Biblical Studies Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
by
Hilary Lipka
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0246

Introduction

There was relatively little scholarship focusing on women, gender, and sexuality in the Hebrew Bible until the 1970s, when modern feminist biblical scholarship first started to emerge as an outgrowth of second-wave feminism. In the 1980s, feminist biblical criticism fully blossomed as a discipline, inspiring a large body of work focusing on issues such as the depiction, treatment, and roles of women, the interrelationship between gender and power, and views toward women’s sexuality in biblical texts, and what can be discerned about various aspects of the lives of women in ancient Israel based on biblical and other evidence. In the past few decades, as the body of scholarship on women in the Bible has continued to grow, it has also broadened its scope as new methodologies and hermeneutical approaches have been introduced. Inspired in part by the rise of third wave feminism in the 1990s, there has also been an increasing amount of scholarship focusing on the intersection of race, class, and ethnicity with gender and sexuality in biblical texts, and an increasing awareness of the need to include more voices from the “two-thirds” world in the scholarly dialogue. In addition to being subjects covered by those engaging in feminist criticism, gender and sexuality studies both emerged as discrete fields in the 1980s, as biblical scholars, building upon the methodological foundation established by theorists such as Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault, began to examine the social, cultural, and historical construction of gender and sexuality in biblical texts. The last few decades have seen a flourishing of scholarship on gender and sexuality in the Bible that continues to both build on these foundations and go beyond them, as scholars incorporate new approaches and methodologies from the areas of gender theory, queer studies, masculinities studies, and, most recently, intersex studies into their work, offering innovative and incisive readings that shed a vivid new light on seemingly familiar biblical texts.

General Overviews

Given the wealth of knowledge that has been gained through scholarship that has considered biblical attitudes toward women, gender, and sexuality within the larger sociocultural milieu of the ancient Near East, this article will often bring in works that look at ancient Israel within its larger geographic and cultural context. Additionally, there is a large body of scholarship that has focused on Israel’s ancient Near Eastern neighbors. The sources on women, gender, sex, and sexuality in the ancient Near East included in this section consist of a mix of general overviews, anthologies of primary sources in translation, and works that focus on specific topics. There are also several works that provide excellent overviews on women, gender, sex, and sexuality in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, any of which could serve as a fine introduction for those new to these subject areas.

Women and Gender in the Ancient Near East

The first substantial scholarship on women and gender in the ancient Near East came out in the 1980s, and with each succeeding decade the amount of scholarship produced in this area has increased exponentially. Chavalas 2013 is an anthology of primary sources in translation related to women in the ancient Near East, which includes a diverse range of Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite texts dating from the 3rd millennium to the 6th century BCE. Lafont 1999 provides an overview of the treatment of women in both ancient Near Eastern and biblical criminal law, drawing upon not only the legal collections, but also juridical texts, scholarly exercises, and letters and literary compositions as supplementary evidence of legal practice. Bolger 2008 explores the interrelationship between gender and other aspects of culture, such as social, political, and economic life, in particular cultures and periods in the ancient Near East. The articles in Stökl and Carvalho 2013 situate gender dynamics in biblical prophecy within the larger cultural context of the practice of prophecy in the ancient Mediterranean and ancient Near East. Bahrani 2001 focuses on representations of women in ancient Mesopotamia, and what they reveal about the construction of sex, gender, gender roles, and sexuality in that culture. Hoffner 1966 provides valuable insight into the construction of gender in the ancient Near East through the author’s analysis of symbols associated with masculinity and femininity used in sympathetic magical practices associated with virility and fertility. The papers in Parpola and Whiting 2002 cover a wide range of topics related to women and gender in the ancient Near East, and are especially useful for those wishing to understand the construction of gender in these cultures. Asher-Greve and Westenholz 2013 traces and analyzes the gender switch of deities and evolution of the status, roles, and functions of Mesopotamian goddesses over the course of three millennia, taking into consideration the role syncretism played in these developments. The articles in Zsolnay 2017 situate biblical masculinities within the larger sociocultural context of ancient Near Eastern masculinities

  • Asher-Greve, Julia, and Joan Goodnick Westenholz. Goddesses in Context: On Divine Powers, Roles, Relationships and Gender in Mesopotamian Textual and Visual Sources. Orbis biblicus et orientalis 259. Fribourg, Switzerland: Academic Press Fribourg, 2013.

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    Detailed study of Mesopotamian goddesses that traces their changing gender, role, function, status, and influence through several stages of historical development, taking into consideration a wide array of textual, visual, and other material and contextual evidence. Good for those familiar with Assyriology.

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  • Bahrani, Zainab. Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia. London: Routledge, 2001.

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    Both a historical and art-historical study of the representation of gendered bodies, especially the female body, in ancient Mesopotamia. There is also a discussion of the role of Babylonian women in the 19th-century European artistic imagination. Accessible to undergraduates, though some background in Assyriology is helpful.

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  • Bolger, Diane, ed. Gender through Time in the Ancient Near East. Gender and Archaeology 17. Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008.

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    Collaborative work arising from a workshop on gender at the 2006 meeting of the British Association of Near Eastern Archeologists focusing on temporal aspects of the construction of gender in ancient Near Eastern societies from the Neolithic to the Iron Age periods. Technical; good for those familiar with ancient Near Eastern archaeology.

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  • Chavalas, Mark W. Women in the Ancient Near East: A Sourcebook. Routledge Sourcebooks for the Ancient World. New York: Routledge, 2013.

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    Collection of primary sources related to women in the ancient Near East, including myths, epics, wisdom literature, medical texts, legal collections, letters, treaties, ritual texts, and inscriptions; divided into twelve chapters, each with a helpful introductory essay by a leading scholar who also did the translations. Good for all students.

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  • Hoffner, Harry A., Jr. “Symbols for Masculinity and Femininity: Their Use in Ancient Near East Sympathetic Magic Rituals.” Journal of Biblical Literature 85 (1966): 326–334.

    DOI: 10.2307/3264246Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Study of the symbols associated with masculinity (e.g., bow) and femininity (e.g., spindle) used in ancient Near Eastern sympathetic magical practices associated with virility and fertility. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Lafont, Sophie. Femmes, droit et justice dans l’antiqué orientale: Contribution à l‘étude du droit penal au Proche-Orient ancient. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 165. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999.

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    Comprehensive examination of the treatment of women in ancient Near Eastern laws using a select corpus of laws drawn primarily from Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, and biblical legal collections, supplemented by other evidence of legal practice. Technical. In French.

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  • Parpola, S., and R. M. Whiting, eds. Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East, Proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2–6, 2001. 2 vols. CRRAI 47. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2002.

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    Collection of fifty-seven papers (most in English; a few in German) presented at the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale conference, covering a wide range of topics related to women, gender, and sexuality in the ancient Near East, including several considered foundational in the field. Good for those familiar with Assyriology.

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  • Stökl, Jonathan, and Corrine L. Carvalho. Prophets Male and Female: Gender and Prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Ancient near East. Ancient Israel and Its Literature 15. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

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    Collection arising from the two meetings of the Prophetic Texts in Their Ancient Context section of the Society of Biblical Literature focusing on the intersection of gender and prophecy in ancient Near Eastern, Greek, and biblical texts. Situates biblical prophecy within a larger cultural context. Technical, but accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Zsolnay, Ilona, ed. Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity. Studies in the History of the Ancient Near East. London: Routledge, 2017.

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    Collection of ten essays arising from a 2011 conference, “Mapping Ancient Near Eastern Masculinities” at the Penn Museum, focusing on various aspects of the constructions of masculine identities in the greater ancient Near Eastern world (including Mesopotamia, Israel, Anatolia, and India). Good for those familiar with Assyriology.

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Sex and Sexuality in the Ancient Near East

There has been a marked increase in scholarly interest in sex and sexuality in ancient Near Eastern studies over the past few decades. Lieck 1994 provides a survey and an analysis of sensuality, eroticism, sex, and sexuality in Mesopotamian literature, covering a wide variety of geographic areas, genres, and time periods. The papers in Parpola and Whiting 2002 cover a range of topics related to sex and sexuality in the ancient Near East, including but not limited to Babylonian sexual potency texts, virginity in ancient Mesopotamia, the role of eunuchs, the use of aphrodisiacs and love charms, and the use of sexual metaphors and euphemisms. Biggs 1967 provides insight into at least one way that male sexual impotence was deal with in ancient Mesopotamia. Cooper 1997 considers gendered differences in expression of sexuality in Sumerian literature, and theorizes that the expression of sexuality in the Inanna-Dumuzi texts reflects a female voice, perhaps reflecting or borrowing from, and thus providing evidence of, a Sumerian genre of women’s love, courtship, and wedding songs. Peled 2010 focuses on the Hittite laws, providing a lexical and contextual analysis of terms and phrases related to sexual contexts within them, in order to provide some insight into Hittite societal sexual norms. Finkelstein 1966 discusses the handling of both coercive and consensual sexual acts with women with varying marital status in Sumerian and Akkadian legal collections. Westbrook 1990 considers laws concerning adultery in biblical and ancient Near Eastern legal collections. Scholz 2005 observes the tendency of Finkelstein, Westbrook, and numerous other scholars to classify cases of non-consensual sex in both biblical and ancient Near Eastern laws as sex offenses, adultery, or laws about marriage, when the consent or lack thereof does not seem to be taken into consideration for the punishment. In doing so, she notes, they downplay or ignore altogether the rape, and by interpreting these rapes this way they in essence act in collusion with the males who wrote these laws.

  • Biggs, R. D. Ša.zi.ga, Ancient Mesopotamian Potency Incantations. Texts from the Cuneiform Sources 2. Locust Valley, NY: Augustin, 1967.

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    Collection of incantations and rituals intended to restore sexual potency in men utilizing both physical stimulation and sympathetic magic. It includes a short introduction and copies of the texts in both transliterated Akkadian and in translation. Accessible to undergraduates, but best for those with some background in Assyriology.

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  • Cooper, Jerrold. “Gendered Sexuality in Sumerian Love Poetry.” In Sumerian Gods and Their Representations. Edited by I. L. Finkel and M. J. Geller, 84–97. Groningen, The Netherlands: Styx, 1997.

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    Contends there are discernible gendered differences in expression of sexuality in Sumerian literature, and the expression of sexuality in the Sumerian love songs (namely the Inanna-Dumuzi texts) reflects a female voice. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Finkelstein, J. J. “Sex Offenses in Sumerian Laws.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 86.4 (1966): 355–372.

    DOI: 10.2307/596493Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analysis of the handling of both coercive and consensual cases of sexual relations with non-betrothed, betrothed, married women, and slave women in various Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian legal collections and a few trial records. Very technical; good for those with some background in Assyriology.

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  • Lieck, Gwendolyn. Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature. London: Routledge, 1994.

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    Lieck utilizes a variety of methodological approaches in her study of sex and eroticism in Sumerian and Akkadian literature. The study covers a wide range, including myths, love poetry, hymns, ballads, and incantations spanning two millennia, grouped by date of composition, subject matter, and context. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Parpola, S., and R. M. Whiting, eds. Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2–6, 2001. 2 vols. CRRAI 47. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2002.

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    Collection of fifty-seven papers (most in English; a few in German) presented at the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale conference, covering a wide range of topics related to women, gender, and sexuality in the ancient Near East, including several considered foundational in the field. Good for those familiar with Assyriology.

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  • Peled, Ilan. “Amore, more, ore, re . . . Sexual Terminology and Hittite Law.” In Pax Hethictica: Studies on the Hittites and Their Neighbors in Honour of Itamar Singer. Edited by Yoram Cohen, Amir Gilan, and Jared L. Miller, 247–260. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2010.

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    Study of terms and phrases used in sexual contexts (including incest, bestiality, adultery, and rape) in the Hittite Law Code. Technical; good for those with some background in Hittitology or Assyriology.

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  • Scholz, Susanne. “‘Back Then It Was Legal’: The Epistemological Imbalance in Readings of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Rape Legislation.” The Bible and Critical Theory 1.4 (2005): 36.1–36.22.

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    Considers the impact of scholars’ tendency to not acknowledge cases in biblical and ancient Near Eastern legal collections involving non-consensual sex as about rape, instead identifying them as laws about marriage, adultery, or seduction, when lack of consent appears to be immaterial to the outcome. Technical, but accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Westbrook, Raymond. “Adultery in Ancient Near Eastern Law.” Revue Biblique 97 (1990): 542–580.

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    Comparative study of the treatment of adultery in biblical and ancient Near Eastern law that finds that in both, adultery was considered both an offense against the husband and a sin. What we cannot determine is how much these laws reflected actual legal practice in any of these cultures. Accessible to undergraduates. Reprinted in Law from the Tigris to the Tiber: The Writings of Raymond Westbrook. Vol. 1, The Shared Tradition. Edited by Bruce Wells and F. Rachel Magdalene, 245–287. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009.

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Women and Gender in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

For those with little background in the study of women and gender in the Hebrew Bible, each of these works provides a broad survey of their subject and can serve as a good introduction. Ackerman 2016 focuses on reconstructing what we can discern about women’s lives and culture in ancient Israel based on the available biblical, archaeological, anthropological, and comparative evidence, and provides a highly accessible introduction to those interested in women’s lives in ancient Israel. Many of the essays in both Bird 1997 and Bach 1999 focus on the depiction of women in biblical texts, what they reflect about attitudes toward women in the society that produced them, and how they relate to the reality of women’s lives in ancient Israel. Brenner 2015, Pardes 1992, Frymer-Kensky 2002, and Klein 2003 all engage in studies of biblical narrative texts featuring women, though each has a different focus. Brenner 2015 identifies several recurring literary female types and discusses the behaviors and the features that characterize them, and, noting how depictions of women in narratives both adhere to the conventions and sometimes depart from them, considers what we can learn from where they depart from convention. Pardes 1992 attempts to tease out antithetical female voices within the dominant patriarchal discourse of the Bible, in order to uncover often fragmentary evidence of ancient Israelite counter-traditions related to female biblical figures such as Rachel, Zipporah, Miriam, and Ruth. Frymer-Kensky 2002 addresses the question of why an androcentric text from a patriarchal society has so many stories that revolve around women, and why so many of the women in these stories are so memorable, theorizing that once Israel was subject to more powerful nations, the Bible’s view of women provided a model for how Israel could accept its powerlessness without feeling a sense of inferiority or worthlessness. Klein 2003 considers how women in biblical narratives have dealt with and sometimes overcome social constraints, and she observes recurring themes, such as a preoccupation of the authors with power and control and male fear of female power. For those interested in gender critical studies, the collection of essays in Rooke 2007 provides an excellent introduction to gender criticism in the context of biblical studies.

  • Ackerman, Susan. “Women in Ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Religion. Edited by John Barton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

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    An engaging, accessible introduction to the study of women’s lives, culture, and status in ancient Israel, focusing on the position of women within ancient Israelite family structure, women’s place within their households’ economies, women’s religious lives, and leadership roles taken by women. Good for all audiences.

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  • Bach, Alice, ed. Women in the Hebrew Bible: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1999.

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    The thirty-four previously published articles in this collection, many considered classics in the field of feminist biblical studies, are arranged under thematic categories such as “the social world of women in ancient Israel” and “sexual politics in the Hebrew Bible.” Accessible to general readers, but best for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Bird, Phyllis A. Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities: Women and Gender in Ancient Israel. Overtures to Biblical Theologies. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997.

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    This collection of essays by Phyllis Bird, most previously published, while not comprehensive in scope, covers a range of topics and provides a good introduction to the challenges faced by those engaged in the study of women in biblical texts from a feminist perspective. At times technical, but accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Brenner, Athalya. The Israelite Woman: Social Role and Literary Type in Biblical Narrative. 2d ed. London: Bloomsbury, 2015.

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    Updated edition of Brenner’s 1984 seminal work focusing on two distinct, but interrelated areas: the literary types women tend to be cast in within biblical narratives and the roles of women in ancient Israelite society who strike out on their own, outside the family circle and into the male domain. Good for all audiences.

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  • Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. Reading the Women of the Bible. New York: Schocken, 2002.

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    Engaging, accessible book featuring close readings of biblical narratives that focus on women, taking a feminist approach that Frymer-Kensky describes as combining a “hermeneutics of suspicion” with a “hermeneutics of grace.” Good for all audiences.

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  • Klein, Lillian. From Deborah to Esther: Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.

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    A literary-critical analysis of the characterization of women in biblical narratives, enhanced by insights from sociological and psychological approaches, with a focus on how these women have dealt with and sometimes overcome social constraints. Good for all audiences.

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  • Pardes, Ilana. Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

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    In this accessible, engaging book, Pardes, taking an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates feminist theory, literary criticism, and psychoanalysis, attempts to tease out antithetical female voices within the Bible, highlighting the diversity of voices present within biblical texts. Good for all audiences.

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  • Rooke, Deborah, ed. A Question of Sex: Gender and Difference in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond. Hebrew Bible Monographs 14. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007.

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    Collection of ten essays coming out of a conference held at King’s College, London, in 2006. It includes a methodological overview and sections on gender in law and ritual, ethnological and anthropological approaches to gender, and gender in post-biblical literature. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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Sex and Sexuality in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Most of the scholars who have written general works on sex and sexuality in the Hebrew Bible have done so from a religious, usually Christian, perspective, often with the explicit aim of proving a particular point of view through their study. Davidson 2007 attempts to demonstrate that the Bible conforms to a single ethical and theological vision of human sexuality and presents a coherent and consistent sexual theology, based on Genesis 1–3, which he calls the “Edenic pattern for sexuality.” In contrast, Knust 2011 invites readers to see for themselves the diversity and complexity of biblical texts about desire, the body, sex, and sexuality, contending that there is no one single biblical standard for sexual behavior, but rather an array of attitudes toward various aspects of sexuality. Ellens 2006 emphasizes the importance of considering these texts within their original cultural and historical context, as their original authors and readers understood them. He often brings in insights that arise from his background as a clinical therapist, offering psychological considerations that shed light on the texts, and makes explicit his intent to prove through his study that sex and human sexuality is a good and necessary part of God’s original design. Carr 2003 focuses on the connection between sexuality and spirituality in biblical texts, contending that erotic love and Biblical spirituality are interconnected, and demonstrating how the Bible can be read as a celebration of human eros. Among those who do not bring theological interpretations into their discussion are Brenner 1997, Coogan 2010, and Carmichael 2010. Brenner 1997 focuses on how, in biblical texts, gender differences are created out of biological sexual differences, and the conceptualization of desire, sex, and sexuality in biblical texts is inextricably intertwined with the authors’ goal of maintaining male dominance in the social structure and social power relations. Coogan 2010 looks at biblical texts involving various aspects of sex and sexuality within their original social and historical context, considering what these texts would have meant within that original context. Lastly, there is Carmichael 2010, who, engaging in what can perhaps best be termed a midrashic approach, explores the connections between the religious laws governing sexuality in the Torah and the narrative accounts of the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs, asserting that the former was in part a response to the latter.

