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The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths [Hardcover]

Charlotte Gordon
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

July 28 2009
The saga of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar is the tale of origin for all three monotheistic faiths. Abraham must choose between two wives who have borne him two sons. One wife and son will share in his wealth and status, while the other two are exiled into the desert. Long a cornerstone of Western anxiety, the story chronicles a very famous and troubled family, and sheds light on the ongoing conflict between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds.

How did this ancient story become one of the least understood and most frequently misinterpreted of our cultural myths? Gordon explores this legendary love triangle to give us a startling perspective on three biblical characters who--with their jealousies, passions, and doubts--actually behave like human beings.

THE WOMAN WHO NAMED GOD is a compelling, smart, and provocative take on one of the Bible's most intriguing and troubling love stories.

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Review

"Thoughtful...Gordon examines all the familiar features of the story but pays particular attention to the human feelings of jealousy and distrust that affected the trio....She offers perceptive insights into an ancient story whose consequences continue to reverberate."—Judith Chettle, Richmond Times-Dispatch

"A unique look at the Old Testament relationships between and among Abraham; his wife, Sarah; and his mistress, Hagar....Most interesting is Gordon's focus on the exiled, shamed, and shadowed Hagar, whom Gordon elevates to a mystic and prophet....Complex and multilayered....The story speaks to the 21st century....General readers with even a casual interest in religion and its impact on history, as well as on current events, will appreciate the lens through which the author peers."—C. Brian Smith, Library Journal

"Here and there on the front lines of the clash of civilizations, we can glimpse a few pockets of compassion....Gordon implores her readers to ask one of those "what-if" questions that reframe all of our conventional wisdom: "What if Abraham had chased after his mistress and firstborn son, begged Sarah to forgive his betrayal, and urged Hagar to forgive Sarah's jealousy, so that they might raise their sons together? Would we be any better at living in peace?" Gordon's provocative question hints at a more intimate aspect of the story of Hagar. .....The Bible, it has been said, is the least-read best-seller of all times. But there is a whole literature devoted to reconsidering the ancient text, a literature that is full of shocks and surprises, wholly unexpected cross-wirings of religious traditions, and illuminating flashes of insight and wisdom. On that shelf you will find Gordon's book, a superb example of how to approach the Bible."—Jonathan Kirsch, truthdig.com

"A refreshing viewpoint...Gordon focuses on the roles of Sarah and Hagar, Abraham's wife and concubine, and mothers to two great nations. Acknowledging the short shrift given these two remarkable women, the author provides a closer examination of their roles....Gordon adds something new to an already full body of scholarship on Abraham."—Kirkus Reviews

"Provocative...Gordon gives new power to a woman often left in the shadows. Focusing on Hagar's vision of God in the desert, Gordon argues that Hagar is a prophet and a mystic who names God El-Roi, or "the God of my seeing"....Gordon provides some glimpses of the power of Hagar's story for modern religions."—Publishers Weekly

Praise for Mistress Bradstreet:

"Gordon tells Anne Bradstreet's gripping tale, including hardships and delights, in a clear, lively style."—M.S. Mason and Rebecca Salomonsson, Christian Science Monitor

"A thorough, occasionally whimsical, and hearteningly feminist take on the life of early Puritan pioneer and pundit Anne Bradstreet.—Kirkus Reviews

"A vibrant, engaging, realistic portrayal of early colonial Massachusetts and of its fascinating biographical subject."—Ray Olson, Booklist (starred)

"Gordon has a clear engagement with Bradstreet, and the major accomplishment of this lively biography is in showing that she is as exceptional a person as the 17th-century New England she lived in."—Michael Kenney, Boston Globe

