Feminist Scholarship on the Old Testament
- LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2014
- LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0020
- LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2014
- LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0020
Feminist scholarship on the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible has its historical roots in various women’s movements throughout the ages, especially in the first women’s movement of the 19th century. It became a systematic academic endeavor only in the 1970s, when the second feminist movement took hold in Western-Northern societies such as in the United States. It was then, in the 1970s, that feminist scholars with formal academic credentials in the fields of biblical, theological, and religious studies grounded their scholarship in the demands, challenges, and insights of the second feminist movement. This movement gained strength, prominence, and power during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and came to define itself as the continuation of the first women’s movement of the 19th century, when feminists fought for the women’s suffrage, often in conjunction with the abolitionist movement. With the reemergence of feminist voices in the 1970s, after almost seventy years of silence, repression, and forgetfulness, women no longer lacked academic, intellectual, and scholarly credentials, unlike earlier generations of feminists who had faced systematic exclusion from social, political, economic, religious, and educational institutions. Now, for the first time in Western societies, feminist Hebrew Bible scholars examined, deconstructed, and reconstructed androcentric assumptions, biases, and perspectives in biblical literature and the various histories of interpretation. They used the standard scholarly tools, procedures, and methodologies practiced in the academic field of biblical studies. Importantly, feminist scholars placed women, gender, and sexualities in the center of their exegetical work. The field in the early 21st century includes feminist exegetes from around the globe who connect gender analysis with other social categories such as race, class, and geopolitical location. Since the early 1970s, then, feminist scholarship on the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible has produced new ways of thinking about, learning from, and reading the sacred texts of Christianity and Judaism and the extensive histories of interpretation.
There are several introductory overviews of feminist scholarship on the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible. Laffey 1988 and Schottroff, et al. 1998 focus on textual interpretation, and Schüssler Fiorenza 1993–1994 and Scholz 2007 organize the field historically and thematically. Important conceptual proposals come from Fuchs 2008 and Milne 1997, and Jost 2014 offers a survey of German feminist works in biblical studies. A compilation of feminist exegetical positions can be found in Mbuwayesango and Scholz 2009. Scholz 2013, Scholz 2014, and Scholz 2016, all anthologies, review, synthesize, and evaluate the field of feminist Hebrew Bible studies. A pioneering collection of articles, Trible 1982, gives insight into the feminist exegetical circumstances in the 1970s. Bible and Culture Collective 1995, informed by postmodern assumptions, presents an accessible guide to various new methods, theories, and critical practices in biblical studies, including reader-response, structuralist, narratological, post-structuralist, rhetorical, psychoanalytic, feminist and womanist, and ideological criticism.
Bible and Culture Collective. “Feminist and Womanist Criticism.” In The Postmodern Bible. By Bible and Culture Collective, 225–271. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.
This article presents feminist and womanist criticism as a challenge to scientific, objective epistemological claims and to essentializing discourse on “woman.” The discussion aims to define biblical interpretation as socially, politically, and institutionally located discourses about systems of domination and their critiques.
Fuchs, Esther. “Biblical Feminisms: Knowledge, Theory and Politics in the Study of Women in the Hebrew Bible.” Biblical Interpretation 16.3 (2008): 205–226.
Important theoretical discussion that proposes to understand the developments in feminist biblical studies within the paradigms of feminist studies in general. Relying on centripetal and centrifugal approaches to feminist knowledge, theory, and politics in reading the Bible, the author aims to reposition feminist biblical scholarship as “political engagement for epistemological transformation” (p. 225).
Jost, Renate. Feministische Bibelauslegungen: Grundlagen—Forschungsgeschichtliches—Geschlechterstudien. Internationale Forschungen in Feministischer Theologie und Religion 1. Münster, Germany: LIT Verlag 2014.
Written by a leading feminist Old Testament scholar in Germany, this 432-page book presents, critically interrogates, and reflects on a personal level the development of feminist biblical exegesis in the German-speaking contexts and beyond since the 1980s.
