Kelley Nikondeha – Defiant – Characteristic Assessment

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The drum of defiance

A functional check by

Defiant: What the women of the Exodus
Teach us about freedom

Kelley Nikondeha

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2020
Buy Now: (Amazon) (Kindle)

Reviewed by Alisa Williams

I read Defiant: What the Exodus women teach us about freedom from Kelley Nikondeha the same month that Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor's murders ran national news, the same week as George Floyd's murder, when protests broke out across the country on the same day the police brutality and the constant struggle in this country that black men and women are seen and treated as equals with white people.

When I started reading, I did not know that Nikondeha's words in this book at that time would be both a prophetic lament and a call to Christian women, a call to action to show solidarity against today's forces of injustice.

In Defiant, Nikondeha brings the stories of the women in Exodus to such a profound relief that I burst into tears in every chapter and saw the struggle of these women against the seemingly insurmountable circumstances. I see that the same struggle is reflected in the lives of women who fight for social justice in a big and small way, whose work is ungrateful and whose names are largely unknown.

Nikondeha calls us to learn the stories of the Exodus women, to really know and understand them, and we do so through their meticulously researched and beautifully woven narrative. The biblical accounts serve as a basis, but Nikondeha also relies on rabbinical literature and the Koran to provide information about these little-known women, who she explains were the core of the social justice movement of their time.

"I examine the women in the Exodus narrative as a scripture student and as a woman hungry for justice," Nikondeha wrote in her introduction. She continues: "My method for this book is fairly simple: exegesis, meditation, and imagination" (7).

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Different chapters of the Exodus are introduced in each chapter: Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed, Bithiah, Miriam, the seven sisters of Midian and Zipporah. Nikondeha also talks about the modern-day Miriams and recent past that have fought for social justice: Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Emma González, Ahed Tamimi and more.

In her profile of the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, Nikondeha first of all points out to the readers how important it is who is mentioned in this story and who is not. "In Hebrew, the narrator tells us who has a consequence in this scene and not … the king has no name … it is Shiphrah and Puah who receive the honor of a mention. We should pay close attention to the midwives rulers come and go, their names hardly matter, but write down the names of these women, Shiphrah and Puah, in memory. ”(27) These women resisted Pharaoh's order to kill the boys, an act which Nikondeha calls sacred defiance. When discussing this act of civil disobedience, she writes:

“Many Christians say we should obey the government at all times and in all things. Romans 13 is often quoted as if it were a universal statement about citizenship and governments. But Paul, the apostle he was, still wrote as a citizen of Rome, a man in a patriarchal world, someone who was educated and therefore had a level of privilege that was not granted to most, especially not to Hebrew women on the Nile. In this groundbreaking incident in Exodus, we see that fear of God can look like lying to the powers that support death ”(33).

"& # 39; Let the girls live," said the pharaoh. It would be the beginning of his downfall – to underestimate the women, "Nikondeha writes in the last paragraph of the chapter by Shiphrah and Puah. And we see that this underestimation of the Exodus women recur as their sacred acts of defiance are seen only by God and each other, working in the rustle of the river reeds, in the stillness of the night, and even within the walls of the opulent palace where Pharaoh ruled. As Nikondeha says "Women move the liberation arch forward in the shadow of the patriarchy" (76).

I was particularly impressed by Nikondeha's discussion of Miriam and how she carried a drum – not a tambourine, since the passage is often misinterpreted. She writes: “The women were trained musicians, skillful and persistent to keep a rhythm over the reed sea. They composed the victory songs and lamentations and stood at the center of the procession from captivity to freedom and catalyzed the community to sing ”(171).

"We are all descendants of Miriam with work, songs to sing and liberation to practice until every pharaoh is dethroned and every prisoner released," writes Nikondeha (182). And when the book ends, she repeats this and gathers today's women to accept our calling and each other in acts of holy defiance:

"We are Miriam's descendants. So it is time to compose more songs of freedom and more time for drum circles. It is time for us to progress together to lead our communities out of bondage, shortage and injustice.

It is our turn to carry Miriam's drum ”(184).

I found Nikondeha's book catalyzing, inspiring and deeply moving. It is a book that feels both timeless and divinely inspired for that moment. And it has made a new prayer in my heart for the women in my life – and for me – that the rhythm of the drums we beat for social justice resonates in the bones of those who think we are not strong enough or capable enough. That their eyes be opened to the need for this work and that they stand next to us to keep the rhythm and sing the songs that scream against injustice.


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