About the Author

Charlotte Gordon graduated from Harvard College and received a Master's in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in History and Literature from Boston University. She has published two books of poetry and, most recently, the biography Mistress Bradstreet, which was a Massachusetts Book Award Honor Book. From 1999-2001, she taught at Boston University's School of Theology. Currently, she is an assistant professor of English at Endicott College.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent study book July 25 2009
By Wyn TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This is an absolutely wonderfully researched historical study book. It is not a historical fiction story. It is written in a thesis/dissertation manner with careful references to how the 3 different religions have viewed the relationship between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. I discovered many things that I didn't realize about them and by "humanizing" them, Ms Gordon has brought to mind many emotional points that makes one ponder. Like, how did Sarai really feel about being offered to the Pharaoh. Was Hagar a member of Pharaoh's family or an Egyptian serving girl? Did Sarah ever regret sending Hagar out of the camp? Did Abraham? How have the different religions treated the relevence of God's prophecy during the night of the animal sacrifice. She has studied the different books of the Bible, Torah, and Koran as well as the many articles that have become part of the religions over the centuries. I found it well written, thought provoking, and being a woman, I was also pleased that someone took the time to investigate their relationship from a woman's point of view. Although it is about Sarah and Hagar and their relationship with Abraham, there are also chapters devoted to only Abraham and how his actions and experiences helped or hindered his relationship with his family and followers. Because it left me wanting to go off and explore some of the points for myself, I give this 4 stars.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent study book July 25 2009
By Wyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an absolutely wonderfully researched historical study book. It is not a historical fiction story. It is written in a thesis/dissertation manner with careful references to how the 3 different religions have viewed the relationship between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. I discovered many things that I didn't realize about them and by "humanizing" them, Ms Gordon has brought to mind many emotional points that makes one ponder. Like, how did Sarai really feel about being offered to the Pharaoh. Was Hagar a member of Pharaoh's family or an Egyptian serving girl? Did Sarah ever regret sending Hagar out of the camp? Did Abraham? How have the different religions treated the relevence of God's prophecy during the night of the animal sacrifice. She has studied the different books of the Bible, Torah, and Koran as well as the many articles that have become part of the religions over the centuries. I found it well written, thought provoking, and being a woman, I was also pleased that someone took the time to investigate their relationship from a woman's point of view. Although it is about Sarah and Hagar and their relationship with Abraham, there are also chapters devoted to only Abraham and how his actions and experiences helped or hindered his relationship with his family and followers. Because it left me wanting to go off and explore some of the points for myself, I give this 4 stars.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning, eye-opening examination of an ancient story July 28 2009
By Kamran Pasha - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Charlotte Gordon has performed a great service with this remarkable scholarly analysis of the tragic love story at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Her sensitivity to what the figures of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar mean to believers in these great faiths is matched with her fearless scholarship. Ms. Gordon makes the ancient scriptural tale of Hagar and Ishmael's exile into the desert gripping and real for modern readers. And her willingness to go back to original sources to challenge dogmatic views of this sacred story is refreshing and sorely needed at a time when faith is too often mixed with fundamentalism and anti-intellectualism. As a practicing Muslim, I was delighted by her fair and compassionate portrayal of Hagar, the ancestral matriarch of Islam, and was grateful to see how respectful she was of the example that Hagar provides for modern times, both as a strong woman and as a symbol of human freedom and dignity. And Ms. Gordon's analysis of the deeply complex personalities of Abraham and Sarah make these holy figures accessible and believable to modern readers. She takes away the "idolatry of perfection" that has often veiled these scriptural figures from believers and makes them flesh-and-blood human beings who share our passions, flaws, fears and hopes. Abraham and his wives and children become living examples for us today, rather than plastic saints with no relevance to our personal moral struggles in our daily lives. "The Woman Who Named God" provides a much-needed examination of an archetypal story which defines the identities of billions of human beings, and I hope the both believers and non-believers will read this book and learn why the story of Abraham and his family still matters today.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, fascinating story July 29 2009
By Audax - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you're interested by the history of religion and what's behind it, this is your book. What's amazing about this book is that it's made a lot of theological and historical scholarship really fascinating and compelling, a story that I couldn't stop reading. There's also a wonderful women's perspective on what's often been an all-male story. I'd recommend this book to anyone, and I already have. I feel like I know the situation of the present-day Middle East better because I read this.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Changed the way I read the Bible Dec 30 2009
By Alex Smythers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The beginning of the book alone is worth the price of admission!
I have been reading the Bible and teaching Sunday School for many years and found the research and interpretation to be excellent. This is a crucial time and set of stories in the history of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Oral and written traditions from all three faiths are carefully explained, then combined to render thoughtful and fascinating interpretations of individual words and stories that make up the similarities and subtle differences between the faiths. All this may sound very "heavy," but the stories and reflections are done so well that the book is very readable and enjoyable. I recommend it highly and hope it will make you think about religion and the Bible in new ways.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully Insightful Aug. 19 2009
By M. Galuski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a Christian and as a teacher who has taught about the semitic religions, I thought I knew the story of Hagar and her legacy in her son Ishmael, however, I realized after reading this book that my knowledge was only surface. This is a fantastic read for anyone interested in reading not just about women of the bible, but of women in history. The author has done a wonderful job gathering her information and telling the story of Hagar's life that will leave you wondering why this book hadn't been written before this.
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