Laffey, Alice L. An Introduction to the Old Testament: A Feminist Perspective. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.
This first feminist introduction adheres to “traditional” structures of the Christian canon (Pentateuch, Deuteronomistic History, major and minor prophets, writings) and comprehensively features women characters and stories.
Mbuwayesango, Dora, and Susanne Scholz. “Dialogical Beginnings: A Conversation on the Future of Feminist Biblical Studies.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 25.2 (2009): 93–143.
This “roundtable discussion,” published in the leading journal of feminism and religion, presents an innovative and future-oriented conversation among feminist biblical scholars, bridging geographic, racial, religious, and linguistic differences. The conversation took place during the 2008 Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Boston.
Milne, Pamela J. “Toward Feminist Companionship: The Future of Feminist Biblical Studies and Feminism.” In A Feminist Companion to Reading the Bible: Approaches, Methods, and Strategies. Edited by Athalya Brenner and Carole Fontaine, 39–60. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 1997.
An indispensable outline of the history of feminist biblical scholarship in North America, discussion of the reasons for the ongoing marginalization of the field, and a plea for nonconfessional, feminist, biblical, scholarly discourse.
Scholz, Susanne. Introducing the Women’s Hebrew Bible. London: T&T Clark, 2007.
This book introduces the history of feminist Hebrew Bible studies, scholars, and methods; the theme of sexual violence; and the range of feminist postcolonial interpretations. Includes biographies and description of four feminist biblical scholars: Phyllis Trible, Athalya Brenner, Elsa Tamez, and Marie-Theres Wacker.
Scholz, Susanne, ed. Feminist Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Retrospect. Vol. 1, Biblical Books. Recent Research in Biblical Studies 8. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2013.
The first anthology of the three-volume series, consisting of fourteen essays that review, synthesize, and evaluate feminist interpretations of the various Old Testament books. A few books are treated individually, such as Genesis and Song of Songs, while most are discussed in clusters such as Exodus to Deuteronomy, First and Second Samuel, and Proverbs, Job, and Qohelet.
Scholz, Susanne, ed. Feminist Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Retrospect. Vol. 2, Social Locations. Recent Research in Biblical Studies 8. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2014.
The second anthology of the three-volume series, containing fourteen contributions that review, synthesize, and evaluate feminist interpretations of various social locations. Two main parts differentiate between geographical areas, such as feminist readings from Africa and East Asia, and between various hermeneutical locations, such as those coming from lesbian, ecofeminist, and secular contexts.
Scholz, Susanne, ed. Feminist Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Retrospect. Vol. 3, Methods. Recent Research in Biblical Studies 9. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2016.
The third anthology of the three-volume series, offering nineteen essays that review, synthesize, and evaluate feminist interpretations based in various exegetical methods. The book is structured into four parts (“Prolegomena: Methods as Hermeneutical Constructs,” “Feminist Readings behind the Text,” “Feminist Readings within the Text,” “Readings Feminist in Front of the Text”) to guide readers through the plethora of feminist exegesis, as it has emerged since the 1970s.
Schottroff, Luise, Silvia Schroer, and Marie-Theres Wacker. Feminist Interpretation: The Bible in Women’s Perspective. Translated by Martin Rumscheidt and Barbara Rumscheidt. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998.
The authors systematically present the stories of women in both testaments, uncover androcentric tendencies, and highlight biblical traditions that empower women. Three areas of investigation organize the work: the historical, hermeneutical, and methodological foundations; a feminist reconstruction of the history of Israel; and a feminist reconstruction of early Christianity.
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth, ed. Searching the Scriptures. 2 vols. New York: Crossroad, 1993–1994.
A landmark in biblical scholarship, this book includes the work of feminist scholars from around the world and combines both a hermeneutic of suspicion and a hermeneutic of revision.
Trible, Phyllis, ed. Special Issue: The Effects of Women’s Studies on Biblical Studies. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 7.22 (1982).
One of the first scholarly publications that presents the emerging work of feminist Bible professors, from the 1980 centennial meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.
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