  • Brenner, Athalya. The Intercourse of Knowledge: On Gendering Desire and “Sexuality” in the Hebrew Bible. Biblical Interpretation Series 26. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Brenner focuses on how notions of desire and sexuality are gendered within biblical texts, and how they relate to the male dominated societal structure. Includes a semantic study of biblical terms for desire, love, sexual activity, and male and female body parts. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Carmichael, Calum. Sex and Religion in the Bible. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300153774.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Carmichael explains religious laws governing sexuality in the Hebrew Bible as in part a response to events in the narrative texts. Good for theologians and general readers who appreciate creative and sometimes incisive readings of biblical texts. Not for those who wish to understand biblical texts related to sexuality within their original sociohistorical contexts.

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  • Carr, David M. The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    This thoughtful study, whose intended audience is Christian laypeople, shows how the Bible affirms a link between spirituality and a wide range of erotic dimensions of human life, including sexuality, and asserts that sexuality and spirituality are integrally interconnected. Good for all audiences.

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  • Coogan, Michael. God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says. New York: Twelve, 2010.

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    This engaging, highly readable survey of biblical texts that address sex, sexuality, and gender roles within their original social and historical context is intended for all audiences. It provides a good introduction for those with no background in biblical studies; best for those who view the Old and New Testaments as a continuum.

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  • Davidson, Richard M. Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.

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    This massive, comprehensive study attempts to demonstrate that the Bible conforms to a single ethical and theological vision of human sexuality. The coherence seems at times a bit forced, as some readings go against the plain meaning of the text. Best for evangelical Christian lay audiences and seminary students.

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  • Ellens, J. Harold. Sex in the Bible: A New Consideration. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.

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    This engaging survey of sex and sexuality in biblical texts intends to show that human sexuality is a good and necessary part of God’s original design. A good introduction for those with no background in biblical studies; best for those who view the Old and New Testaments as a continuum.

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  • Knust, Jennifer Wright. Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire. New York: HarperOne, 2011.

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    In this engaging, entertaining, and very accessible book, Knust, using a conversational style and including anecdotes from her own Christian upbringing, focuses on showing the complexity and diversity of biblical texts related to sex and sexuality. Good for general audiences, especially a Christian lay audience.

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Journals and Book Series

There are no journals that focus exclusively on women, gender, and/or sexuality in the Hebrew Bible. That being said, articles on these topics can be found in a range of journals, including those that focus on the Bible, antiquity, gender, and sexuality. Some of the most helpful are the free, online, feminist biblical journal lectio difficilior, and those that cover a broader range of topics, but often include articles that focus on women, gender, and sexuality in biblical texts, which include Biblical Interpretation and The Bible and Critical Theory. The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion often includes work on biblical scholarship. The online, limited access journal Theology and Sexuality regularly has articles related to gender and sexuality in biblical texts, and occasionally has issues devoted to biblical topics. The Feminist Companion to the Bible series, edited by Athalya Brenner (Brenner 1993–2002), is an excellent resource for those interested in collections of articles devoted to one particular biblical book or group of books that focus on issues related to women and gender, and often sexuality. Each volume of the Ried 2015– series (2015-present), edited by Barbara Ried, features work by scholars approaching the biblical text from a feminist perspective. The books in this series will be of particular interest for those looking for a commentary that highlights issues raised by the biblical texts related to gender, power, authority, ethnicity, race, and class, and the impact that these texts have on contemporary readers. The volumes in the Bible and Women series (2010-present) focus on the history of biblical reception and interpretation, and the way that certain biblical readings and interpretations have shaped gender roles, identity, and stereotypes, and have impacted relationships between men and women in Western culture, both historically and today.

  • Biblical Interpretation. 1993–.

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    This journal, produced by Brill, focuses on publishing scholarship representative of the wide variety of critical and methodological approaches to biblical texts. There are often special issues that focus on a particular theme or analytical trend. Volumes often include articles related to women, gender, and sexuality. Subscription required.

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  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. Feminist Companion to the Bible. 1st and 2d series. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993–2002.

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    These nineteen volumes, produced over nearly a twenty-year span, are each devoted to collecting the best of feminist criticism on a particular biblical book or group of books, including Genesis, Exodus to Deuteronomy, Judges, Samuel and Kings, Wisdom and Psalms, the Latter Prophets, Ruth, Song of Songs, Esther, Judith, and Susannah.

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  • The Bible and Critical Theory. 2004–.

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    This online journal features articles applying current models of critical theory to biblical studies. Each issue focuses on a specific topic. From 2004 to 2010, it was published on a subscription basis by Monash University ePress. Since 2011 it has been published as an open-access journal by the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar.

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  • de Groot, Christiana, Irmtraud Fischer, Mercedes Navarro, and Adriana Valerio, eds. The Bible and Women: An Encyclopaedia of Exegesis and Cultural History. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010–.

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    This international, interdenominational, and multidisciplinary twenty-two-volume project examines the history of reception and interpretation of the Bible, focusing on texts related to women and gender, and the ways that women have read and interpreted the Bible throughout history. Volumes are published simultaneously in German, English, Spanish, and Italian. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 1985–.

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    Published by the Feminist Studies in Religion consortium, this interdisciplinary, interreligious academic journal features feminist scholarship on a wide variety of topics related to religious studies. It regularly publishes articles related to women and gender in biblical texts. Subscription required for access to most volumes.

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  • lectio difficilior.

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    Online open access academic journal with an emphasis on feminist biblical exegesis and hermeneutics by largely European authors (published by the University of Berne). Most articles are in English or German, and a few in French. Excellent resource for European scholarship on women and gender in biblical texts.

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  • Ried, Barbara, ed. The Wisdom Commentary Series. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015–

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    Feminist commentary series featuring the work of scholars from a wide variety of religious, cultural, ethnic, and social backgrounds. Fifty-eight volumes, covering both the Old and New Testaments, are planned.

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  • Theology and Sexuality. 1994–.

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    Online, limited access journal, featuring theological studies on a wide array of issues related to sexuality and gender. Articles related to biblical topics appear regularly. Articles are in English.

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Reference Works and Research Tools

There are only a few reference works and research tools that specifically address women, gender, and/or sexuality in the Hebrew Bible. O’Brien 2014 is a comprehensive tome, containing over 160 entries that cover every imaginable topic related to all of these subjects. There are two concordances on women in the Bible. Kruse 2001 has brief entries on each woman that include either a brief summary or biblical quotes. Meyers, et al. 2000 divides entries into sections on named women, unnamed women, and female deities and personifications. Bible Odyssey is an open-access, online resource that has a number of excellent articles related to women, gender, and sexuality in biblical texts. Project Muse is a great resource for bibliographic research on a wide variety of topics, including religious studies, and helpful for finding resources related to women, gender, and sexuality in biblical texts.

  • Bible Odyssey.

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    Open access, online resource that covers a wide range of topics related to biblical texts. Each entry covers basic information about the topic and includes links to related articles, relevant biblical passages, and related HarperCollins dictionary entries, and provides recommendations for further reading. Good for all audiences.

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  • Kruse, Ingeborg. Frauenkonkordanz zur Bibel. Stuttgart: Kreuz, 2001.

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    This German language concordance includes brief entries on all of the women who appear in the Bible. Each entry includes either a brief summary of the contexts in which the women appear or biblical quotes from the Einheitsübersetzung (Bible translation used by the Roman Catholic Church for liturgical use).

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  • Meyers, Carol, Toni Craven, and Ross S. Kramer, eds. Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

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    This comprehensive dictionary includes entries for every woman and female figure that appears in Scripture. It also includes essays on feminist biblical scholarship, names and naming in the biblical world, the Christian biblical canon, and critical biblical scholarship. Good for all audiences.

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  • O’Brien, Julia, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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    Entries in this comprehensive reference work cover a wide variety of topics related to gender and sexuality in the Bible. Contributors include not only leading biblical scholars, but also experts in the fields of gender theory, classics, archaeology, and history. Good for both students and scholars. Available online by subscription.

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  • Project Muse.

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    Online, open access database (though the works that arise are often not open access) that provides a great resource for bibliographic research on a wide variety of topics, including religious studies.

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Commentaries

There are several commentaries focusing on issues related to women, gender, and sexuality in the Hebrew Bible, most of which are from a feminist perspective. Kroeger and Evans 2002, Newsome, et al. 2012, and Schottroff, et al. 2012 follow the order of the Christian canon of the Bible, devoting a chapter per book. Guest, et al. 2006 follows a similar format, providing a commentary from a queer perspective on each of the biblical books, including discussions of how aspects of the biblical narratives can be brought into dialogue with experiences of LGBT people today. Eskenazi and Weiss 2008 provide a Jewish feminist commentary, divided into fifty-four Torah Portions (parashot), each of which includes commentary by Bible scholars, discussion of post-biblical interpretations, reflection on how the biblical text speaks to the modern world, and a creative response in the form of poetry, prose, or a modern midrash. Antonelli 1995 provides another, quite different, Jewish Torah commentary, also divided into parashot, which focuses on how women in biblical texts are depicted and the issues that arise from these depictions, contending that the sexism that exists within Judaism is not based on the Torah, but rather is the result of later developments within Judaism.

  • Antonelli, Judith S. In the Image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1995.

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    This commentary, which incorporates ample references to classical Jewish sources, is best for general readers who are interested in a Torah commentary from an Orthodox Jewish, feminist perspective.

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  • Eskenazi, Tamara Cohn, and Andrea L. Weiss, eds. The Torah: A Woman’s Commentary. New York: Women of Reform Judaism, Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, Union of Reform Judaism Press, 2008.

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    This commentary, produced by the Women of Reform Judaism, contains contributions from more than one hundred of the world’s leading Jewish female academics, rabbis, cantors, educators, and poets to provide a comprehensive commentary on the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, arranged by parashot (Torah portions). Good for all audiences.

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  • Guest, Deryn, Robert E. Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache, eds. The Queer Bible Commentary. London: SCM, 2006.

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    This groundbreaking, extensive commentary on both the Old and New Testaments has contributions from thirty-one scholars and pastors who engage in queer readings of the biblical texts, representing a wide variety of approaches, perspectives, and voices. Some articles are more academic in tone and some seem oriented more toward clergy.

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  • Kroeger, Catherine Clark, and Mary J. Evans, eds. The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002.

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    Evangelical Christian commentary employing a “hermeneutics of faith,” seeking an affirmative message for women in the biblical texts. Includes commentaries on each biblical book, and several essays on topics related to women and the Bible. Good for all audiences, especially those interested in feminist biblical hermeneutics from a conservative Christian perspective.

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  • Newsome, Carol A., Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, eds. The Women’s Bible Commentary. 3d ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012.

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    Sizeable feminist biblical commentary that covers every biblical book, including those in the Apocrypha, and contains numerous additional articles on reception history related to central female figures in the Bible. Good for all audiences, especially students and lay Christians interested in feminist hermeneutics and history of interpretation.

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  • Schottroff, Luise, Marie-Theres Wacker, and Martin Rumscheidt, eds. Feminist Biblical Interpretation: A Compendium of Critical Commentary on the Books of the Bible and Related Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012.

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    Massive collection of articles covering every biblical book and some Apocryphal and extracanonical books, highlighting the work of European scholars taking a feminist exegetical approach. Articles tend to focus on specific issues related to each book, rather than providing a general overview. Sometimes technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies. Translation of Luise Schottroff and Marie-Theres Wacker, eds., Kompendium feministische Bibelauslegung (Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1998).

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Women in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

Much scholarship on women in the Hebrew Bible has focused either on a specific genre or on a specific book or set of books of the Bible. This scholarship varies a great deal in terms of interpretive approach and aim, but in all cases the authors wish to elucidate certain aspects of the depiction of and/or the treatment of women in these texts.

Women in the Pentateuch

Several works have concentrated on the depiction of women in the Pentateuchal narratives. Many have taken a canonical approach, often utilizing methods of literary criticism to shed new light on these texts. Burns 1987 focuses on the figure of Miriam and what can be discerned about her from a close examination of the texts that concern her, calling into question whether Miriam was in fact a prophet. Fewell and Gunn 1993 examine gender dynamics and the experiences of biblical women from Genesis through 2 Kings, with over half the book focusing on the Pentatuechal narratives. Jeansonne 1990 studies the depiction of women in Genesis 12–50. Jacobs 2007 engages in a detailed examination of the interplay of gender, power dynamics, and the strategies of persuasion in various texts of the book of Genesis, contending that power is defined by function, not by gender. In contrast to these, Fischer 1994 and Shectman 2009 both combine source critical and feminist analytical approaches and highlight the impact that the redactional history of these texts has on the depiction of women’s roles. Fischer focuses her study on the narratives concerning the matriarchs in Genesis 12–36, contending that in the traditions preserved in these texts women play such an integral role that they should be referred to as ancestral narratives, rather than patriarchal ones. Shectman 2009 is much wider in scope, encompassing all of the narrative texts from Genesis to Numbers, and the result is some intriguing insights regarding differences between priestly and non-priestly strands in the Pentateuchal narratives on a larger scale. Brenner 1993 and Brenner 1994 provide an excellent introduction to the work of leading feminist scholars, who take a variety of methodological approaches, on Genesis and the books of Exodus to Deuteronomy, respectively.

  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist Companion to Genesis. A Feminist Companion to the Bible 2. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.

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    Collection of essays, some previously published, featuring feminist critical readings focusing on gender relations in Genesis 1–3, motherhood and maternity in the stories of the matriarchs, and illicit female sexuality in both active and passive forms. Sometimes technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies. Reprinted in 1997.

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  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist Companion to Exodus to Deuteronomy. A Feminist Companion to the Bible 6. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994.

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    Collection of essays, some previously published, on the depiction of female characters in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Essays are divided into three sections: daughters, social status and female sexuality, and Miriam. Sometimes technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Burns, Rita J. Has the Lord Indeed Spoken Only through Moses? A Study of the Biblical Portrait of Miriam. SBL Dissertation Series 84. Atlanta: Scholars, 1987.

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    Work of canonical criticism that provides a portrait of Miriam based on the seven biblical references to her, and includes historical speculation about the “real” Miriam. Also seeks to prove that Miriam was not a prophet, but rather a cultic leader. Good for all audiences, though some may find her work too speculative.

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  • Fewell, Danna Nolan, and David M. Gunn. Gender, Power and Promise: The Subject of the Bible’s First Story. Nashville: Abingdon, 1993.

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    This work of feminist literary criticism explores the interplay between gender, power relations, and divine promise in biblical texts, and theorizes, sometimes rather creatively, on how events depicted in biblical texts would have appeared from female characters’ perspectives. Five of the eight chapters focus on Genesis. Good for all audiences.

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  • Fischer, Irmtraud. Die Erzeltern Israels: Feministisch-Theologische Studien zu Genesis 12–36. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110887167Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Highlights the central role that women play in the Genesis narratives, focusing on the depiction of women in Genesis 12–36. Fischer identifies several redactional layers in these chapters through literary-critical analysis, which enables her to trace the growth of traditions about the matriarchs. In German.

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  • Jacobs, Mignon R. Gender, Power, and Persuasion: The Genesis Narratives and Contemporary Portraits. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.

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    Detailed study of the power dynamics within male-male, male-female, female-female, and divine-human relationships in various narratives in Genesis, often focusing on the influence of deception and power in the relationships between various characters. Accessible to undergraduates, though a bit dense and at times repetitive.

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  • Jeansonne, Sharon Pace. The Women of Genesis: From Sarah to Potiphar’s Wife. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.

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    This engaging and accessible work of feminist narrative criticism focuses on the depiction and characterization of women in Genesis 12–50. Good for all audiences, especially general readers.

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  • Shectman, Sarah. Women in the Pentateuch: A Feminist and Source-Critical Analysis. Hebrew Bible Monographs 23. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2009.

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    Incisive examination of how the Pentateuchal sources differ in their treatment of and attitude toward women focusing on the narrative texts, revealing some noteworthy differences between the depictions of women in the priestly and non-priestly sources. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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Women in Biblical Law

Numerous studies have focused on the treatment of women in biblical law. Lafont 1999 provides an overview of the treatment of women in both ancient Near Eastern and biblical criminal law, drawing upon not only the legal collections, but also juridical texts, scholarly exercises, and letters and literary compositions as supplementary evidence of legal practice. The articles in Matthews, et al. 1998 cover a diverse array of subjects, such as the varying social status of women, the connection between gender and honor and shame, and laws concerning women’s sexuality, and draw upon a variety of techniques, methodologies, and disciplines in their analyses. Other studies focus on the treatment of women in one set or subset of laws. Pressler 1993 examines the treatment of women in Deuteronomic family law, and questions the popular contention that Deuteronomic law had a more humanistic attitude toward women and granted them a more favorable legal status than in the other legal collections. Locher 1986 focuses on Deuteronomy 22:13–21, examining this law in light of ancient Near Eastern legal material. Several studies engage in comparative analysis of two sets of laws. Ellens 2008 compares the sex laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, noting how the writers’ motivations, intentions, interests, and concerns shape these texts. Rofé 1987 analyzes laws addressing sexual and family matters in the Covenant Collection and Deuteronomy, and contends that the family and sex laws in both of these collections originally derived from the same single, possibly independent, legal collection. Anderson 2004 also considers the laws in both the Covenant Collection and Deuteronomy, but her focus is quite different, highlighting the connection between the laws in these collections and violence against women. She asserts that these laws not only describe violence against women, but in their unequal treatment of women and men and subordination of women to men inscribe violence against women, and thus the laws themselves are a form of violence against women. Others focus on a specific topic handled in various legal collections. Fleishman 2011 considers the extent of paternal authority as related to three Pentateuchal laws, two of which he contends protect a daughter from being exploited by her father, and one of which protects a father from being harmed by his daughter’s unruly behavior.

  • Anderson, Cheryl B. Women, Ideology and Violence: Critical Theory and the Construction of Gender in the Book of the Covenant and the Deuteronomic Law. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 394. London: T & T Clark International, 2004.

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    This comparative study of the Book of the Covenant and Deuteronomic laws identifies a construction of gender in which males are dominant and women subordinate, asserting that the gender paradigm in these laws is a form of violence against women. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Ellens, Deborah L. Women in the Sex Texts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy: A Comparative Conceptual Analysis. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 458. New York: T&T Clark, 2008.

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    This comparison of the sex laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy finds that in both, women are marginalized and objectified, but in the former, women are generally assumed to have agency, and in the latter, women are conceived as the sexual property of men which must be protected from other men. Highly technical; for more advanced students.

