Over on Love, Joy, Feminism, Libby Anne has been reading Created To Be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl. Over and over again, it’s struck me how much emphasis is placed on wifely submission. A godly wife should never ever criticise or question her husband, writes Pearl. Never to him, and certainly never to anyone else. The only exceptions she makes are when a husband tries to force his wife to do something illegal or he is molesting children, though even then she can only report him to the police. In nearly every example Pearl gives, the wife must still remain loyal to her husband and never badmouth him. Throughout the book, she claims biblical authority for her message.

David and Abigail, by Antonio Molinari

David and Abigail, by Antonio Molinari

And then there’s Abigail.

Abigail is the opposite of what Pearl teaches in nearly every way. When she sees her husband acting the fool, she leaves her home to meet David. She essentially tells David not to take guilt upon himself avenging the slight made by an idiot – a man so foolish that that’s even his name! She acts without her husband’s authority and publicly criticises him in pretty much the strongest terms imaginable. And for this, she is described as a woman “of good understanding” (1 Sam. 25:3).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I did a search on the Pearls’ website (NoGreaterJoy.org) for “Abigail” and found no hits. Debi Pearl does, however, devote a little apologia to Abigail in Created To Be His Help Meet.

Right from the start, she diminishes Abigail’s agency in the story:

The workers left behind to keep the home place feared that their selfish, evil master was going to get them all killed, so they appealed to Abigail to save their lives. Abigail took the advice of the men her husband had left in charge of overseeing his home.

While still disobeying her husband, in Pearl’s version of the story, Abigail is acting on the advice of men – men her husband put in charge. In a weird, convoluted way, the situation is set up in such a way that Nabal really gave her two separate implied commands (refuse David, and obey the overseers). Abigail can’t do both, so her rebellion is not in going against her husband’s wishes, but rather in choosing which of his wishes to obey.

Pearl then highlights that Abigail returned to her husband, even though she might face consequences for her betrayal. That’s fairly standard Pearl, unfortunately.

As Libby Anne writes about the story:

You know what Abigail doesn’t do? Mourn for her husband. She goes straight to David after her husband’s death, breaking all of the customs of the time. So let’s get this straight. Abigail sides with her husband’s enemy, bad-talks her husband up and down in public, and gives her dead husband the finger by refusing to mourn his death. And yet she gets a pass from Debi.

But it’s in the Bible and Abigail is never described as “wicked,” therefore she must have been good. In PearlWorld, it’s our job to figure out how she can still be good despite contradicting so much of their ideal of “biblical womanhood.”

This episode is an extreme example of what I’m enjoying so much about this project. I grew up as a Quaker in a Catholic area, so my biblical instruction was rather lacking, to say the least. As a consequence of that, what I’ve heard of the Bible (and the oughts one may draw from it) all come from atheists and the most vocal Christians – the vast majority of whom are evangelical fundamentalists. Both groups seem to have it as their mission to present the Bible as simplistically and negatively as possible.

Reading about a woman as strong and independent as Abigail – who steps right around her incompetent husband to get’r done herself – illustrates just how much more complex the biblical view of women is than both the fundamentalists and atheists give it credit for.