March 22, 2012

[BOOK REVIEW]: Biblical Beauty


For advice on mascara and skin care, turn to…the Hebrew Bible? In a time when women turn to Vogue and Cosmopolitan for makeup and fashion tips from Hollywood, should we look to a different source? In the self-published Biblical Beauty: Ancient Secrets and Modern Solutions, Rachelle Weisberger proposes a return to the ancient Hebrew Bible and its famous women for modern beauty solutions.

Those with an interest in the history of cosmetics and beautification will find Weisberger’s book well-researched and engaging. Her writing flows between ancient practices and modern products, such as when she describes eye liner: “The eye makeup known today by the Arabic name of kohl, and called by its Hebrew name pukh in the Bible, was a pasty black substance similar in consistency to modern mascara. It was used to create the signature ‘cat eye’—a look that has been adapted by contemporary women from Audrey Hepburn to Angelina Jolie” (p. 42). As technical as makeup can seem, with breakdowns of the chemical compounds and ingredients in each product, Weisberger makes such information accessible to the casual reader.

Weisberger divides the book into two sections. Her first section, titled “Outer Beauty,” looks at how women of the Hebrew Bible, including Bathsheba, Deborah, and Rahab, may have enhanced their external beauty. Although she admits that “detailed descriptions or depictions of physical beauty do not appear in the Scriptures” (p. xii), Weisberger nonetheless infers parallels between these women’s beauty habits with modern-day applications.

She divides each external beauty topic into “Ancient Secrets,” based upon her chosen biblical figures, and “Modern Solutions,” based upon her research and years of expertise. For example, in her treatment of skin care, she notes that Deborah announced her judgments while sitting under a palm tree and surmises that the Israelite judge chose such a shaded location to protect her skin from dryness and wrinkles. From this basis Weisberger presents her advice for selecting and applying sunscreen.

Weisberger’s chapter “Healthy Aging” offers her most compelling work in the first section on outer beauty. She paints Sarah as the “single greatest beauty in the Bible,” (p. 119) and after reading descriptions of Sarah drawn from the Dead Sea Scrolls and from those found in rabbinic lore, one would find it difficult to disagree. To establish her case that Sarah’s diet, daily physical activity, and purposeful existence enhanced her beauty in advanced age, Weisberger interfaces the archaeological evidence with the biblical text well. She traces the use of wheat from 9000 BCE to the cakes that Sarah prepared in Genesis 18:6 and also advocates a high fiber diet from descriptions of the Israeli diet found in Deuteronomy. Her modern solutions for healthy aging include recipes and exercise tips, but her section on seeking a meaningful life provides the most insight.

In her second section, “Inner Beauty,” Weisberger addresses issues in motherhood and feminine leadership. She provides biblical examples of these topics and cites the progress women have made in recent years toward gender equality. She recalls the biblical Esther and her role as queen of Persia in saving the Jewish people: “With the fate of her people resting on her, Esther displayed courage and conviction” (p. 162).

From this springboard Weisberger mentions prominent women today, including Margaret Thatcher, Martha Stewart, and Oprah Winfrey. Rather than state an opinion about how one might recognize her own personal inner beauty, Weisberger presents examples to look towards. With such detailed information on how a woman ought to apply makeup or use beauty products, Biblical Beauty offers considerably less detail on how a woman ought to seek biblical inner beauty.

For those seeking a deeper biblical basis for using cosmetics or other beauty enhancements, Biblical Beauty may disappoint. Weisberger’s sections on modern solutions, however, include well-researched historical and archaeological facts that give insight to those wanting to understand the background of products and practices in use today.

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