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  • Fleishman, Joseph. Father-Daughter Relations in Biblical Law. Bethesda, MD: CDL, 2011.

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    Utilizing evidence from early rabbinic laws and cuneiform sources, Fleishman considers the extent of paternal authority as related to three biblical laws: Exodus 21:7–11 and Leviticus 19:29, which he contends protect a daughter’s rights within her father’s house, and Leviticus 21:9, intended to protect the father. Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Lafont, Sophie. Femmes, droit et justice dans l’antiqué orientale: Contribution à l‘étude du droit penal au Proche-Orient ancient. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 165. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999.

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    This comprehensive examination of the treatment of women in ancient Near Eastern laws (using Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite sources) and in biblical criminal law is a great resource for those wishing to study the biblical laws regarding women within the larger ancient Near Eastern context. Technical. In French.

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  • Locher, Clemens. Die Ehre einer Frau in Israel: Exegetische und Rechtsvergleichende Studien zu Deuteronomium 22,13–21. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, 70. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986.

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    In this detailed study, Locher analyzes Deuteronomy 22:13–21 in light of what he describes as a common ancient Near Eastern legal culture. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies. In German.

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  • Matthews, Victor H., Bernard M. Levinson, and Tikva Frymer-Kensky, eds. Gender and Law in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 262. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.

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    Collection of ten articles, several considered classics in the field, arising from a 1995 special session of the SBL Biblical Law Group commemorating the centennial of the publication of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Women’s Bible. Technical; good for advanced undergraduates.

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  • Pressler, Carolyn. The View of Women Found in the Deuteronomic Family Laws. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alltestamentliche Wissenschaft, 216. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1993.

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    Pressler, examining the treatment of women in Deuteronomic family law, finds that like the other legal collections, Deuteronomy limits women’s freedom, especially regarding sexuality, in order to preserve male dominated family structures. However, women are provided some rights and protections. Technical; good for advanced undergraduates.

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  • Rofé, Alexander. “Family and Sex Laws in Deuteronomy and the Book of the Covenant.” Henoch 9 (1987): 131–159.

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    Detailed analysis of the family and sex laws in Exodus 21–22 and Deuteronomy 21–25 that identifies several features that these two groups of laws have in common. Rofé also distinguishes between different literary strata in Deuteronomy, viewing some parts of these laws as later additions. Technical; good for advanced undergraduates.

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Women in the Former Prophets

Much scholarship has been written about women in the books of Joshua through Kings, especially the depiction of women in the book of Judges. Ackerman 1998 identifies different character “types” in the book and explores those types within the larger context of biblical tradition. Bal 1988 highlights the role of female characters in Judges who are often overlooked and marginalized and the intersection of gender, violence, and politics within the book’s narratives. Brenner 1993 is a compilation of some of the best scholarship on women in Judges, with a focus on the depiction of wives, daughters, and mothers and their interrelations. Two articles in Day 1989 focus on female figures in Judges, one on Jael and one on Jepthah’s daughter. Those interested in the treatment of women in Samuel and Kings would benefit from Brenner 1994, a collection of essays focusing largely on the depiction of women in these books as daughters, wives, and mothers, and the relationship of these depictions to biblical gender ideology. Brewer-Boydston 2016 focuses on the theological implications of the depiction of queen mothers in the book of Kings, and the contrast between the depiction of bad queen mothers in the divided monarchy and good queen mothers in other parts of the Bible. Three of the essays in Exum 1993 focus on highlighting the experiences of women from the books of Samuel and Kings, including Jephtha’s daughter, Michal, Batshseba, and the nameless woman in Judges 19, attempting to recover the voices and experiences of these women, who are often marginalized by the text. Trible 1984 is a classic of early feminist hermeneutics, providing sensitive, incisive readings of 2 Samuel 13:1–22, Judges 19, and Judges 11:29–40 that emphasize the abuse and suffering that these women endured and considers the implications of such texts for contemporary readers.

  • Ackerman, Susan. Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

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    Ackerman, identifying several different character “types” of women in Judges, examines how they were understood within their original religious and cultural context and how these “types” evolved over time. She also considers the sociohistorical context in which these texts were composed and transmitted. Good for all audiences.

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  • Bal, Mieke. Death and Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

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    In this incisive, challenging work of literary criticism informed by semiotics, feminist criticism, and psychoanalytic theory, Bal provides a cohesive reading of the book of Judges, focusing on the role of female characters. Technical and dense; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist Companion to Judges. Feminist Companion to the Bible 4. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.

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    Collection of essays, most of which were not previously published, by leading feminist biblical scholars, including Esther Fuchs, J. Cheryl Exum, Adele Reinhardtz, and Mieke Bal, focusing on the depiction and characterization of women in Judges. Sometimes technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist Companion to Samuel and Kings. The Feminist Companion to the Bible 5. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994.

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    Collection of essays on Samuel and Kings, some of which were previously published, by leading feminist biblical scholars. Particular attention is paid to the depiction of Hannah, various women associated with King David, and the role of queen mothers. Sometimes technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Brewer-Boydston, Ginny. Good Queen Mothers, Bad Queen Mothers: The Theological Presentation of the Queen Mother in 1 and 2 Kings. Washington, DC: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2016.

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    This examination of the depiction of queen mothers in biblical texts contrasts the depictions of queen mothers whose sons ruled during the divided monarchy, such as Maacah, Athaliah, and Nehushta, with the depiction of queen mothers in other biblical texts. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Day, Peggy L., ed. Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.

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    Two essays in this anthology, both considered classics in the field, concern the treatment of women in the former prophets: “Eroticism and Death in the Tale of Jael” by Susan Niditch and “From the Child is Born the Woman: The Story of Jepthah’s Daughter” by Peggy L. Day. Good for advanced undergraduates.

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  • Exum, J. Cheryl. Fragmented Women: Feminist (Sub)versions of Biblical Narratives. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 163. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.

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    In the essays in this collection, some previously published, Exum employs a variety of feminist reading strategies to undermine and subvert the androcentrism of the biblical texts and uncover what she can of women’s experiences from the often fragmentary evidence. Good for advanced undergraduates.

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  • Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

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    This collection of essays, intended as a somber companion piece to Trible’s 1978 work, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, came out of a lecture series that Trible gave at Yale in 1982. Three of the four “texts of terror” that Trible discusses are in the former prophets. Good for all audiences.

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Women in the Latter Prophets

Most scholarship on women in the prophetic books has focused on the marriage metaphor used by several of the prophets, including most notably Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Baumann 2003 finds the origins of this metaphor in ancient Near Eastern sources, and traces its use within the prophets chronologically, starting with Hosea and evolving from prophet to prophet. Weems 1995 examines how these prophets combine romance and violence to simultaneously fascinate and repel their male audience and considers why violence is such a significant component of the prophetic representation of women, sex, and marriage in these metaphors. Sherwood 1996 focuses on the use of the marriage metaphor in Hosea 1–3, integrating a variety of approaches based in literary theory to create a reading that embraces tensions within the text. Galambush 1992 examines the use of the marriage metaphor in Ezekiel 16 and 23, discussing how Ezekiel took this common metaphor and shaped it to express his particular theological view. In contrast, both Keefe 2001 and Moughtin-Mumby 2008 argue that referring to the imagery used in certain of these prophetic texts as marriage metaphors is too limiting. Keefe 2001, focusing on Hosea, contends that the prophet doesn’t use a marriage metaphor, but rather a family metaphor, drawing upon the centrality of the family in traditional Israelite life as a way to address the threat to that way of life brought on by the forces of economic and social change. Moughtin-Mumby 2008 suggests that the use of the broader term “sexual metaphor” to refer to these texts allows one to appreciate the full complexity and diversity of the prophetic sexual and marital metaphors. There is also a sizeable body of scholarship that contends that the prophetic sexual and marital metaphors should be viewed as pornography. Setel 1985 is one of the pioneering works in this area, identifying shared common features between pornography and Hosea’s use of female sexual imagery. The fourth chapter of Exum 2012 is devoted to the subject of prophetic pornography, considering the ethical issues raised by passages in which a male deity is depicted as sexually abusing a female victim and the question of how the audience should respond, and what our responsibility is as readers and consumers of these violent images. Five articles in Brenner 1995 center on the subject of prophetic pornography, and present an interesting contrast between feminist and non-feminist approaches.

  • Baumann, Gerlinde. Love and Violence: Marriage as Metaphor for the Relationship between YHWH and Israel in the Prophetic Books. Translated by Linda M. Maloney. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003.

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    In this thorough treatment, Baumann explores the origins and evolution of the prophetic marriage metaphor. She also addresses the question of how contemporary readers should approach these texts. Translated from the German. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist Companion to The Latter Prophets. The Feminist Companion to the Bible 8. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.

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    Collection of essays by leading feminist scholars, some previously published and some revised versions of earlier work, including several that are considered classics in the field. Two subjects of particular focus are female imagery in Hosea and sexual violence in the prophets. Some articles are challenging for undergraduates, but worth the effort.

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  • Exum, J. Cheryl. Plotted, Shot and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical Women. 2d ed. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2012.

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    In her discussion of prophetic pornography, Exum contends that the problem we face in interpreting these passages is not just the violent imagery, but the ideology that informs it. She provides a fourfold interpretive strategy to help readers respond to the prophetic corpus of sexual abuse. Good for all audiences.

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  • Galambush, Julie. Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh’s Wife. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation series, no. 130. Atlanta: Scholars, 1992.

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    Examination of the use of the marriage metaphor to describe the relationship between a city and a patron deity in both ancient Near Eastern and biblical material prior to Ezekiel, and Ezekiel’s distinctive use of the marriage metaphor in terms of style, content, placement, and function. Technical; good for advanced undergraduates.

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  • Keefe, Alice A. Woman’s Body and the Social Body in Hosea. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 338. Gender, Culture, Theory 10. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

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    Contends that the key to understanding the metaphoric language used in Hosea 1–2 is considering it within the context of Hosea 4–14 and the pressing socio-political conflicts going on in Israel during Hosea’s time, brought on by Omrid and Jehuid political and economic policies. Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Moughtin-Mumby, Sharon. Sexual and Marital Metaphors in Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199239085.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Contends that scholars should abandon the term “marriage metaphor” and stop fixating on “cultic prostitution” when discussing prophetic sexual and marital metaphoric language because both limit the reader’s ability to see the full range and diversity of the sexual imagery used in the prophetic texts. Technical, but useful for undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Setel, T. Drorah. “Prophets and Pornography: Female Sexual Imagery in Hosea.” In Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Edited by Letty M. Russel, 86–95. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985.

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    Contends that the objectification of female sexuality in the imagery used in Hosea 1–2 has all of the features that distinguish pornography, including negative depiction of female sexuality, degradation and public humiliation of women, and depiction of female sexuality as an object of male possession and control. Good for all audiences. Reprinted in Brenner 1993a, cited under Women in Other Writings)

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  • Sherwood, Yvonne. The Prostitute and the Prophet: Hosea’s Marriage in Literary-Theological Perspective. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.

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    In this work of postmodernist literary theory, Sherwood combines the approaches of reader response theory, semiotics, Derridean deconstruction, and feminist criticism to gain new insights into the marriage metaphor in Hosea 1–3, including a reading of the marriage from Gomer’s perspective. Technical; best for those comfortable with literary theory.

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  • Weems, Renita. Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.

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    Weems examines the association of divine love, compassion, commitment and reconciliation with battery, infidelity, rape, and the mutilation of women in the rhetoric of Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and considers how and why these prophets combine marriage, sex, and violence this way in their discourse. Good for all audiences.

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The Figure of Daughter Zion in the Prophets and Lamentations

Additionally, there have been some recent works that have focused on the figure of “daughter Zion,” the metaphoric representation of Jerusalem found in the prophetic corpus and Lamentations. Maier 2008 explores the gendered metaphors used for Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible, tracing the shifting imagery of Jerusalem as daughter, bride, sexually promiscuous wife, violated victim, and mother, and the relationship between these metaphors and ancient Near Eastern concepts of sacred space. Guest 1999 focuses on the plight and horrific suffering of Zion at the hands of a wrathful God in Lamentations, resisting the idea that Zion is to blame for and thus deserves her suffering, and asks what does one do with Lamentations once one accepts that the image of the punished adulterous woman is irredeemably damaging to female (and male) readers. Mandolfo 2007 and Boda, et al. 2012 take a dialogic hermeneutical approach, bringing the voice of Daughter Zion expressed in the book of Lamentations into conversation with the voices addressing or depicting Zion throughout the prophetic corpus, highlighting the contrast between the wife’s perspective in the former and the husband’s in the latter. This form of analysis enables Zion to “talk back” to God, allowing Zion the subjectivity and moral agency that she is denied in the prophetic texts where God is unwilling to enter into genuine dialogue with her.

  • Boda, Mark J., Carol J. Dempsey, and LeAnn Snow Flesher, eds. Daughter Zion: Her Portrait, Her Response. Ancient Israel and Its Literature, no. 13. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012.

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    Collection of sixteen essays informed by dialogic hermeneutics and inspired by the work of Colleen Mondolfo, arising from a 2008 Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting session of the Biblical Hebrew Poetry Section, focusing on the relationship between “daughter Zion” and God in the prophetic marriage metaphors and in Lamentations. Technical; good for advanced undergraduates.

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  • Guest, Deryn. “Hiding Behind the Naked Women in Lamentations: A Recriminative Response.” Biblical Interpretation 7 (1999): 413–448.

    DOI: 10.1163/156851599X00308Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Focusing on the terrible suffering of Zion in Lamentations, Guest discusses how problematic this text is in its blaming Zion for bringing the horrendous abuse she endures upon herself. She suggests different reading strategies for those who feel they cannot reject the text outright as irredeemable. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Maier, Christl M. Daughter Zion, Mother Zion: Gender, Space, and the Sacred in Ancient Israel. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008.

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    Utilizing spacial theory, literary theory, and informed by feminist criticism, Maier traces the shifting gendered metaphors used for Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible. Technical but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Mandolfo, Carleen. Daughter Zion Talks Back to the Prophets: A Dialogic Theology of the Book of Lamentations. Semeia Studies, no. 58. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.

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    Taking a dialogical approach, informed by feminist and postcolonial criticism, Mandolfo explores the question of divine-human relationality, reading Lamentations 1 and 2 as Zion’s response to the portrait painted of her in the prophetic marriage metaphors, and as Zion’s attempt to reclaim agency. Technical; good for advanced undergraduates.

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Women in Wisdom Literature

Much scholarship on the role of women within biblical wisdom traditions has focused specifically on women in the book of Proverbs, particularly dealing with the roles of women in transmitting wisdom and the figures of “Lady Wisdom” and the “Strange” or “Foreign” Woman. Fontaine 2002 explores the social roles of women as portrayed within Proverbs and within the larger context of Wisdom literature, focusing in particular on the idea of wisdom as a form of expert “performance,” and finding evidence that women were culturally authorized “performers” of wisdom and preservers of family-based wisdom tradition. Camp 1985 provides an in-depth examination of the figure of personified Wisdom in Proverbs, considers how this figure relates to biblical female imagery outside of Proverbs, and discusses the development of Lady Wisdom into an authoritative religious symbol. Camp 2000, building on her earlier work in this area, explores the dichotomy between the figures of Woman Wisdom and the Strange Woman in Proverbs, especially the notion of the strange woman as trickster (thus wise, but in a different way), which she uses as a jumping off point to explore other female figures in the Bible. A central point she makes is the strategy of identifying the “other” as a way for those in power to protect and maintain their hegemony. Maier 1995, focusing on the figure of the strange woman, suggests the strange woman is any woman outside one’s own family who breaks the socially accepted standards of gender behavior. She posits the post-exilic province of Yehud as the social location for the strange woman texts, and that these speeches about the dangerous, adulterous strange woman were produced among the educated urban class, which was attempting to preserve existing family ties within the ancestral houses in order to preserve family wealth and social status. Yoder 2001 dates Proverbs 1–9 and 31:10–31 to the Persian period, as well. Using epigraphic and biblical evidence, she considers the ways in which the personification of Wisdom and the Woman of Substance in these texts reflect the socioeconomic activities of women and various perceptions of them in this cultural context. There has also been some scholarship focusing on the depiction of “Mrs. Job.” Brenner 1995 contains three articles on this topic, in addition to several on the role of women in wisdom traditions and the “strange woman” in Proverbs 1–9.

  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist Companion to Wisdom Literature. The Feminist Companion to the Bible 9. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.

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    This collection of thirteen essays, some previously published, includes contributions by several leading feminist biblical scholars, including Carol R. Fontaine, Gale A. Yee, Claudia V. Camp, Harold C. Washington, and Brenner herself. Sometimes technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Camp, Claudia V. Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs. Bible and Literature Series 11. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1985.

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    Thorough, wide-ranging study theorizing that while the personification of wisdom as a woman may be an earlier development, Lady Wisdom’s significant role in the Book of Proverbs, and the implied role of women generally in Proverbs, is a reflection of Judean society in the post-exilic period. Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Camp, Claudia V. Wise, Strange, and Holy: The Strange Woman and the Making of the Bible. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 320; Gender, Culture, Theory 9. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

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    This challenging, thought-provoking book, which incorporates several of Camp’s earlier essays on this subject, uses the figures of the Strange Woman and Woman Wisdom as a hermeneutical lens through which to view narrative texts in which issues of otherness predominate. At times difficult to follow. Technical; good for advanced students.

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  • Fontaine, Carole R. Smooth Words: Women, Proverbs, and Performance in Biblical Wisdom. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

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    Engaging work of feminist criticism that considers the role of women in wisdom traditions in ancient Israel and the ancient Near East, and contends that women were accepted as “performers” of family-based wisdom traditions, providing them with a platform to use their acknowledged wisdom in public roles. Good for all audiences.

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  • Maier, Christl. Die “fremde Frau” in Proverbien 1–9: Eine exegetische und sozialgeschichtliche Studie. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 144. Freiburg, Germany: Universitätsverlag, 1995.

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    Maier posits that the speeches about the dangerous, adulterous strange woman in Proverbs were produced among the educated urban class in the post-exilic province of Yehud to preserve family wealth and social status within the ancestral houses. In German (though the concluding section is in both German and English).

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  • Yoder, Christine. Wisdom as a Woman of Substance: A Socio-Economic Reading of Proverbs 1–9 and 31:10–31. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 304. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2001.

