- by Mount Saint Mary College
Sr. Barbara E. Reid, OP

Sr. Barbara E. Reid, OP, a Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids, Mich., presented “Portraits of Biblical Women: Then and Now” on Wednesday, February 5 at Mount Saint Mary College.

Sr. Barbara E. Reid, OP kicked off Mount Saint Mary College’s Catholic and Dominican Institute Spring 2020 speaker series with “Portraits of Biblical Women: Then and Now” on Wednesday, February 5.

The presentation viewed the story of Jesus through the often-misinterpreted eyes of three women named Mary in His life: His mother, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene.

Sr. Reid described three common interpretations, or lenses, through which the Bible is read. These interpretations – historical-critical, narrative-critical, and rhetorical-critical – shape the way in which the text and messages they convey are interpreted by the reader. She then invited the audience to don a fourth pair of lenses for her talk: the feminist-critical lens. The feminist-critical lens, she explained, highlights movements in the text that recognize “inequities toward women, and advocates for changes in structures that prevent full flourishing of human beings and all creation.”

Using this feminist-critical lens, Sr. Reid highlighted how these three women held important roles within Jesus’ story, though they are often understated in English translations of Scripture. By unpacking what the original biblical language said about these women, she peeled back some of the common misconceptions about their roles. For example, Sr. Reid showed how the Annunciation, when the mother of Jesus was told she would bear the Messiah, actually has close connections with Old Testament stories of God preparing a new prophet for mission. Using examples like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Moses, Sr. Reid pointed out the parallels between these two stories, then illustrating how Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived out this prophetic calling throughout the rest of the Gospels.

Armed with this knowledge, Sr. Reid illustrated how these roles are communicated in Saint John’s Bible illuminations. The illuminists, who were cognizant of these hidden roles for the three Marys, highlighted them in unique artistic ways. At the conclusion of the presentation, attendees had the opportunity to see these illuminations up close, thanks to the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition, owned by Mount Saint Mary College, that was on display at the event.

Sr. Reid concluded the presentation by encouraging the audience to continue this lens of Biblical interpretation on their own as they read the other Gospel accounts. “I invite you not to take them [the feminist-critical lenses] off,” she suggested. She also encouraged the attendees to take action from what they read in the Bible and allow this lens to “lead us to act for the flourishing of women, men, and all creation.”

Sr. Reid holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a master’s degree in Religious Studies from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich. She has been a professor of New Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union since 1988, where she also served as vice president and academic dean from 2009 to 2018.

She has led may study tours and retreats in the Holy Land and is past president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America (2014-2015). The author of nearly a dozen books and many articles, she is also general editor of the 58-volume commentary on the Bible, Wisdom Commentary Series by Liturgical Press, for which she is writing the volume on the Gospel of Luke.

The Saint John’s Bible is the only handwritten and illuminated Bible produced in more than 500 years. Using medieval inks, materials, and methods, an international team of artists and calligraphers worked for 15 years to create the seven volumes that comprise the Saint John’s Bible. Commissioned by the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey, the Bible contains 160 major hand-gilded illuminations that encompass many artistic styles, often mixing modern motifs with traditional religious imagery.

Mount Saint Mary College is proud to own the full seven-volume Heritage Edition set of the Saint John’s Bible, a fine art reproduction that captures the original down to the smallest details.

The event was co-sponsored by the Saint John's Bible Committee and the Catholic and Dominican Institute (CDI). CDI promotes the Mount’s heritage of St. Dominic, advances the Dominican charism of study and service, provides a forum for discussion of contemporary ethical issues, and enhances Catholic and Jewish dialogue. The Institute welcomes persons of varied faiths and acknowledges different religious traditions as essential to the college’s intellectual and spiritual life.

Educators, houses of worship, and other organizations interested in hosting Saint John’s Bible related programs should contact Sanderson, who will help facilitate such events. He can be contacted via email at

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