sweet, that bothers me.

I connect that in my head with my friends who feel as though they can’t go to church because they’re not good enough. Certainly, I also have many friends who don’t go to church because they just don’t believe in God, but I also have friends who feel they can’t come to church because they’re not clean inside. Which should be the complete opposite of what the church is like. This is a hospital for sinners.

So taking scripture seriously means taking our lives seriously as well, that we are not perfect. And that that’s OK. So were all these big names of the faith. And they have something to say to us about how to live in that space of imperfection.

RNS: What’s your favorite chapter?

Connor: [laughs] I don’t know that I have a favorite one. The one that makes me cry every time is Hagar. There’s a particular line that does it. She gets sent out into the desert twice, once by Sarah and the second time by Abraham. After the first time, she comes back. The second time, she still survives, and becomes a sort of grandmother of Islam. But while she’s out there with her one bottle of water, she wanders in the desert, carrying her water in one hand and her son in the other, the one load getting lighter while the other gets heavier. I cry because of how many women right now are doing that, who are in places where there is no hope and no life. And they might die in that space of hopelessness.

RNS: Who do you most want to read this book?

Connor: All the people ever! I want to fix everything!

No, I’m hoping to reach people who are in the church who either haven’t read or heard of these stories, or would be positively challenged by hearing a different interpretation of them. People who are ready to hear that.

And I wrote it with my unchurched friends in mind, not because I wanted to convert them, but because I wanted to try to get across my love of these stories to people who don’t know them or who have rejected them. The story God is telling is not one-dimensional.


  • Buy the Book from Amazon here
  • Visit Alice Connor’s website here
  • Listen to a podcast here about women and the Apostle Paul



  1. Excellent! I look forward to reading it. The centuries of diminishing the role of women needs to be remedied and I’m delighted that Alice Connor is one of the writers taking that work on.

  2. If the story of Ruth in the Hebrew Scriptures is the only example this provocateur can offer us, then she’s depending on a really lame example! Ruth was certainly no “kick-ass” woman. In humility she reaped the leftovers from the edges of Boaz’s fields. She was friendly and pleasant to Boaz, who came to be her husband. Ruth promised never to leave Naomi, mother-in-law from her dead husband. This is pure rubbish! There’s nothing fierce or feminist about Ruth. She was an exemplary woman who simply took the initiative to change her situation and not live in isolation and poverty like the widows of her time.

  3. Hey Lefty-Babe, see my comment above. A better example for Alice Connor would have been our girl Jezebel! That’s not to deny that men in the Old and New Testaments didn’t say and do things that grossly diminished women, but it’s really a mixed message to claim that women of the Bible fought back. They didn’t!

  4. “took the initiative to change her situation and not live in isolation and poverty like the widows of her time.”

    And that, Sabei, was a very courageous action in that time.
    There was Rebecca, who defied legal conventions of her time to ensure that her younger son gain the inheritance, rather than the older. Judith (I believe) drove a stake through Holofernes’ head to save the Jewish people. The hemorrhaging women risking crowds to touch Jesus’ clothing, etc.

    The thing is restrictions on Jewish women were so restrictive and tightly ordered in that time, similar to the most restrictive Talibanesque laws today. Their actions seem minor, at best, to us, but the risks were great, sometimes even their very lives were at stake. They deserve a great deal of respect for what they did.

  5. The actions Ruth took were courageous; they may have been even considered gutsy for their time. “Kick-ass” they were not!
    Rebecca would have been kick-ass has she upset the system tremendously has she demanded that Laban relent and allow her to be married first in place of Leah. Helping Jacob gain Esau’s birthright was just the ordinary practice of womanly wiles to gain something via deception!
    To me, Heroditus comes the closest to being a kick-ass woman, when she coached her daughter the dancer to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a plate!

  6. It’s seems to me Sabeio, that you tend to give the women little credit for doing things that could have gotten them killed. At any rate . . .

    An adult woman without a man in Ruth’s time often died. She had zero legal existence, so zero rights. Risking one’s life is very kick ass.

    Review Rebecca’s actions and the reason behind them. (You’re confusing Rebecca and Rachel) God spoke directly to Rebecca, telling her what must happen. It was not “ordinary practice of womanly wiles to gain something via deception!” Confronting Isaac and demanding that Esau be disinherited would have failed so Rebecca had to use the only tools available to her, her wits, to carry out the will of god. Again, keep in mind that what she did was a stoning offense.

    It’s important to keep in mind the terribly harsh restrictions women of that time lived in when viewing their behavior. These things required tremendous courage at risk of life and limb.

  7. Lefty-Babe, you seem to want everyone who reads these RNS discussions to know that you’re the smartest woman on here! I also notice that you have a big need to be right! So–in the effort to bring this tortured conversation to a close, I offer you this:
    ALL of these were real KICK-ASS WOMEN! ALL took risks that could have gotten themselves killed with their heroic actions. And God, well she was the instigator! She spoke directly to each one–including Jezebel and Heroditus, telling them what must happen. Had they taken up the sword and killed all the men they knew in cold blood, well that would have met with the approval of their female deity!
    Hurray for ALL the kick-ass women of the Bible, from Eve forward! Hurray for the kick-ass women of the Dark Ages and all those in the Middle Ages. Hurray for all of them we have around today! Hurray for the kick-ass women of the Democrat party! Hurray for Hilliary Clinton and her brilliant work through the Clinton Foundation! Hurray for Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, Patty Murray and Maxine Waters–kick-ass Socialist women in Congress! Hurray for all those kick-ass women yet to born from between now and the end of time!! Hurray for the female fetuses that have been aborted throughout history, and will be aborted between now and eternity!
    There, are you satisfied? (BTW, I’m guessin’ you’ve enjoyed multiple divorces during your adult life! You seem to lack most of those long-wearing communication both sexes need to make a marriage work!)

  8. Nope, never a divorce. 41 faithful years.

    If sharing information I know makes you upset, and it certainly looks that way judging by your responses, then I guess you’ll have to find a way to cope. I’ve learned lots of things because I’m very curious, perfectly willing to learn from others who know things I don’t, and absolutely open to recognizing when I’m wrong. Those 3 items are the keys to learning, which I continue to do because it’s fun.

    I’m focused on learning on this site, I have learned, and there is even more that I will learn here. I’m going to carry on.

  9. This is a timely work that I’m looking forward to reading. I’m the author of Cease & Desist, a radical YA thriller about Jeanne d’Arc the Roman Catholic Saint.

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