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    Yoder contends that the Woman of Substance is a composite of real Persian period women and, based on extensive lexical and thematic parallels, that the two female figures framing the book of Proverbs, Woman Wisdom and the Woman of Substance, essentially coalesce into one figure. Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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Women in Other Writings

Most scholarship on women in other writings has focused on the figures of Ruth, Esther, and, most of all, the “Shulamite” in the Song of Songs. The collected essays in Brenner 1993a and Brenner 1995 provide an excellent overview of some of the central issues involved in the interpretation of Ruth and Esther, respectively, from a feminist perspective. White 1989 provides an incisive study of the character, motivations, and actions of Esther, contending, counter to much previous scholarship, that Esther, rather than Mordechai, is the true hero of the story. Brenner 1993b includes essays on a variety of subjects related to the content and interpretation of the Song of Songs, including the question of female authorship, intertextual connections with other biblical books, and gender imagery in the Song. Brenner and Fontaine 2000 is another wide-ranging collection of essays on the Song of Songs, with a focus on introducing readers to new voices and perspectives, some of which challenge traditional feminist readings of the Song. The chapter entitled “Love’s Lyrics Redeemed” in Trible 1978 reads the Song of Songs as a redeeming of the love story gone awry in Genesis 2–3. There is no male dominance, no shame in nudity, and love and sexual desire are celebrated. Burrus and Moore 2003 provide an intriguing rejoinder to Trible and other feminist interpreters who read the Song of Songs as a work of egalitarian eroticism, contending that these readings reflect a heteronormative notion of sexuality and are characterized by a resistance to pornographic readings. As a contrast, they present their “counterpleasures” reading of the Song of Songs, a queer reading highlighting the notion of intense pleasure as coming through pain, frustration, and/or refusal. There has also been quite a bit written about the attempts to end mixed marriages in the Persian period instigated by Ezra and Nehemiah. Three essays in Eskenazi and Richards 1994 address various aspects of the accounts in Ezra and Nehemiah, including what the relationship is between the two books and the identity of the “foreign” women. Given that women are central in the books of Ruth, Esther, and the Song of Songs, any commentary on those books will likely also focus on women. Some of the best commentary series are Anchor Bible, the Jewish Publication Society Bible Commentary, the Old Testament Library, and Hermaneia.

  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist Companion to Ruth. The Feminist Companion to the Bible 3. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993a.

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    Collection of twelve essays, some reprinted and some written for this volume, by leading feminist scholars, divided into sections focusing on gendered readings of the text, the question of female authorship and/or provenance, ancient interpretations, and artistic interpretations of the book. Sometimes technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist Companion to the Song of Songs. The Feminist Companion to the Bible 1. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993b.

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    This first volume of the Feminist Companion series is one of the best. The collection includes eighteen essays, some reprinted and some written for the book, by leading feminist scholars, such as Fokkelien Van Dijk-Hemmes, Phyllis Trible, T. Drorah Setel, Carol Meyers and Marcia Falk, and Brenner herself. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist Companion to Esther, Judith and Susanna. The Feminist Companion to the Bible 7. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.

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    Ten of the essays in this collection focus on the book of Esther, addressing subjects such as the form and style of the book, the issues of perspective and authority within the text, and midrashic approaches to the book (ancient and contemporary). Sometimes technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Brenner, Athalya, and Carole Fontaine, eds. The Song of Songs: A Feminist Companion to the Bible. The Feminist Companion to the Bible, 2nd ser., 6. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

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    Part of the Feminist Companion Second Series, this collection of ten essays, all commissioned for this volume, considers questions and issues raised by feminist readings and interpretations of the Song, and also includes some personal readings. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Burrus, Virginia, and Stephen Moore. “Unsafe Sex: Feminism, Pornography, and the Song of Songs.” Biblical Interpretation 11.1 (2003): 24–52.

    DOI: 10.1163/15685150360495561Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Burrus and Moore present an intriguing “counterpleasures” reading of the Song, based on the approach of Karmen MacKendrick in Counterpleasures (New York: SUNY Press, 1999) that focuses on the recurring motif of the pleasure of desire that is frustrated and unfulfilled. Challenging, but worthwhile, for undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Eskenazi, Tamara C., and Kent H. Richards, eds. Second Temple Studies 2: Temple Community in the Persian Period. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 175. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1994.

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    Three of the essays in this collection, by Harold C. Washington, Daniel Smith-Christopher, and Tamara C. Eskenazi with Eleanore P. Judd, consider various aspects of the attempt to end mixed marriages described in Ezra 9–10 and Nehemiah 13, including what “foreign” means in this context. Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Trible, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978.

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    The chapter “Love’s Lyrics Redeemed” (reprinted in Brenner 1993, cited under Women in the Pentateuch) uses Genesis 2–3 as a key for understanding the Song of Songs. “A Human Comedy” considers how Ruth and Naomi through their actions successfully shape and transform their destiny and achieve their own salvation. Good for all audiences.

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  • White, Sidnie Ann. “Esther: A Feminine Model for Jewish Diaspora.” In Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel. Edited by Peggy L. Day, 161–177. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.

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    White contends that Esther, in her ability to successfully adapt to new situations and save her community through judicious and careful actions, serves as a role model for Jews to live successfully in the often uncertain world of the Diaspora. Accessible to undergraduates.

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Women in the Biblical World

Studies of women in the biblical world have looked at a variety of aspects of women’s lives, including their role within the family, their economic lives, and their religious lives, taking into account not only biblical evidence, but also archaeological, comparative, and anthropological evidence. Some studies are devoted to shedding light on women’s daily lives, revealing what a typical day may have been like for an “Everywoman Eve,” and others focus on specific aspects of women’s lives, such as women’s rights in marriage and divorce proceedings, the ability of women to inherit land and own property, the role of women within the Israelite cultus, and the impact that ritual purity laws may have had on women’s religious practices.

Daily Life

There has been a profusion of scholarship on women’s daily lives in ancient Israel in the past few decades, in which scholars have used biblical, archaeological, anthropological, and comparative evidence to determine what they can about women’s everyday lives. Ackerman 2016 reconstructs certain aspects of women’s culture in ancient Israel, including women’s lives as wives and mothers, women’s work within the economy of a typical Israelite household, and women’s religious culture. Meyers has written multiple articles and books about women’s daily lives in ancient Israel. Meyers 1988, using biblical, archaeological, and ethnographic evidence, considers what typical daily life was like for ancient Israelite women, the “Everywoman Eve” in the Iron Age I period (1200–1000 BCE). She also discusses the figure of Eve as a reflection of the realities of the lives of ancient Israelite women. Meyers 2012, taking into account the profusion of archaeological and anthropological evidence regarding women’s lives in ancient Israel that have become available since her 1988 book, provides an updated and expanded version of her reconstruction of what everyday life was like for the “Everywoman Eve.” Ebeling 2010, in order to illustrate what life may have been like for women, creates a fictional character named Orah who lived in Israel during the Iron Age I period, and then traces the life of this fictional woman through each of the stages of life, from “cradle to the grave.” Marsman 2003 focuses specifically on women’s social and religious lives, engaging in a comparative study between ancient Israel and Ugarit. She addresses the question of whether the social and religious position of women in ancient Israel was better, worse, or equal to that of Israel’s polytheistic neighbors, in the end concluding that women’s status was about equal in these two societies.

  • Ackerman, Susan. “Women in Ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Religion. Edited by John Barton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

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    In this article, Ackerman discusses what we can discern about the daily lives of women in ancient Israel based on biblical, anthropological, archaeological, and comparative evidence, providing an overview of the lives of both regular women and elite women, such as those of the royal court. Good for all audiences.

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  • Ebeling, Jennie R. Women’s Lives in Biblical Times. London: T & T Clark, 2010.

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    In this accessible and engaging monograph, Ebeling, using biblical, archaeological, epigraphic, ethnographic, and comparative evidence, discusses what we know about women’s everyday lives in ancient Israel, and traces the life of a fictional woman living in the Iron Age I period. Good for all audiences.

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  • Marsman, Hennie J. Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East. Oudtestamentische Studiën 49. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

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    Thorough and detailed comparative study of women’s social and religious lives in ancient Israel and Ugarit, covering marriage, family life, and economic lives of women in both cultures. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Meyers, Carol. Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    Considers what typical daily life was like for Israelite women in the Iron Age I period and attempts to rediscover the “pristine Eve,” exploring how the biblical figure of Eve may have been understood within the original sociocultural milieu that produced the Eden story. Good for undergraduates; challenging but worthwhile for general readers.

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  • Meyers, Carol. Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199734559.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this eloquent and accessible work, Meyers goes beyond the scope of her 1988 book, using biblical, archaeological, ethnographic, and comparative evidence to reconstruct what everyday life was like for women living in Iron Age Israel. Meyers also revisits the characterization of Eve in the Eden story. Good for all audiences.

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Marriage and Family

There have been many studies that have focused on marriage, divorce, and women’s roles within families and within the household in the past twenty years. Block 2003 provides a solid overview of marriage, divorce, and family dynamics in the Hebrew Bible, and includes discussions of the status and roles of wives and mothers and the responsibilities of each family member toward the others. Perdue, et al. 1997 provides a thorough study of marriage and the family in ancient Israel from the Iron I period all the way through the Second Temple period. Tosato 1982 narrows his focus to marriage in the early Second Temple period, providing a detailed analysis of matrimonial language, betrothal, dowries, the purpose of marriage, the legal status of the wife, the legal rights of offspring and heirs, and the right to divorce in that period. Several studies center on the lives and experiences of children. Steinberg 2013 considers the role of children within the family and the social construction of childhood in the Hebrew Bible, concluding that the experience of childhood was not uniform, but rather depended on factors such as gender, birth order, family structure, and broader sociopolitical factors. Stiebert 2013 focuses on the Hebrew Bible’s portrayal of father-daughter relationships, contending that they should be considered in the context of honor and shame. The Bible views a daughter’s sexuality as liminal, belonging to both her and her father. Bronner 2004 examines the depiction of mothers in biblical texts, and specifically the power and influence that mothers had, both within their family and within society as a whole. Stol 2000 covers a wide range of topics related to pregnancy and birth in Mesopotamia and the Bible, including ideas about the fetus in the womb, the role and image of the mid-wife, abortion, gynecological pathologies, magico-medical treatments and preventives, and nursing.

  • Block, Daniel I. “Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel.” In Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. Edited by Ken Campbell, 33–102. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2003.

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    Detailed article on marriage, divorce, and family dynamics in ancient Israel that relies heavily on biblical evidence. The book also has good articles by Victor H. Matthews and David W. Chapman on marriage and the family in the ancient Near East and in Second Temple Judaism, respectively. Good for all audiences.

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  • Bronner, Leila Leah. Stories of Biblical Mothers: Maternal Power in the Hebrew Bible. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004.

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    This work of narrative criticism focuses on the status and power of mothers in biblical texts, looking into how mothers acquired power, what the nature of their power was, and the influence they wielded both at home and within society at large. Good for all audiences.

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  • Perdue, Leo G., Joseph Blenkinsopp, John J. Collins, and Carol Meyers. Families in Ancient Israel. Family, Religion, and Culture. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.

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    The five essays in this book provide detailed discussions of the family in early Israel, First Temple Israel, and Second Temple Judaism, conclusions that can be drawn about family life based on commonalities in all three time periods, and the ethical and theological implications of this study for families today. Good for all audiences.

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  • Steinberg, Naomi. The World of the Child in the Hebrew Bible. Hebrew Bible Monographs 51. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2013.

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    Drawing upon ethno-historical evidence and contemporary childhood studies, Steinberg examines how childhood is understood in the Hebrew Bible, and considers children’s roles within the family as an economic unit and the factors that had an impact on an individual’s experience of childhood. Good for all audiences.

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  • Stiebert, Johanna. Fathers and Daughters in the Hebrew Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199673827.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Engaging in close readings of biblical texts featuring father-daughter relationships and drawing upon a variety of methodological approaches, Steibert considers issues such as father-daughter incest, the metaphoric image of daughter Zion, and whether daughters were valued as much as sons. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Stol, M. Birth in Babylonia and the Bible: Its Mediterranean Setting. Cuneiform Monographs 14. Groningen, The Netherlands: Styx, 2000.

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    Covers topics related to pregnancy and birth in the Bible and Mesopotamia, with an emphasis on the latter, and includes a chapter by Frans Wiggermann on Lamaštu, a demonic female baby snatcher. Accessible to all audiences, though best for those with some background in Mesopotamian religion and culture.

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  • Tosato, Angelo. Il Matrimonio Israelitico: Una Teoria Generale. Analecta Biblica 100. Rome: Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1982.

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    Detailed study of a variety of topics related to marriage in Judea in the Persian period that takes into consideration comparative evidence from Elephantine and Israel’s ancient Near Eastern neighbors. Good for those with some background in biblical studies. In Italian.

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Economic Life

The most prolific scholar by far in the area of women’s economic lives in ancient Israel is Carol Meyers. Meyers 1983 considers the social and economic roles of women and men and the interrelationship between the two in pre-monarchic Israel, focusing on the formation of sex roles and the ideology they reflect in this period. Meyers 1999 also focuses on the economic role and status of women in early Israel, and discusses methodological considerations to keep in mind when considering the use of biblical texts as evidence, such as the relationship between formal gender arrangements and social reality, and the danger of imposing our own assumptions on Israelite society, such as those reflected in the labeling of Israel as a patriarchal society. In fact, she suggests avoiding the term patriarchy altogether. Meyers 2012 updates and expands upon her 1988 classic Discovering Eve (Meyers 1988, cited under Daily Life), reconstructing what everyday life was like for an ordinary woman in Iron Age (I and II) Israel, including women’s economic lives and their economic roles both within and outside the household. She also includes an excursus on twenty different professional positions held by women in biblical texts. For those interested in the intersection of gender and class as it relates to labor, García Bachmann 2013 provides a detailed look at female labor in the Hebrew Bible, with a particular focus on lower class female labor in biblical texts.

  • García Bachmann, Mercedes L. Women at Work in the Deuteronomistic History. International Voices in Biblical Studies 4. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

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    Detailed look at female labor in the Hebrew Bible, focusing on, but not limited to, the Deuteronomistic history, that includes discussion of female slaves, women in the arts, female workers within the royal household, sex workers, and the working poor. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Meyers, Carol. “Procreation, Production, and Protection: Male-Female Balance in Early Israel.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 51.4 (1983): 569–593.

    DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/LI.4.569Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examining the social and economic roles of women and men in pre-monarchic Israel, observes that the survival of a social entity is dependent on three activities: procreation, production, and protection, and, depending on a variety of circumstances, the balance between males and females in production will shift. Available online by subscription.

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  • Meyers, Carol. “Women and the Domestic Economy of Early Israel.” In Women in the Hebrew Bible: A Reader. Edited by Alice Bach, 33–43. New York: Routledge, 1999.

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    After discussing some methodological considerations, especially regarding the use of biblical texts as evidence (which she contends must be used with great caution), Meyers focuses on what can be gleaned about the economic role and status of women in early Israel. Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Meyers, Carol. Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199734559.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this eloquent and accessible book, Meyer goes beyond the scope of her 1988 book, Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context, taking into account the recent profusion of archaeological and anthropological evidence regarding women’s lives in ancient Israel. Good for all audiences.

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Women, Inheritance and Property Ownership

One particular area of women’s economic lives that some scholars have chosen to focus on involves inheritance and property ownership. Westbrook 1991, in his discussion of a wide range of legal issues related to property and the family, addresses the rights of women in relation to land inheritance, dowries, and Levirate marriage. Ben-Barak 2006 considers inheritance of property and property ownership by women in biblical texts, examining the biblical laws of inheritance, biblical stories of daughters as heirs, and especially the case of the daughters of Zelophehad, which she contends set an early actual legal precedent for female inheritance of land in the absence of male heirs. Hiers 1993 discusses a variety of topics related to women and property, including inheritance of property by daughters, inheritance by widows from their husbands, and inheritance within the context of levirate marriage.

  • Ben-Barak, Zafrira. Inheritance by Daughters in Israel and the Ancient Near East: A Social, Legal, and Ideological Revolution. Jaffa, Israel: Archaeological Center, 2006.

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    This is a condensed English version of Ben-Barak’s 2003 book on the same subject in Hebrew. Even those who take issue with her use of biblical narrative texts as reliable historical sources will find the book worthwhile for its other content. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Hiers, Richard. “Transfer of Property by Inheritance and Bequest in Biblical Law and Tradition.” Journal of Law and Religion 10 (1993): 121–155.

    DOI: 10.2307/1051171Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this article, Hiers makes an important distinction between transfer of property by inheritance and that by bequest, legacy, or will, and also provides persuasive evidence that in biblical times widows normally inherited property from their husbands. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Westbrook, Raymond. Property and the Family in Biblical Law. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 113. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1991.

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    This collection, a combination of five previously published essays and two previously unpublished studies by Westbrook, a leading authority in biblical and ancient Near Eastern law, explores the legal link between property and family in the Hebrew Bible. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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Women’s Religious Lives

Much has been written about women’s religious lives in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israel, and scholarship in this area will continue to grow and evolve as new archaeological evidence, both from Israel and from her neighbors, is taken into consideration. Bird 1997, Van der Toorn 1994, Meyers 2002, and Ackerman 2008 each consider the role of women within both the Israelite cultus and household and family religious life. Marsman 2003 compares the social and religious lives of women in ancient Israel and Ugarit, asking whether the social and religious position of women in ancient Israel was better, worse, or equal to that of Israel’s polytheistic neighbors (in the end, she finds that women’s status was about equal). Albertz and Schmitt 2012 consider the role of women within the larger context of family and household religion within Iron Age Israel and neighboring cultures. Albertz, et al. 2013 focuses on theoretical and methodological challenges facing scholars of household and family religion, and includes several articles that consider various aspects of the religious lives of women in ancient Israel. There is also a significant body of scholarship on goddess worship, which for the most part centers on the worship of Asherah. For more on worship of Asherah in ancient Israel, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Biblical Studies article God, Ancient Israel whose final section is about worship of the goddess within ancient Israel, a subject that has taken off in popularity with Biblicists in recent years.

  • Ackerman, Susan. “Household Religion, Family Religion, and Women’s Religion in Ancient Israel.” In Household and Family Religion in Antiquity. Edited by John Bodel and Saul M. Olyan, 127–158. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

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    Ackerman, using both biblical and archaeological evidence, focuses on the cultic and ritual activities of women, emphasizing the significant and multifaceted role that women played in household and family religious life. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Albertz, Rainer, and Rüdiger Schmitt. Family and Household Religion in Ancient Israel and the Levant. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012.

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    Utilizing archaeological and biblical evidence, this comprehensive treatment of Iron Age Israelite family and household religion addresses topics such as the relationship between family and “official” religion, care for the dead, and what can be learned about family religion from personal names. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Albertz, Rainer, Beth Alpert Nakhai, and Saul M Olyan, eds. Family and Household Religion: Toward a Synthesis of Old Testament Studies, Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Cultural Studies. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013.

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    This volume, intended as a complement to Household and Family Religion in Antiquity (see Ackerman 2008), features contributions by specialists in biblical studies, epigraphy, and archaeology, including, in addition to the editors, Susan Ackerman, William Dever, Erhard Gerstenberger, Carol Meyers, and Ziony Zevit. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Bird, Phyllis A. Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities: Women and Gender in Ancient Israel. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997.

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    This collection contains two previously published essays by Bird on the religious lives of women in ancient Israel, “The Place of Women in the Israelite Cultus” and “Israelite Religion and the Faith of Israel’s Daughters: Reflections on Gender and Religious Definition.” Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Marsman, H. J. Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East. Oudtestamentische Studien 49. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

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    This thorough comparative study of women’s social and religious lives in ancient Israel and Ugarit includes a detailed discussion of women’s religious lives in both cultures, covering women as religious specialists and women as worshippers separately. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Meyers, Carol. “From Household to House of Yahweh: Women’s Religious Culture in Ancient Israel.” In Congress Volume Basel, 2001. Edited by A. Lemaire, 277–303. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004276185_014Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Utilizing anthropological, archaeological, and ethno-historical evidence, Meyers discusses women’s religious culture, including rituals related to fertility, pregnancy, labor, birth, lactation, infant care, and circumcision. The slim monograph Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005) is a revised and somewhat condensed version of this article.

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  • Van der Toorn, Karel. From Her Cradle to Her Grave: The Role of Religion in the Life of the Israelite and the Babylonian Woman. Translated by Sara J. Denning-Bolle. Biblical Seminar 23. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1994.

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    This lightly revised translation of the author’s 1987 Dutch monograph of the same title follows the stages of an ordinary woman’s religious life from birth to death, with a focus on folk piety and domestic worship. Provides a cursory but helpful overview of women’s religious lives. Good for all audiences.

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Women as Religious Functionaries

A subtopic within women’s religious lives in ancient Israel is that of the role of women as religious functionaries. Ackerman 1993 contends that the queen mother played a significant role in the Israelite cult and had a specific cultic function within the court, namely to devote herself to the cult of the mother goddess Asherah. Fischer 2002 examines each of the main biblical references to female prophets, including those women who are not labeled as such, but from the way they are described can be considered prophets (such as, Fischer contends, the wise woman of Endor and the sanctuary guardians of Exodus 38). She points out that the number of female prophets who may have functioned in ancient Israel is obscured by the gendered nature of the Hebrew language, in that a group of prophets that includes both males and females will be described in the masculine plural. She suggests as a solution translating the plural in a gender neutral way, as “prophetically gifted human persons.” Gafney 2008, building upon and in some ways expanding beyond Fischer’s study of women prophets, examines not only the role of female prophets within ancient Israel (and, inspired by Fischer, identifies several more women in biblical texts who can be identified as prophets), but also considers the role of women prophets in the ancient Near East and includes a discussion on female prophets within rabbinic and early Christian sources. Hamori 2015 examines the full range of women’s divinatory practices and the personages who performed them as portrayed in biblical texts, encompassing women prophets, mediums, and wise women. Two essays in Stökl and Carvalho 2013, including one by Hamori, focus on female diviners and prophets in ancient Israel.

  • Ackerman, Susan. “The Queen Mother and the Cult in Ancient Israel.” Journal of Biblical Literature 112 (1993): 385–401.

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    Utilizing both biblical and archaeological evidence, contends that it was the norm in 9th-7th centuries BCE Judah to worship both Yahweh and Asherah in the Jerusalem temple, and that part of the queen mother’s role was devotion to the cult of Asherah. Good for those with some background in biblical studies. Reprinted in Bach 1999 (cited under Women and Gender in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament).

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  • Fischer, Irmtraud. Gotteskünderinnen: zu einer geschlechterfairen Deutung des Phänomens der Prophetie und der Prophetinnen in der Hebräischen Bibel. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2002.

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    Detailed study of each of the biblical references to female prophets that suggests translating the Hebrew plural for “prophet” in a gender neutral way to allow for the presence of women among groups of prophets. In German.

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  • Gafney, Wilda C. Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008.

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    Considers the role of female prophets in the Hebrew Bible within the context of the ancient Near East, and in light of rabbinic and early Christian sources, contending that most previous studies of biblical prophecy are incomplete because they lack consideration of the role of women in prophecy. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Hamori, Esther J. Women’s Divination in Biblical Literature: Prophecy, Necromancy, and Other Arts of Knowledge. The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

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    Study of the full spectrum of women’s divinatory activities (referred to as the “arts of knowledge”) portrayed in the Hebrew Bible, including prophecy, necromancy, omen interpretation, technical divinatory “inquiry,” and the work of “wise women.” Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Stökl, Jonathan, and Corrine L. Carvalho, eds. Ancient Israel and Its Literature: Prophets Male and Female: Gender and Prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Ancient Near East. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

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    Two of the essays in this collection focus on women who engage in prophecy and other divinatory activities in biblical Israel. Hanna Tervanotko reconsiders the prophetic role of Miriam in light of ancient Jewish tradition, and Esther Hamori explores the correlation between female diviners and childlessness. Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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Women and Impurity

Several excellent studies have come out in the last decade related to matters of women and, more broadly, gender and impurity in the Hebrew Bible. Goldstein 2015 examines how menstruation evolved in the Hebrew Bible from one of several ritually impure bodily emissions into a metaphoric vehicle to express sinfulness. Three of the essays in Troyer, et al. 2003 also explore the interrelation between female blood, impurity, and holiness in biblical texts. Phillip 2006 considers biblical texts related to menstruation and childbirth within both their biblical and ancient Near Eastern context, examining the cultural, religious, and social conceptions of women, their bodies, and their bodily fluids that they reflect. Ruane 2013 explores the relationship between sacrificial practice and gender, especially in relation to power, examining how the various ways in which women’s inclusion in or exclusion from sacrifice and other ritual performances functions to define, enact, and reinforce their subordinate social status. The collected essays in Rooke 2009 explore a variety of topics related to the intersection of gender, the priesthood, and the priestly worldview, including female religious functionaries and their absence from the Hebrew Bible, masculinity and femininity as seen through the lens of priestly purity legislation, the definition of masculinity that is evidenced by priests’ clothing, and the marginalization of women in priestly ideologies of nationality and kinship. Wegner 2003 identifies gender-based differences in the priestly guidelines for genital discharges in Leviticus 15, noting that while both men and women are to bring sacrifices, only men are instructed to come before the divine presence. She explores the larger ramifications of the exclusion of women from coming into the presence of Yahweh and from other aspects of the public domain of the cult, and looks into other ways that women could participate in community religious life.

  • Goldstein, Elizabeth. Impurity and Gender in the Hebrew Bible. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015.

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    Goldstein traces stage by stage how menstruation evolved in biblical texts from being solely a cause of ritual impurity to becoming synonymous with grave sin, as a result of figurative usage and semantic broadening of the term ndh. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Phillip, Tarja S. Menstruation and Childbirth in the Bible: Fertility and Impurity. Studies in Biblical Literature 88. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.

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    Utilizing a philological-historical approach and informed by anthropological models and feminist biblical interpretation, Phillip engages in close readings of biblical texts related to menstruation and childbirth, considering them within their biblical and ancient Near Eastern context. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Rooke, Deborah W., ed. Embroidered Garments: Priests and Gender in Biblical Israel. Hebrew Bible Monographs 25. Studies in the Bible and Gender 2. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2009.

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    Collection of ten essays arising from a 2008 conference at King’s College, London, that explores a variety of topics related to the intersection of gender, the priesthood, and the priestly world-view by some of the top feminist scholars in this area. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Ruane, Nicole J. Sacrifice and Gender in Biblical Law. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139046961Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the relationship between sacrificial practice and gender, including the role gender plays in selection of sacrificial animals, who can bring offerings, and who can perform sacrificial rituals, contending that biblical sacrificial laws serve to reinforce the subordinate social status of women. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Troyer, Kristen de, J. A. Herbert, J. A. Johnson, and A. M. Korte, eds. Wholly Woman, Holy Blood: A Feminist Critique of Purity and Impurity. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003.

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    Three of the articles in this collection focus on the Hebrew Bible. Kathleen O’Grady and Deborah Ellens both explore the relationship between gender, genital discharges, and impurity in Leviticus 15. Kirstin De Troyer considers gendered notions of impurity related to the law of the parturient in Leviticus 12. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Wegner, Judith Romney. “‘Coming before the Lord’: The Exclusion of Women from the Public Domain of the Israelite Priestly Cult.” In The Book of Leviticus. Edited by R. Rendtorff and R. A. Kugler, 451–465. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

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    Contends that in the priestly corpus women were excluded from coming into the presence of Yahweh, reflecting the view that women could not partake in the public domain of the cult, but women could engage in other cult-related activities that did not involve coming into the divine presence. Technical; for advanced students.

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Gender Critical Approaches

Gender criticism focuses on the cultural norms and social processes that create a society’s construction of gender, as well as how individuals’ and groups’ performance of gender either conforms to or fails to conform to societal expectations and assumptions. Within biblical studies, those utilizing a gender critical approach often focus on texts that reflect, promulgate, and/or try to enforce normative ideals of gendered behavior, as well as those that appear to subvert, undermine, or challenge those normative ideals. Stone 2007 provides a good introduction to the discipline of gender criticism, and demonstrates how it can be utilized in the interpretation of biblical texts. To illustrate, he provides an analysis of the story of Abimelech in Judges 9, and in the process shows how large a role cultural assumptions about gender play in the book of Judges. Sawyer 2002 examines how both maleness and femaleness in the Bible are constructed in the light of divine omnipotence, and considers how biblical writers utilize gender as a theological strategy, using female characters to undermine human masculinity as part of a strategy to elevate the biblical God. The essays in Rooke 2007, divided into sections on gender in law and ritual, ethnological and anthropological approaches to gender, and gender in post-biblical literature, explore a variety of gender critical issues related to the Hebrew Bible and post-biblical literature. Bauer 1999 contemplates gender dynamics in the book of Jeremiah, investigating the various ways in which gender is operative in the book’s language, images, and metaphors. Chapman 2004 examines how gendered language functioned as an ideological tool that shaped historical memory in Assyrian and biblical representations of the Israelite-Assyrian encounter and its aftermath, providing a perspective on the construction of gender in ancient Israel within the wider ancient Near Eastern cultural milieu. Lefkovitz 2010, focusing on the impact of biblical gender constructions on contemporary views of gender and sexuality, considers how certain biblical narratives have served as foundation texts in the development of contemporary ideas of Jewish masculinities, femininities, sexual identities, and sexuality.

  • Bauer, Angela. Gender in the Book of Jeremiah: A Feminist-Literary Reading. Studies in Biblical Literature 5. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

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    Informed by gender studies, feminist criticism, and rhetorical criticism, this work examines the gender dynamics utilized in the rhetorical strategies of Jeremiah, and considers the effect of Jeremiah’s use of female voices, images and bodies on both ancient and contemporary readers. Technical; good for advanced undergraduates.

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  • Chapman, Cynthia R. The Gendered Language of Warfare in the Israelite-Assyrian Encounter. Harvard Semitic Monographs 62. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2004.

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    Provides a comparative analysis of the use of gendered language as an ideological tool by both neo-Assyrian and biblical authors in their descriptions of the Israelite-Assyrian encounter and its aftermath. Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Lefkovitz, Lori Hope. In Scripture: The First Stories of Jewish Sexual Identities. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010.

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    In this terse, engaging book, Lefkovitz, informed by gender theory (especially the work of Judith Butler) and feminist critical theory, considers the power certain biblical stories have had to shape the development of Jewish constructions of gender, sexuality, and the sexed body. Good for all audiences.

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  • Rooke, Deborah, ed. A Question of Sex: Gender and Difference in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007.

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    Collection of ten essays originating from a 2006 conference at King’s College, London, including a methodological overview by Deborah F. Sawyer and contributions by other top scholars in biblical gender studies, including Deborah Rooke, Amy Kalmanofsky, Nicole J. Ruane, and Ovidiu Creangă. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Sawyer, Deborah F. God, Gender, and the Bible. London: Routledge, 2002.

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    This dense and challenging work explores the role of gender constructions in the context of an overarching biblical narrative of an omnipotent male God, contending that the power of the male deity undermines or “destabilizes” both masculinity and femininity. Technical; good for advanced students comfortable with postmodern theory.

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  • Stone, Ken. “Gender Criticism: The Un-manning of Abimelech.” In Judges and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies. 2d ed. Edited by Gale A. Yee, 183–201. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007.

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    Provides an introduction to biblical gender criticism, and uses the account of Abimelech’s “unmanly” death in Judges 9 to demonstrate how a gender-critical approach can shed light on certain episodes in Judges and other parts of the Bible, and contribute to our understanding of the biblical world. Accessible to undergraduates.

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Gendered God-Language

While a large body of scholarship has been written on male language and imagery associated with God, usually focusing on depictions of God as husband, father, shepherd, king, and warrior, an emerging body of work explores female language and imagery associated with God, including depictions of God as midwife, a woman in labor, and mother. Bronner 1983–1984, a relatively early piece of scholarship in this area, explores female imagery in Isaiah 40–66, especially the image of God as mother, bearing, carrying, caring for, and comforting children. Dille 2004 and Løland 2008 focus on gendered language used in relation to God in Second Isaiah. Dille 2004 examines how the metaphors of God as father and mother interact with other metaphors used for God in Isaiah 40–55, and considers these parental metaphors for God within their cultural context, as well as how they interact with other metaphors for God in Isaiah. Løland 2008 investigates whether gender is significant when gendered god-language occurs in a text, both in terms of understanding the text and in terms of the construction of a concept of God. Engaging in a close reading of three sample texts from Isaiah 40–55 in which god-language is drawn from both female gendered language and male gendered language, used side by side, she determines that female gender is a significant feature of the god-language in these texts, and that there is no conceptual difference between male and female god-language in the Hebrew Bible. Claassens 2012, the culmination of several years’ work on the use of gendered language to describe God, explores the images of God as mourner, mother, and midwife during the Babylonian exile, which she sees as reflecting a new understanding of God that emerged from Israel’s traumatic experience of the Exile and its aftermath. She contends that these metaphors offer possibilities for alternative images of God rooted in engaged, life-enhancing acts and compassion for those suffering and the powerless, as well as an alternate way to understand God as deliverer. Sawyer 2002 considers the role of gender constructions in the Bible in the context of an overarching narrative of an omnipotent male God, contending that the power of the male deity undermines or “destabilizes” both masculinity and femininity.

  • Bronner, Leila Leah. “Gynomorphic Imagery in Exilic Isaiah 40–66.” Dor le Dor 12 (1983–1984): 71–83.

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    Study of female imagery in Isaiah 40–66, including the use of birth imagery to denote God’s creative power and the depiction of God as a compassionate and comforting mother; suggests the prophet drew his imagery from the one form of security left to an exiled people, namely their family. Accessible to all audiences.

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  • Claassens, L. Juliana M. Mourner, Mother, Midwife: Reimagining God’s Delivering Presence in the Old Testament. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.

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    Study of female imagery and metaphors used to describe God that arose in response to the trauma of the Babylonian Exile and the need to find a new way to envision God as Deliverer, since the old ways no longer made sense. Good for all audiences; especially recommended for seminary students.

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  • Dille, Sarah J. Mixing Metaphors: God as Mother and Father in Deutero-Isaiah. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 398. Gender Culture, Theory, 13. London: T & T Clark International, 2004.

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    Utilizing George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s concept of “metaphoric coherence,” Dille examines the use of parental imagery for God in five passages in Deutero-Isaiah, considering these metaphors within their particular rhetorical and cultural context. Good for those with some background in biblical studies; familiarity with metaphorical theory will be helpful.

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  • Løland, Hanne. Silent or Salient Gender?: The Interpretation of Gendered God-Language in the Hebrew Bible, Exemplified in Isaiah 42, 46 and 49. Forschungen zum Alten Testament, 32. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.

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    Løland examines the use and possible significance of gendered god-language in the Hebrew Bible through a close study of three sample texts. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Sawyer, Deborah F. God, Gender, and the Bible. London: Routledge, 2002.

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    This dense and challenging work, informed by contemporary gender theory, especially the work of Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler, explores how both maleness and femaleness in the Bible are constructed in the light of divine omnipotence. Technical; good for advanced students comfortable with postmodern theory.

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Masculinities

Masculinities studies, a subfield of gender studies, focuses on the social construction of masculinity in different cultures and settings. One of the findings of this discipline is that there is no one construction of masculinity within a given culture or community, but rather multiple masculinities, coexisting and often competing with one another, some dominant, some subordinate, and some marginalized. Over the last two decades the field of biblical masculinities studies, which focuses on the way that manhood, maleness, and masculinity are socially constructed in biblical texts, has grown exponentially. Some fruitful avenues of research have focused on the intersection of power structures with constructions of masculinities, and explored the shifting dynamic between the dominant hegemonic model and other masculinities. For those interested in a detailed survey of biblical masculinity studies, Haddox 2016 provides an excellent overview of the last twenty years of biblical scholarship in this area. Creangǎ 2010 and Creangǎ and Smit 2014 are two excellent collections of essays exploring various aspects of the construction and representation of masculinities in the Hebrew Bible, and provide a helpful resource for those interested in getting a feel for the range of topics and methodological approaches currently being utilized in studies of biblical masculinities. Clines 2002 identifies several qualities that he classifies as characteristics of masculinity and shows how these qualities are typical among male prophets as depicted in biblical texts. Haddox 2011 also considers masculinity within the prophetic texts, focusing on the construction of gender and the use of male imagery in Hosea, contending that Hosea uses rhetoric that attacks his male audience’s masculinity in order to achieve his desired effect. Several studies focus on masculinities within narrative texts. Olson 2006 detects multiple and complex masculinities within Genesis 2–4, and sees hope in the narrative for a way of loosening the long-standing connection (“untying the knot”) between masculinity and violence, since in Genesis, males are depicted both as violent and reconciliatory, both helping build communities and causing their disintegration. Wilson 2016 considers biblical narratives that describe both successful and unsuccessful transitions from boyhood to manhood, and explores how these stories provide insight into varying representations of biblical masculinity and how the ideals associated with manhood can change dramatically over time. Eilberg-Schwartz 1994 contemplates the impact that the depiction of the relationship between God and Israel being like that of a husband and wife had on the construction of masculinity of human males in ancient Judaism. Among the consequences, he contends, is the development of the idea of God as sexless and the prohibition of making images of God, thus suppressing God’s sexual maleness, in order to counter the homoeroticism of such imagery. For those interested in understanding biblical masculinities within a broader cultural context, the essays in Zsolnay 2017 consider the multiple masculinities that are performed in biblical texts within the wider context of masculinities in the ancient Near East.

  • Clines, David J. A. “He-Prophets: Masculinity as a Problem for the Hebrew Prophets and Their Interpreters.” In Sense and Sensitivity: Essays on Reading the Bible in Memory of Robert Carroll. Edited by Alastair G. Hunter and Philip R. Davies, 311–328. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 348. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

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    Clines, identifying qualities associated with masculinity that he sees as typical among male prophets, discusses the problems that the masculinity of the prophets can pose to modern readers and interpreters. This is a good example of this prolific author’s approach to biblical masculinities. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Creangǎ, Ovidiu, ed. Men and Masculinity in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2010.

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    Collection of fourteen essays, most not previously published, exploring various aspects of the construction and representation of masculinities in the Hebrew Bible. Contributors include, in addition to Creangǎ, Roland Boer, David J. A. Clines, Susan E. Haddox, and Stephen D. Moore. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Creangǎ, Ovidiu, and Peter-Ben Smit, eds. Biblical Masculinities Foregrounded. Hebrew Bible Monographs 62. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2014.

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    Collection of thirteen previously unpublished essays, a sequel of sorts to Creangǎ 2010, exploring various aspects of masculinities in the Bible and related literature; includes five essays each on the Old and New Testaments, and two responses to these articles. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard. God’s Phallus and Other Problems for Men and Monotheism. Boston: Beacon, 1994.

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    Eilberg-Schwartz, drawing on anthropology, gender criticism, and psychoanalytic criticism, considers the impact that the depiction of God’s masculinity in the Hebrew Bible had on the conceptualization of human male masculinity and gender relations in ancient Judaism. Good for all audiences.

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  • Haddox, Susan E. Metaphor and Masculinity in Hosea. Studies in Biblical Literature 141. New York: Peter Lang, 2011.

    DOI: 10.3726/978-1-4539-0800-6Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Utilizing gender studies, rhetorical studies, and cognitive anthropology, Haddox examines the use of metaphor and the construction of gender and male identity in Hosea, and considers the impact of Hosea’s rhetoric on his predominantly elite male audience. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Haddox, Susan E. “Masculinity Studies of the Hebrew Bible: The First Two Decades.” Currents in Biblical Research 14.2 (2016): 176–206.

    DOI: 10.1177/1476993X15575496Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Analytical survey of biblical masculinity studies from the past two decades which traces the evolution of this subfield over this period. Provides an excellent introduction for those interested in this area, as well as helpful guidance for further reading. Good for all audiences. Available online by subscription.

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  • Olson, Dennis T. “Untying the Knot? Masculinity, Violence, and the Creation-Fall Story of Genesis 2–4.” In Engaging the Bible in a Gendered World: An Introduction to Feminist Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Katharine Doob Sakenfeld. Edited by Linda Day and Carolyn Pressler, 73–86. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

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    Olson engages in a close reading of Genesis 2–4, finding a multifaceted depiction of men and masculinity in the text, and suggests possible positive implications for men today. Good for all audiences.

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  • Wilson, Stephen. Making Men: The Male Coming-of-Age Theme in the Hebrew Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190222826.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Wilson explores how the coming-of-age theme is employed by biblical authors and redactors, considering both stories of successful coming of age and those in which the boys fail to mature. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Zsolnay, Ilona. Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity. Studies in the History of the Ancient Near East. London: Routledge, 2017.

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    Three of the essays in this collection consider the construction of both hegemonic and alternative masculinities within biblical texts. Other articles in the collection focus on the wide spectrum of masculinities found in ancient Near Eastern texts and iconography. Good for those with some background in the field.

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Subversion of Gender Performance

There has been a wealth of biblical scholarship over the past two decades focusing on the idea of gender as an unstable construction, dependent upon performance, and highlighting the fragility of the normative construction of gender in biblical Israel. Subversion of gender performance entails both cases of subversive gender performance, when an actor performs a gender other than what is expected, and cases where something is done to an individual that subverts his or her gender performance. Both Vedeler 2008 and Fox 2009 consider the question of what exactly the “cross-dressing” law in Deuteronomy 22:5 is prohibiting, and present two different solutions. Several studies have focused on subversion of gender performance in narrative texts. Niditch 1989, one of the first to explore the reversal of expected gender performance in Judges 4–5, discusses how the Song of Deborah’s description of Sisera’s death emasculates and effeminizes him and empowers Jael, who pierces him in a parody of a would-be rape. In contrast, Haddox 2013 considers how Judges 4 and 5 present characters who violate gender norms, and yet, she contends, in both chapters the basic ideology remains deeply patriarchal and the violence, even if carried out by a woman, is presented in masculine terms. Stone 2009 ponders why the humiliating death of Abimlelech at the hands of a woman is brought up by Joab in 2 Samuel 11 when conveying the unrelated news to David that Uriah has been killed, suggesting that in doing so Joab is subtly commenting on David’s own masculine performance. Much has been written about subversion of masculine performance in the prophetic texts, both in terms of the performance of the prophets themselves and in the ways they describe the failed masculine performance of defeated kings and soldiers. Graybill 2016 explores how representation of the male prophetic body and depictions of the gender performance of several of the literary prophets do not conform to the relatively rigid norm of hegemonic masculinity found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. Kamionkowski 2003 and Lemos 2011 consider different aspects of Ezekiel’s reworking of the marriage metaphor as a response to the traumatizing and humiliating experience of defeat of Judea at the hands of the Babylonians. For those interested in comparative studies, Chapman 2004 considers the ways that both the Assyrian and biblical sources feminize, discredit, and undermine the masculine performance of enemy kings and soldiers during the Israelite-Assyrian encounter.

  • Chapman, Cynthia. The Gendered Language of Warfare in the Israelite-Assyrian Encounter. Harvard Semitic Monographs 62. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2004.

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    Chapman considers the depiction of both successful and failed performance of masculinity during warfare in biblical and Assyrian sources, and examines how discrediting and undermining the masculine performance of enemy kings and soldiers is used as an ideological tool during the Israelite-Assyrian encounter. Technical, but useful for undergraduates.

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  • Fox, Nili Sacher. “Gender Transformation and Transgression: Contextualizing the Prohibition of Cross-Dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5.” In Mishneh Todah: Studies in Deuteronomy and Its Cultural Environment in Honor of Jeffrey H. Tigay. Edited by Nili Sacher Fox, David A. Glatt-Gilad, and Michael J. Williams, 49–71. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009.

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    Taking into consideration evidence regarding attitudes toward gender ambiguity, cross-dressing, and gender transformation from neighboring cultures, Fox suggests that the prohibition against cross-dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5 served to strictly enforce gender norms and “proper” gender performance within Israel’s two-gender system, which was seen as integral to the community’s survival. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Graybill, Rhiannon. Are We Not Men?: Unstable Masculinity in the Hebrew Prophets. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

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    Study of how representations of the male body of prophets such as Hosea, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah often break with the normative representation of masculine embodiment in biblical texts, and their prophetic gender performance often subverts norms of hegemonic masculinity found elsewhere in the Bible. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Haddox, Susan E. “Gendering Violence and Violating Gender in Judges 4–5.” Conversations with the Biblical World, Proceedings of the Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society and the Midwest Region Society of Biblical Literature 33 (2013): 67–81.

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    Exploring the interplay between feminine and masculine gender roles in Judges 4 and 5, Haddox notes that both texts present characters who violate gender norms, and yet in both the basic ideology remains deeply patriarchal and the violence, even if carried out by a woman, is presented in masculine terms. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Kamionkowski, Tamar. Gender Reversal and Cosmic Chaos: A Study on the Book of Ezekiel. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 368. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003.

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    Exploration of gender ambiguities and reversals in Ezekiel 16 contending that wife Jerusalem’s sin is not just infidelity to Yahweh, but subverting defined gender roles within their relationship by behaving aggressively and independently. The result is chaos, controllable only through a reinforcement of “normative” gender scripts. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Lemos, T. M. “The Emasculation of Exile: Hypermasculinity and Feminization in the Book of Ezekiel.” In Interpreting Exile: Displacement and Deportation in Biblical and Modern Contexts. Edited by Brad E. Kelle, Frank Ritchel Ames, and Jacob L. Wright, 377–393. Ancient Israel and its Literature 10. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011.

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    Study of Ezekiel 23 as a response to the humiliating, demasculinizing Judean defeat and loss of land at the hands of the Babylonians, focusing on the hypermasculinity of the imagery used to describe the foreign lovers of the metaphoric Oholibah, while vanquished Judea is feminized, depicted as a woman. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Niditch, Susan. “Eroticism and Death in the Tale of Jael.” In Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel. Edited by Peggy L. Day, 43–57. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.

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    Niditch examines how the description of Sisera’s death in the song of Deborah reverses expected gender roles. Sisera dies in a pose of defeat and humiliation, emasculated and effeminized, falling dead between Jael’s legs in a parody of a would-be rape, while Jael is the aggressor. Good for all audiences.

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  • Stone, Ken. “How a Woman Unmans a King: Gender Reversal and the Woman of Thebez in Judges 9.” In From the Margins 1: Women of the Hebrew Bible and Their Afterlives. Edited by Peter S. Hawkins and Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg, 71–85. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 2009.

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    Suggests that Joab’s recollection of the death of Abimlelech, who was “unmanned” by being killed by a woman, when conveying the news to David that Uriah has been killed in 2 Samuel 11, can be read as a subtle commentary on David’s own diminishing masculine performance. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Vedeler, Harold Torger. “Reconstructing Meaning in Deuteronomy 22:5: Gender, Society, and Transvestitism in Israel and the Ancient Near East.” Journal of Biblical Literature 127 (2008): 461–475.

    DOI: 10.2307/25610133Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Vedeler contends that Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits a particular type of cultic activity found in neighboring cultures that involved performing the other gender; he sees evidence of this in the law’s usage of the term “abomination” (toveah) and “geber,” a term associated with gender roles and expectations. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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Studies in Biblical Sex and Sexuality

There have been numerous studies in the past few decades that have looked at various aspects of sex and sexuality in the Hebrew Bible. One of the broadest in scope is Brenner 1997, which considers how love, desire, sex, and sexuality are gendered in biblical texts, and how this gendering serves to maintain male dominance in the social structure and social power relations. Stone 1996 also explores the interconnections between sex, gender, and power, specifically in the Deuteronomistic history, observing that references to sexual activity in the books of Joshua to Kings all relate to the quest by males for public honor, power, and prestige. Several studies focus on why certain sexual acts are considered illicit. Lipka 2006 explores the conceptualization of sexual transgression in the Hebrew Bible, and how it fits into the larger societal infrastructure that serves to control and regulate sexual behavior through the perpetuation of sexual norms and mores. Frymer-Kensky 1989 discusses the place of sexuality within the social and cosmic order, and considers how the sex laws delineate the proper parameters of sexual activity. Sex, because of its power to dissolve categories and to blur distinctions, was seen as posing a danger to the cosmic order. Illicit sexual acts are treated as defiling to the land, and thus pose a threat to Israel’s existence. Levavi-Feinstein 2014 also considers the relationship between sexuality and defilement. She examines the way that the concepts of purity and pollution are applied to sexual relationships, and identifies a marked distinction in the way pollution language is used in relation to women and to men in sexual contexts. Eilberg-Schwartz 1991 and Boer 2012 both incorporate a psychoanalytic approach in their studies. Eilberg-Schwartz 1991 explores how seemingly contradictory notions of the body were dealt with both in ancient Israel and in rabbinic Judaism. As part of the discussion, he explores the biblical priestly preoccupation with procreation, genealogy, and governing and regulating the body and the question of how to interpret the priestly idea of the creation of humans in God’s image in light of priestly source’s conception of God as disembodied and sexless. The provocative articles in Boer 2012 involve “earthy” readings of a variety of biblical texts, and includes several articles each on the Song of Songs, biblical masculinities, and various aspects of sex and sexuality, with a particular focus on pornography and paraphilias.

  • Boer, Roland. The Earthy Nature of the Bible: Fleshly Readings of Sex, Masculinity, and Carnality. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137273062Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Collection of essays, some previously published, involving “earthy” readings of biblical texts, including a porn-positive exegesis of the Song of Songs and essays focusing on prostitution and bestiality. The essays are entertaining, though the quality is uneven, and some readers will find Boer’s bold, playful choice of language off-putting.

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  • Brenner, Athalya. The Intercourse of Knowledge: On Gendering Desire and “Sexuality” in the Hebrew Bible. Biblical Interpretation 26. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1997.

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    Examines biblical views toward a wide range of sexual activities, and engages in a semantic study of terms and metaphors used for desire, love, sexual activity, and male and female body parts, showing how they reflect and promote a gendered view of the body, desire, and sexuality. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard. “People of the Body: The Problem of the Body for the People of the Book.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 2 (1991): 1–24.

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    Considers how seemingly contradictory notions of the body, such as the idea that humans were created in God’s image, but God has no body, and that sexuality is viewed positively, yet semen, and thus sex, is seen as polluting, were handled both in ancient Israel and in rabbinic Judaism. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription. Reprinted as “The Problem of the Body for the People of the Book” in Bach 1999 (cited under Women and Gender in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament).

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  • Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. “Law and Philosophy: The Case of Sex in the Bible.” Semeia 45 (1989): 89–102.

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    Considers the place of sexuality within the social order, and explores how and why illicit sexual acts such as adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality are viewed in biblical texts as posing a threat to both Israel’s existence and the cosmic order. Accessible to undergraduates. Reprinted in Bach 1999 (cited under Women and Gender in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament)

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  • Levavi-Feinstein, Eve. Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199395545.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Study of the biblical conception of sexual pollution that finds a gender distinction in the way pollution language is used. Descriptions of female pollution reflect a view of women as male sexual property, while descriptions of male pollution relate to concerns over maintaining Israel’s holiness. Technical; good for advanced students. Available online by subscription.

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  • Lipka, Hilary B. Sexual Transgression in the Hebrew Bible. Hebrew Bible Monographs 7. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2006.

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    Identifies three different aspects of sexual transgression, as a violation of religious, communal, and personal boundaries, and uses the examples of adultery and sexual coercion to examine how each of these is constructed in biblical texts, and when and how they were conceptually linked. Technical, but accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Stone, Ken. Sex, Honor, and Power in the Deuteronomistic History. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 234. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.

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    Informed by cultural anthropology and literary theory, Stone explores episodes within the Deuteronomistic history in which sexual activity plays a role, observing that in each of these episodes, accounts of sex are closely related to struggles between men for honor, power, and prestige. Accessible to general audiences.

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Same-Sex Relations and Homoeroticism

Academic studies focusing on biblical attitudes toward same-sex relations first started to appear in the 1990s, and the past two decades have seen a rapid growth of scholarship in this area. General works tend to consider the same texts, but their readings of these texts and the conclusions they draw from the biblical evidence tends to fall into one of two distinct camps. Gagnon 2001 and Nissinen 1998 are excellent examples of how two scholars can consider the same evidence and come to two very different conclusions. There have also been several studies focusing on specific texts related to same-sex relations. Olyan 1994 and Walsh 2001 both view Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as prohibitions specifically against anal intercourse between two men, and they both see evidence that these laws reflect two different phases of development, but they diverge considerably on several other matters related to the interpretation of these verses. Boyarin 1995 discusses the prohibitions in Leviticus against male-male sexual acts within the larger context of other acts considered to be illicit mixing, concluding that it is a fear of hybrids, a mixing of things that must be kept separate, that is at the heart of each of these prohibitions. He also addresses the question of whether Genesis 19 is an indictment against homosexuality, concluding that it is not, but rather an indictment against a hostile, violent culture. Stone 1995 suggests that notions about gender roles, subject-object positions in sexual practice, and male homosexual contact likely underlie the threatened use of homosexual rape in Judges 19, and observes that the mob achieves its goal by raping the Levite’s concubine, thus bringing dishonor upon him through his woman. There has been a lot of scholarship on the relationship between David and Jonathan. Olyan 2009, responding to those who argue that the language of love used in the context of David and Jonathan described a covenant relationship in the form of a political alliance, argues that David’s comparison of their love to that between a man and a woman in his lament reveals there was something more going on between them. Ackerman 2005 compares the relationships between David and Jonathan and Gilgamesh and Enkidu, seeing many parallels between them, and concludes that the language used to describe the relationships in both cases is intentionally ambiguous, and that this erotic and sexual ambiguity is a key to interpreting these texts.

  • Ackerman, Susan. When Heroes Love: The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.7312/acke13260Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this engaging, accessible monograph, Ackerman explores the use of intentionally ambiguous erotic and sexual language to describe the relationships of both David and Jonathan and Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Good for all audiences.

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  • Boyarin, Daniel. “Are There Any Jews in ‘The History of Sexuality’?” Journal of the History of Sexuality 5 (1995): 333–355.

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    Noting that Foucault ignores biblical and ancient Jewish culture in his history of sexuality, Boyarin provides his own analysis, with a focus on texts involving male-male sexual relations. Good for all audiences. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Gagnon, Robert A. J. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

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    Gagnon sets out to demonstrate that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as a sin and that there exist no valid hermeneutical arguments, either based on biblical interpretation or contemporary scientific knowledge, for overriding the Bible’s authority on this matter. Accessible to all audiences, intended for conservative Christians.

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  • Nissinen, Martti. Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective. Translated by Kirsi Sterna. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998.

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    Balanced study of attitudes toward homoeroticism in both the biblical world and in neighboring cultures, concluding that ancient attitudes toward same-sex relations are inseparable from assumptions about gender role, social status, and active/passive positions in intercourse, and our modern understanding of sexuality has no equivalent in these sources. Good for all audiences.

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  • Olyan, Saul M. “‘And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying Down of a Woman’: On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 5 (1994): 179–206.

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    Demonstrates that these two laws specifically concern male-male anal intercourse, not male-male sexual contact in general, and reflect a concern with illicit mixing. Also argues that the redaction history of these verses is crucial to understanding them, since they represent two different stages of development. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Olyan, Saul. “Surpassing the Love of Women”: Another Look at 2 Samuel 1:26.” In Authorizing Marriage?: Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions. Edited by Mark D. Jordan, Meghan T. Sweeney, and David M. Mellott, 7–16, 165–170. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

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    Contends that David’s statement in his lament that Jonathan’s love was more wondrous than the love of women reveals that the relationship is more than simply a political alliance, since the comparison implies something sexual or sexual-emotional. Good for all audiences.

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  • Stone, Ken. “Gender and Homosexuality in Judges 19: Subject-Honor, Object-Shame?” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 67 (1995): 87–107.

    DOI: 10.1177/030908929502006705Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Stone explores the interrelation between gender, power, homosexuality, and hospitality in Judges 19 within the context of the dynamic of honor and shame, and shows how sexual violence against women can be seen as a reflection of the struggles for honor and power between men. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Walsh, Jerome T. “Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who Is Doing What to Whom?” Journal of Biblical Literature 120.2 (2001): 201–209.

    DOI: 10.2307/3268292Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this response to Olyan’s 1994 article, Walsh contends that Olyan’s argument that these laws refer specifically to anal intercourse between men is correct, and he also sees these texts as reflecting different phases of development, but he challenges some of Olyan’s other assertions and his conclusion. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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Adultery

Adultery is understood in the Hebrew Bible as consensual intercourse between a married or betrothed woman and a man other than her husband, whose own marital status is immaterial. While scholars are generally in agreement over what was considered adultery in the Hebrew Bible, there has been some debate about how it was handled, given the significant differences between the treatment of adultery in the legal collections, where it is labeled a sin and either prohibited outright or punished with death, and the treatment of adultery in the other biblical genres, in which punishments vary a great deal. Phillips 1981 contends that adultery in ancient Israel was a capital crime, and, using the biblical evidence as a guide, he traces a historical trajectory in sanctions against adultery through various phases. In contrast, McKeating 1979 rejects both the idea that the biblical evidence reflects a discernible historical trajectory of sanctions against adultery within ancient Israel and that adultery was generally considered a capital crime. He suggests that death perhaps was a maximum sentence, which the husband might press for if he wished, but that the wronged husband also had access to a variety of other sanctions. Lipka 2006 takes this debate into account in her detailed analysis of all of the biblical texts that address adultery, and concludes that McKeating’s interpretation of the biblical evidence regarding adultery is more likely correct. Others address different issues regarding the treatment of adultery in the Hebrew Bible. Pressler 1993 considers the handling of adultery in the Deuteronomic laws, and the author relates her discussion to her larger argument that women fare no better in terms of legal, domestic, and social status in the Deuteronomic laws than they do in the other legal collections, contrary to what some others have argued. Westbrook 1990 argues against the distinction made by some that adultery was considered an offense against God in ancient Israel, and an offense against the husband in cuneiform law, arguing that it is treated as both an offense against the husband and as a sin in both sets of laws. Lastly, Bach 1999 has a section with five articles devoted to different aspects of the Sotah ritual, a trial by ordeal prescribed in cases where a husband suspects his wife of adultery, but doesn’t have proof.

  • Bach, Alice, ed. Women in the Hebrew Bible: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1999.

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    This book includes a section with five excellent essays on the Sotah ritual in Numbers 5:11–31, by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Jacob Milgrom, Jack Sasson, Michael Fishbane, and Alice Bach. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Lipka, Hilary B. Sexual Transgression in the Hebrew Bible. Hebrew Bible Monographs 7. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2006.

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    Provides an in-depth discussion of all of the biblical texts that address adultery, drawing a distinction between those that take adultery as a transgression against religious boundaries, those that depict it as a transgression against communal boundaries, and those that depict it as both. Technical but accessible to undergraduates.

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  • McKeating, Henry. “Sanctions against Adultery in Ancient Israelite Society, with Some Reflections on Methodology in the Study of Old Testament Ethics.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 11 (1979): 57–72.

    DOI: 10.1177/030908927900401105Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Noting that there is no recorded instance in the biblical narrative texts of anyone actually being put to death for adultery, calls into question how much the biblical legal collections reflected actual legal practice regarding adultery in ancient Israel, positing that other sanctions were more commonly employed. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Phillips, Anthony. “Another Look at Adultery.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 20 (1981): 3–25.

    DOI: 10.1177/030908928100602001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A response to McKeating contending that the death penalty for adultery was enforced, and that the biblical adultery laws can be traced through several phases. A central contention is that women were not held liable for adultery under biblical criminal law until the Deuteronomic reforms. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Pressler, Carolyn. The View of Women Found in the Deuteronomic Family Laws. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 216. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1993.

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    Detailed analysis of the handling of adultery as part of Pressler’s study of the treatment of women in the Deuteronomic family laws, providing support for her argument that Deuteronomy does not offer women a more favorable legal status than do other legal collections. Technical, but accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Westbrook, Raymond. “Adultery in Ancient Near Eastern Law.” Revue Biblique 97 (1990): 542–580.

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    Examining adultery in the biblical legal collections within the context of ancient Near Eastern law, Westbrook observes that in both, adultery was considered an offense against the husband and a sin. What we don’t know is how much these laws reflected actual legal practice in these cultures. Accessible to undergraduates. Reprinted in Law from the Tigris to the Tiber: The Writings of Raymond Westbrook. Vol. 1, The Shared Tradition. Edited by Bruce Wells and F. Rachel Magdalene, 245–287. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009.

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Premarital Sexuality

Discussion of premarital sexuality in the biblical world centers on women, since women were the only ones whose sexuality was closely regulated, not only during marriage, but also before marriage. Berlin 2009 discusses laws related to premarital sex in Deuteronomy 22:13–29, noting that in these laws, Deuteronomy seeks to preserve traditions such as parental authority, female chastity, and contractual marriage. Berlin observes that both Deuteronomy 22:28–29 and 22:25–27 seek to minimize the presence of unmarried non-virgin women in society, in order to avoid the situation described in Deuteronomy 22:13–21. With these laws, Deuteronomy emphasizes the value of premarital chastity while still protecting women who were, in its view, forced to have sex. Both Locher 1986 and Wells 2005 attempt to shed light on what is going on in Deuteronomy 22:13–21 by considering the law within the context of the larger ancient Near Eastern legal culture, and in the process come to very different conclusions about who is being accused, and whether the punishments are equal in cases where the accusation was proved true and where it was proved slanderous. There has been a large amount of scholarship on Genesis 34, with some taking the sexual encounter between Shechem and Dinah to be consensual, and some taking it to be non-consensual, often hinging on the interpretation of the term ענה (inah). Bechtel 1994 and Scholz 2000 are two excellent examples of works from both sides of this sometimes heated debate. Frymer-Kensky 1998 provides a wider overview of the role of premarital virginity in ancient Israel based on the biblical evidence, relating the emphasis on bridal virginity to the important role that female chastity plays in family honor. She sees Genesis 34 as a perfect example of what happens when a case of premarital sex is viewed as an egregious case of violating family honor.

  • Bechtel, Lyn M. “What if Dinah Is Not Raped? (Genesis 34).” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 62 (1994): 19–36.

    DOI: 10.1177/030908929401906202Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Semantic analysis of the term ענה (inah) which concludes that when used in sexual contexts, the term does not necessarily denote rape, but rather the shame or humiliation associated with sexual intercourse that violates marital, family, or community bonds and obligations. Views Genesis 34:2 as denoting consensual sex. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Berlin, Adele. “Sex and the Single Girl in Deuteronomy 22.” In Mishneh Todah: Studies in Deuteronomy and Its Cultural Environment in Honor of Jeffrey H. Tigay. Edited by Nili Sacher Fox, David A. Glatt-Gilad, and Michael J. Williams, 95–112. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009.

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    Astute study observing that there is no room in the world of Deuteronomy for a sexually experienced, never married woman; in Deuteronomy 22, a woman who has sex outside of marriage is either married off quickly or put to death, depending on whether she was considered a consenting participant. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. “Virginity in the Bible.” In Gender and Law in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. Edited by Victor H. Matthews, Bernard M. Levinson, and Tikva Frymer-Kensky, 79–96. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 262. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.

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    Observes that the dual usage of בתולה (betulah) to denote both a virgin and a girl of marriageable age reflects the basic cultural assumption that young marriageable women are virgins, and considers the importance of premarital virginity within the context of the connection between female chastity and family honor. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Locher, Clemens. Die Ehre einer Frau in Israel: Exegetische und Rechtsvergleichende Studien zu Deuteronomium 22,13–21. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 70. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986.

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    Analyzing Deuteronomy 22:13–21 in light of ancient Near Eastern legal culture, contends that the case involves a husband bringing charges against his wife, with the punishment of the husband being considerably lighter if his accusation is proved false. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies. In German.

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  • Scholz, Susanne. Rape Plots: A Feminist Cultural Study of Genesis 34. Studies in Biblical Literature 13. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

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    Engaging in a close reading of Genesis 34, Scholz contends that the sexual encounter between Shechem and Dinah is a rape; also provides a survey of scholarship on rape and the history of interpretation of Genesis 34, focusing on the frequent trivialization of the rape element in the latter. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Wells, Bruce. “Sex, Lies, and Virginal Rape: The Slandered Bride and False Accusation in Deuteronomy.” Journal of Biblical Literature 124 (2005): 41–72.

    DOI: 10.2307/30040990Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Considering Deuteronomy 22:13–21 in light of other ancient Near Eastern laws involving slander, contends that the husband is the plaintiff, bringing a case against his bride’s father, and that the punishment of the husband if the accusation is proved false mirrors that of the father if it is proved true. Technical; good for advanced students. Available online by subscription.

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Prostitution

Most scholarship on prostitution, engaging in sexual activity with someone in exchange for payment, has generally been in agreement over the legal and societal status of the זונה (zonah), the most common term in the Hebrew Bible for a prostitute. Bird 1989a provides an excellent overview of biblical usage of the term זנה (znh),which encompasses much more than simply prostitution, and how the term זונה (zonah) fits into this larger semantic spectrum. Bird 1989b considers three narratives in which prostitutes or presumed prostitutes play a central role, in order to assess the impact that social presuppositions about prostitutes have on the plot and trajectory of the story. Where there is some debate is over the interpretation of the terms קדשה (qedeshah) and כלב (kelev) and whether there is such a thing as “sacred” or “cultic” prostitution. In Deuteronomy 23:18, כלב (kelev) and זונה (zonah) are paired. Based on this, the most common understanding of כלב (kelev) in this verse is that it refers to a male prostitute, perhaps one who services other males. Burns 2000 provides a good example of the argumentation used by those who interpret it this way. Another possibility advocated by a few scholars is that כלב (kelev) here refers to an actual dog. Bird 2015 provides an intriguing argument for this reading, noting, among other things, that כלב (kelev) and זונה (zonah) are also paired in 1 Kings 22:38, where כלב (kelev) clearly means dog. Traditionally, the terms קדש (qadesh) and קדשה (qedeshah) have been understood to refer to male and female “sacred” or “cultic” prostitutes. However, there has been a large body of scholarship in the past few decades that has cast serious doubt on the practice of cultic prostitution, both in ancient Israel and in neighboring cultures. Bird 1997 provides a detailed survey of all of the uses of the terms קדש (qadesh) and קדשים (qedeshah) in biblical texts, and concludes that the existence of a class of “male cult prostitutes” in ancient Israel is highly questionable. Westenholz 1989 surveys the usages of the stems קדש (qadesh) and קדשה (qedeshah) and their equivalents among Israel’s ancient Near Eastern neighbors, and concludes that there is no evidence for the existence of male or female cultic prostitution in Mesopotamia or anywhere else in the ancient Near East. Budin 2008 comes to the same conclusion in her comprehensive study of evidence from the ancient Near East, Greco-Roman authors, and early Christian authors. Bird 2006 will be quite helpful for those interested in one article that covers all of these issues related to prostitution, though it does not go into nearly as much detail as the other Bird articles, each of which goes into depth on one aspect of prostitution in biblical texts.

  • Bird, Phyllis. “To Play the Harlot: An Inquiry into an Old Testament Metaphor.” In Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel. Edited by Peggy L. Day, 75–94. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989a.

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    Detailed discussion of issues related to the translation and interpretation of the stem זנה (znh), the basic meaning of which, Bird contends, is “to engage in sexual relations outside of or apart from marriage.” She also considers figurative uses of זנה (zonah), and the relationship between verbal and nominal uses. Accessible to undergraduates. Reprinted in Bird 1997, cited under Women and Gender in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

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  • Bird, Phyllis. “The Harlot as Heroine: Narrative Art and Social Presupposition in three Old Testament Texts.” Semeia 46 (1989b): 119–139.

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    Examination of the interrelationship between narrative art and social presupposition in three texts, Genesis 38:1–26; Joshua 2:1–24; 1 Kings 3:16–37, which considers how the image or understanding of the prostitute in each text influences the story. Accessible to undergraduates. Reprinted in Bird 1997 and Bach 1999 (both cited under Women and Gender in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament)

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  • Bird, Phyllis A. “The End of the Male Cult Prostitute: A Literary-Historical and Sociological Analysis of Hebrew Qādēš-Qĕdēšîm.” In Congress Volume: Cambridge 1995. Edited by J. A. Emerton, 37–80. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 66. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Contends, based on a close examination of the usage of the terms קדש (qadesh) and קדשים qedeshim) in biblical texts, and taking into account literary-historical and sociological considerations, that there is no evidence for the institution of male cultic prostitution in ancient Israel. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Bird, Phyllis. “Prostitution in the Social World and the Religious Rhetoric of Ancient Israel.” In Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Laura McClure, 40–58. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

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    Bird provides an overview of prostitution in ancient Israel and touches on all of the issues related to the topic that she covers in more depth in her other articles on this subject. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Bird, Phyllis A. “Of Whores and Hounds: A New Interpretation of the Subject of Deuteronomy.” Vetus Testamentum 65.3 (2015): 352–364.

    DOI: 10.1163/15685330-12301200Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Observing that כלב (kelev) and זונה (zonah) are also paired in 1 Kings 22:38, where כלב (kelev) clearly means dog, suggests that “harlot’s hire” and “price of a dog” are formulaic expressions used to denote something cheap, perhaps in Deuteronomy 23:18 denoting offerings considered inadequate in payment for one’s vow. Accessible to undergraduates. Available online by subscription.

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  • Budin, Stephanie Lynn. The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511497766Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Budin, in this detailed study, contends that sacred prostitution never existed in either the ancient Near East or Mediterranean. The chapter on evidence from the ancient Near East covers Sumerian, Akkadian, Hebrew, and Ugaritic texts. Accessible to undergraduates, though best for those with some background in classical studies.

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  • Burns, John Barclay. “Devotee or Deviate: The ‘Dog’ (Keleb) in Ancient Israel as a Symbol of Male Passivity and Perversion.” Journal of Religion & Society 2 (2000).

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    Considers all the options for translating כלב (kelev) in Deuteronomy 23:19, and concludes, based on the biblical usage and evidence from ancient Near Eastern literature and iconography, that it probably did convey a male homosexual prostitute. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Westenholz, Joan Goodnick. “Tamar, Qĕdēšā, Qadištu, and Sacred Prostitution in Mesopotamia.” Harvard Theological Review 82.3 (1989): 245–265.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0017816000016199Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Considers the usage of the stems קדש (qadesh) and קדשה (qedeshah) and their equivalents among Israel’s ancient Near Eastern neighbors, and whether there is any evidence for the practice of sacred prostitution. Good for those with some background in biblical studies and Assyriology.

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Sexual Violence

There has been much scholarship on sexual violence in the Hebrew Bible, especially by those informed by feminist criticism. Trible 1984, which focuses on four narrative “texts of terror,” was the first work to highlight violence against women in biblical texts. Yamada 2008 also focuses on narrative texts, considering similarities and differences among three biblical narratives in which a case of rape escalates into a situation involving violent retaliation which in turn leads to some form of social fragmentation. Anderson 2004 highlights the connection between the laws in both the Covenant Collection and Deuteronomy and violence against women, asserting that these laws not only describe violence against women, but in their unequal treatment of women and men and subordination of women to men inscribe violence against women, and thus the laws themselves are a form of violence against women. Baumann 2003, Weems 1995, and Exum 2012 are excellent examples of the ample body of scholarship that has come out in the past few decades focusing on sexual violence in prophetic texts, each addressing the question of how contemporary readers should deal with the depiction in these texts of God as a sexually abusive husband. Scholz 2010 examines the treatment of rape throughout the Hebrew Bible. The collection of articles in Kirk-Duggan 2003 explores the intersection of gender, sex, and violence in a wide array of biblical texts from a variety of different genres.

  • Anderson, Cheryl B. Women, Ideology and Violence: Critical Theory and the Construction of Gender in the Book of the Covenant and the Deuteronomic Law. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 394. London: T & T Clark, 2004.

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    This comparative study of the Book of the Covenant and Deuteronomic laws identifies a construction of gender in which males are dominant and women subordinate, asserting that the gender paradigm in these laws is a form of violence against women. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Baumann, Gerlinde. Love and Violence: Marriage as Metaphor for the Relationship between YHWH and Israel in the Prophetic Books. Translated by Linda M. Maloney. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003.

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    Baumann explores the origins and evolution of the prophetic marriage metaphor, highlighting the extensive use of imagery featuring God as a perpetrator of sexual violence, and addresses the question of how contemporary readers should approach these texts. Translated from the German. Good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Exum, J. Cheryl. Plotted, Shot and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical Women. 2d ed. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2012.

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    In her discussion of prophetic pornography, Exum contends that the problem we face in interpreting these passages is not just the violent imagery, but the ideology that informs it. She provides a fourfold interpretive strategy to help readers respond to the prophetic corpus of sexual abuse. Good for all audiences.

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  • Kirk-Duggan, Cheryl, ed. Pregnant Passion: Gender, Sex, and Violence in the Bible. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.

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    Collection of twelve articles, utilizing a diverse array of approaches and hermeneutical styles, focusing on the dynamics, intersection, and relatedness of gender, sex, and violence in biblical texts, divided into three parts: (1) passion, power, and relational conflict; (2) legal and regulatory matters; and (3) types, stereotypes, and archetypes. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Scholz, Susanne. Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010.

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    Comprehensive survey of biblical texts related to rape divided thematically into chapters on topics such as acquaintance rape, rape of enslaved women, male on male rape, and rape in the prophetic metaphors that encourages readers to engage the biblical texts in conversation with contemporary debates on rape. Good for all audiences.

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  • Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

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    Groundbreaking work of feminist criticism focusing on four biblical narrative “texts of terror,” three of which (the stories of Hagar, Tamar, and the unnamed woman in Judges 19) involve sexual violence. Intended as a companion and contrast to Trible’s God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Trible 1978, cited under Women in Other Writings). Good for all audiences.

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  • Weems, Renita. Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.

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    Weems examines the association of divine love, compassion, commitment, and reconciliation with battery, infidelity, rape, and the mutilation of women in the rhetoric of Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and considers how and why these prophets combine marriage, sex, and violence this way in their discourse. Good for all audiences.

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  • Yamada, Frank M. Configurations of Rape in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary Analysis of Three Rape Narratives. Studies in Biblical Literature 109. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.

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    Observing that Genesis 34, Judges 19, and 2 Samuel 13 each feature a similar progression in plot, Yamada engages in a detailed analysis and comparison of these narratives, noting both similarities and elements that are unique to each. Accessible to undergraduates.

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Incest

Incest, the violation of prohibitions against sexual relations, cohabitation, or marriage between close relatives, has been the subject of several excellent studies. Stiebert 2016 is a thorough and detailed exploration of the treatment of first-degree sexual unions (such as between a parent and child or between siblings) in the Hebrew Bible, taking into account both overt and implied first-degree incestuous relations, and exploring also what apparent gaps in biblical coverage signify. Rashkow 2000 applies psychoanalytic theory to the subject of family dynamics within biblical texts, with a focus on texts dealing with sexual relations within the family and the relationship between power dynamics and familial incestuous relations. Brenner 2001 provides a good article-length survey on the subject, considering the treatment of incest in the legal collections and narrative and prophetic texts and suggesting a possible explanation for the significant difference between the attitudes toward incest in the narrative texts and other biblical sources.

  • Brenner, Athalya. “On Incest.” In A Feminist Companion to Exodus to Deuteronomy. Edited by Athalya Brenner, 113–138. The Feminist Companion to the Bible 6. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

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    Considers the treatment of incest in biblical texts, suggesting a possible reason for the significant differences in attitudes toward sexual and marital relations between kin in the narrative texts and the legal and prophetic texts; she also considers various theories explaining the nature of incest taboos. Originally published in 1994. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Rashkow, Ilona N. Taboo or Not Taboo: Sexuality and Family in the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.

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    Utilizing psychoanalytic literary theory, Rashkow examines family dynamics within biblical texts, with a focus on texts dealing with sexual relations, both those considered acceptable and those considered unacceptable. Accessible to general audiences.

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  • Stiebert, Johanna. First-Degree Incest and the Hebrew Bible: Sex in the Family. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 596. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016.

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    Detailed study of the treatment of both overt and implied first-degree incestuous relations, divided into discussions of narrative and non-narrative texts; also provides a survey of the history of scholarship in this area, including the contribution of those engaging in queer and post-feminist criticism. Accessible to undergraduates.

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Feminist Interpretations

Feminist biblical scholarship first arose in the 1970s as an outgrowth of second-wave feminism. Since then, scholarship produced by those engaging in feminist readings of biblical texts and taking a feminist critical approach to the study of women in the Hebrew Bible has increased exponentially with each passing decade, comprising at this point a sizeable body of literature. Bellis 2007 provides an accessible introduction to both feminist and womanist approaches to the Hebrew Bible. Fuchs 2000 is a great resource for those interested in learning reading strategies to enable one to approach biblical texts critically as feminist readers. There are several excellent anthologies of feminist hermeneutics and criticism through which one can trace how the discipline has evolved. The articles in Russell 1985, written in the relatively early days of feminist biblical interpretation, tend to focus on inclusive interpretation of biblical texts and applying the principles of liberation theology to them. The articles in Brenner and Fontaine 1997 focus on reading strategies and issues related to methodology, providing illustrations of various approaches adopted by feminist biblical scholars. Schottroff, et al. 1998 highlights the contribution of European scholars engaging in feminist exegesis. The contributors in Washington, et al. 1998 and Day and Pressler 2006 reflect the growing diversity of those engaging in feminist biblical scholarship. Schüssler Fiorenza 2014, a collection of essays summarizing and assessing feminist biblical scholarship in the 20th century, makes an effort to be inclusive, both in terms of feminist biblical scholarship from a global perspective, and in terms of the wide variety of approaches, methodologies, and perspectives encompassed by this area. For a focused discussion of the history of feminist biblical interpretation and a detailed overview of scholarship informed by feminist critical approaches, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Feminist Scholarship on the Old Testament

  • Bellis, Alice Ogden. Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

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    Updated and revised edition of Bellis’s 1994 introduction to feminist and womanist biblical interpretation. The focus of this engaging and accessible work is mainly on narrative texts, though there is also some discussion of prophetic and wisdom texts. Good for all audiences.

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  • Brenner, Athalya, and Carole Fontaine, eds. A Feminist Companion to Reading the Bible: Approaches, Methods, and Strategies. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

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    This introductory volume to the Feminist Companion series provides an accessible, comprehensive collection of articles covering a wide variety of subjects related to feminist biblical criticism, with a focus on issues related to methodology and various strategies and approaches employed by feminist scholars. Good for all audiences.

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  • Day, Linda, and Carolyn Pressler, eds. Engaging the Bible in a Gendered World: An Introduction to Feminist Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Katharine Doob Sakenfeld. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

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    Festschrift honoring Katherine Doob Sakenfeld that also serves as an introduction to feminist biblical interpretation. Many contributors approach the biblical texts with a combination of a “hermeneutics of suspicion” and a “hermeneutics of retrieval.” Accessible to all audiences, though best for those interested in a Christian, especially Protestant, feminist perspective.

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  • Fuchs, Esther. Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible: Reading the Hebrew Bible as a Woman. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

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    Through a close examination of narrative texts involving type scenes, Fuchs demonstrates how these texts marginalize and subordinate women in order to validate male power and superiority, and encourages women to read these texts with a hermeneutics of resistance, challenging the sexual politics presented as normative within them. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Russell, Letty M., ed. Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985.

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    Collection of eleven articles arising from a project in feminist biblical hermeneutics involving members of both the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature. Among the contributors are Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, J. Cheryl Exum, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Most of the authors approach the text from a Christian perspective. Accessible to all audiences.

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  • 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.

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    This overview of predominantly Christian feminist biblical criticism, highlighting the European contribution to this body of scholarship, is divided into parts on historical, hermeneutical, and methodological foundations, feminist reconstruction of the history of Israel, and feminist reconstruction of the history of early Christianity. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth, ed. Feminist Biblical Studies in the Twentieth Century: Scholarship and Movement. The Bible and Women 9.1. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2014.

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    Extensive collection of essays on feminist biblical studies in the 20th century focusing on four areas: charting feminist biblical studies around the globe, works creating feminist hermeneutical religious spaces, methods of reading and interpretation, and works that go beyond academic boundaries to encourage change and transformation. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Washington, Harold C., Susan Lochrie Graham, and Pamela Thimmes, eds. Escaping Eden: New Feminist Perspectives on the Bible. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.

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    Collection of eighteen essays emerging from several sessions of the Society of Biblical Literature feminist theological hermeneutics group, divided into three sections: feminist readings of specific biblical texts, reflections of feminist interpretive methodologies, and the ethics and application of feminist reading practices. Accessible to undergraduates.

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Womanist, Mujerista, Asian American, and Postcolonial Feminist Perspectives

A rising area within scholarship on women, gender and sexuality in biblical texts has been feminist criticism informed by various ethnic, cultural, and geographic perspectives. Many of these scholars highlight the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality in biblical texts in their analyses. Several of the essays in Bailey, et al. 2009 focus on the intersection of gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity in Old Testament texts. Day and Pressler 2006 has a section devoted to mujerista, womanist, and Asian American feminist interpretations, which can help readers familiarize themselves with these approaches. Junior 2015 provides an introduction to womanist biblical interpretation, covering both its history and issues related to its development and future, and discusses its relationship to and distinction from feminist criticism. The essays in Byron and Lovelace 2016 feature womanist biblical interpretations from scholars outside the United States in an attempt to highlight the diversity of those engaging in womanist reading, and the collection of essays in Dube 2001 specifically highlights African women’s reading and interpretation of the Bible. Schroer and Bietenhard 2003 features contributions by women scholars and theologians from over twenty countries and five continents, who engage in something of a global dialogue on issues related to feminist exegesis and the hermeneutics of liberation. The contributors to Bird 1997 also bring a wide range of global perspectives into their postcolonial feminist readings. For those interested in a more detailed discussion of these approaches, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Biblical Studies article Feminist Scholarship on the Old Testament which also includes discrete sections titled Womanist Perspectives, Mujerista Perspectives, Asian Feminist Perspectives, and African Feminist Perspectives, and Post-Colonialism.

  • Bailey, Randall C., Tat-siong Benny Liew, and Fernando F. Segovia, eds. They Were All Together in One Place? Toward Minority Biblical Criticism. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.

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    Three of the contributors to this excellent anthology of minority biblical criticism focus on the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality within the context of Old Testament texts: Cheryl B. Anderson (on Ezra 9–10), Gale A. Yee (on Ruth), and Randall C. Bailey (on Esther). Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Bird, Phyllis A., ed. Reading the Bible as Women: Perspectives from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Semeia 78. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1997.

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    Collection of thirteen essays by a diverse array of scholars engaging in postcolonial feminist readings, roughly half of which focus on Old Testament texts. Most are written from a Christian perspective. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Byron, Gay L., and Vanessa Lovelace, eds. Womanist Interpretations of the Bible: Expanding the Discourse. Semeia Studies 85. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016.

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    Collection of seventeen essays, roughly half of which focus on Old Testament texts, featuring work by those engaging in womanist biblical hermeneutics, divided into four sections: gender and sexuality, agency and advocacy, foregrounding women on the margins, and illuminating biblical children/childhood. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Day, Linda, and Carolyn Pressler, eds. Engaging the Bible in a Gendered World: An Introduction to Feminist Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Katharine Doob Sakenfeld. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

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    This festschrift in honor of Katherine Doob Sakenfeld includes a section highlighting mujerista, womanist, and Asian-American approaches, and has contributions by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Nyasha Junior, and Anna May Say Pa. Accessible to all audiences, though best for those interested in a Christian, especially Protestant, feminist perspective.

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  • Dube, Musa W., ed. Other Ways of Reading: African Women and the Bible. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.

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    Roughly half of the essays in this collection highlighting African women’s reading and interpretation of the Bible focus on the Old Testament. Contributors utilize a variety of approaches and methods, including reading through the lens of African folktales, womanist readings, and reading with non-academic and grassroots women interpreters. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Junior, Nyasha. An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015.

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    Concise introduction to womanist biblical interpretation, contending that rather than being an offshoot of feminist interpretation, womanist biblical interpretation is part of a distinctive tradition of the engagement of African American women with biblical texts. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Schroer, Silvia, and Sophia Bietenhard, eds. Feminist Interpretation of the Bible and the Hermeneutics of Liberation. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 374. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003.

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    Collection of articles originating from a 2000 international symposium on feminist exegesis and the hermeneutics of liberation that includes contributions by a diverse array of scholars and theologians focusing on issues related to the Bible and liberation. Accessible to undergraduates.

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Queer Readings and Theory

Biblical scholars started engaging in queer readings and utilizing queer theory in the 1990s, and over the past few decades a sizeable amount of work in this area has emerged. The diverse contributions in Goss and West 2000, Stone 2001, and Hornsby and Stone 2011, featuring essays by scholars utilizing a wide variety of interpretive approaches and methodological tools, illustrates how variable queer readings of biblical texts can be. Guest 2005 explores the social location of lesbian hermeneutics, including its relationship to queer hermeneutics, and examines the principles that underpin lesbian readings of biblical texts. Guest 2012 considers the relationship between feminist biblical criticism, gender criticism, masculinities studies, and queer theory, encouraging feminist biblical scholars to expand and enhance their scope of inquiry both by adopting a genderqueer approach and by embracing gender studies. Hornsby and Guest 2016 observe that biblical narratives have been and continue to be read through a gender binary lens with a heteronormative bias, and they suggest that one approach to rectifying this is to apply a transgender lens to biblical texts. They provide readings of biblical texts which demonstrate that any sexed body can perform any gender, thus challenging the binary approach to gender assumed by many. Macwilliam 2011 also seeks to challenge binary heteronormative interpretations, utilizing queer theory to shed new light on the construction of gender and sexuality in the prophetic marriage metaphor. Guest, et al. 2006 is a comprehensive commentary covering every book in the Old and New Testaments, in which contributors, engaging in queer hermeneutics, focus on and explore issues such as the construction of gender and sexuality, the use of the Bible in contemporary political, socioeconomic and religious spheres, and the impact of biblical texts and their interpretation upon LGBTQ communities. Stone 2004 is also concerned with the impact of biblical texts and their interpretation, advocating for the practice of “safer texts,” in which various approaches to biblical texts are assessed in terms of their likely effects on readers in particular contexts and situations.

  • Goss, Robert E., and Mona West, eds. Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim, 2000.

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    Anthology of twenty-one essays by scholars, ministers, and theologians engaging in queer biblical hermeneutics using diverse reading strategies, divided into three parts: queer strategies for reading, taking back the Hebrew Scriptures, and taking back the Christian Scriptures. Good for all audiences; oriented heavily toward a Christian readership.

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  • Guest, Deryn. When Deborah Met Jael: Lesbian Biblical Hermeneutics. London: SCM, 2005.

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    Guest outlines the guiding principles that underpin lesbian readings of biblical texts, and evaluates strategies that lesbian-identified readers can use to approach biblical texts in order to appropriate and reclaim them. Challenging, but accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Guest, Deryn. Beyond Feminist Biblical Studies. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2012.

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    Guest queries the relationship between feminist biblical criticism, gender criticism, masculinities studies, and queer theory, and encourages feminist biblical scholars to adopt a genderqueer approach, providing an illustrative example in a case study of the prophetic marriage metaphor texts. Challenging, but accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Guest, Deryn, Robert E. Gross, Mona White, and Thomas Bohache, eds. The Queer Bible Commentary. London: SCM, 2006.

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    This sizeable commentary demonstrates the versatility and variability of queer hermeneutics; contributors, focusing on sections of each book relevant for those interested in LGBTQ issues, often provide fresh perspectives and raise new questions. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Hornsby, Teresa, and Deryn Guest. Transgender, Intersex and Biblical Interpretation. Semeia Studies 83. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1cx3tqdSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The authors apply the transgender gaze to biblical texts as a new hermeneutical lens in an attempt to undo the heteronormative way in which biblical texts have been read and used. This approach also leads to seeing some biblical texts in new and illuminating ways. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Hornsby, Teresa J., and Ken Stone, eds. Bible Trouble: Queer Reading at the Boundaries of Biblical Scholarship. Semeia Studies 67. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011.

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    Collection of thirteen essays featuring a diverse array of queer readings of select biblical texts and three responses. Four essays and one response focus on texts from the Hebrew Bible. Good for those with some background in biblical studies. Familiarity with queer theory is helpful.

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  • Macwilliam, Stuart. Queer Theory and the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible. Sheffield, UK: Equinox, 2011.

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    Seeking to challenge binary heteronormative interpretations, Macwilliam utilizes queer theory to shed new light on the construction of gender and sexuality in the prophetic marriage metaphor. Also includes an analysis of Ezekiel 23 as camp performance. Technical; good for those with some background in biblical studies.

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  • Stone, Ken, ed. Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

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    Collection of seven essays featuring a variety of queer reading strategies and interpretive approaches and three responses that seeks to explore and explain the impact of queer reading on biblical exegesis, and to address theoretical questions that arise from engaging in such readings. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Stone, Ken. Practicing Safer Texts: Food, Sex, and Bible in Queer Perspective. London: T & T Clark, 2004.

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    Analysis informed by queer theory and cultural anthropology of how food and sex relate to one another in biblical contexts where both appear; also, inspired by the “safer sex” model, proposes an approach in which biblical texts and readings are assessed by their likely effects on readers in particular contexts. Accessible to undergraduates.

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Cultural Studies

Cultural studies offer new ways of seeing and interpreting biblical characters, narratives, and texts by engaging in a dynamic process in which biblical texts are read within the context of later literature, art, and other media, often producing new insights and connections. Exum 2012, an updated version of the author’s seminal 1996 work of the same title, examines the portrayal of biblical women in popular culture, and how and why these women’s stories are altered, expanded, or invented in literature, art, music, and film and the impact these depictions have on contemporary views of these women. Bach 1997 focuses on notorious biblical women who are depicted as scheming seductresses, often in stories in which wine, food, and sexuality are intertwined, such as Delilah and Salome, and reads these biblical texts against various extra-biblical interpretations in both literary and other media in an approach she describes as kaleidoscopic—enabling new, broader, more multifaceted ways of seeing these women, their motives, and their stories. In contrast, Hawkins and Stahlberg 2009 tries to bring to light women on the margins of biblical narratives, either mentioned briefly or never named at all, such as the midwives of Exodus 1, the woman of Thebez, the wise woman of Tekoa, and Job’s wife, bringing them to light through later reception history, literature, and the arts. Boer 1999 provides provocative readings of biblical texts, especially those associated with sex, violence, and death, in light of contemporary popular culture. The collected essays in Exum and Moore 1998 consider the intersection of biblical studies and cultural studies. Recurring themes include the commodification of the Bible, the appropriation of the Bible to serve ideological purposes, the importance of the cultural and social location of the biblical interpreter, and the symbiotic relationship between the Bible and Western culture. The contributors to Kirk-Duggan and Pippin 2009 focus on understanding biblical mothers and their relationships with their children in light of contemporary stereotypes and caricatures of mothers in largely American popular media, history, literature, and the arts, offering insights that allow for new ways of envisioning both biblical and contemporary motherhood.

  • Bach, Alice. Women, Seduction, and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    Presents readings of female biblical figures associated with seducing and betraying men with wine and food, focusing on those depicted as scheming temptresses, against various extra-biblical interpretations in both literary and other media, enabling readers to see these women, their motives, and their stories in new ways. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Boer, Roland. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: The Bible and Popular Culture. Biblical Limits. London: Routledge, 1999.

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    Innovative and provocative readings informed by Marxist, dialectic, and psychoanalytic criticism of biblical texts in light of contemporary popular culture. Recurring themes in this essay collection include sex, gender, violence, death, food, and various paraphilias. The essays are entertaining, though some will find Boer’s bold, playful choice of language off-putting.

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  • Exum, J. Cheryl. Plotted, Shot, and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical Women. Gender, Culture, Theory 3. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2012.

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    Updated and expanded edition of Exum’s 1996 work examining the portrayal of biblical women such as Bathsheba, Michal, Lot’s daughters, Naomi, and Delilah in popular culture. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Exum, J. Cheryl, and Stephen D. Moore, eds. Biblical Studies/Cultural Studies: The Third Sheffield Colloquium. Gender, Culture, Theory 7. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 266. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.

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    Wide-ranging collection of twenty essays originating from a 1997 international colloquium entitled “Biblical into Cultural Studies” at the University of Sheffield examining various aspects of the intersection of biblical and cultural studies. It includes an introductory essay by the editors surveying the history of cultural studies. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Hawkins, Peter S., and Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg, eds. From the Margins 1: Women of the Hebrew Bible and Their Afterlives. Bible in the Modern World 18. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2009.

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    These twelve essays bring to light women who are in the margins of biblical texts, given only a few lines or named only as a sister or wife or daughter, taking into consideration the reception history related to these women in exegesis, midrash, and literature and the arts. Accessible to undergraduates.

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  • Kirk-Duggan, Cheryl A., and Tina Pippin, eds. Mother Goose, Mother Jones, Mommie Dearest: Biblical Mothers and Their Children. Semeia Studies 61. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.

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    Collection of sixteen essays, about half of which focus on Old Testament texts, considering biblical mothers and their relationships with their children in light of the depiction of mothers, biblical and otherwise, in (largely American) popular culture. Accessible to undergraduates.

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