Sexual Violence and the Hebrew Bible
- LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0293
- LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0293
Sexual violence has become a topic of significant interest for biblical interpreters. This is perhaps not surprising; after all, the Hebrew Bible contains many examples of sexual violence, including rape, rape threats, sex trafficking, gender-based violence in warfare, femicide, and other forms of sexual exploitation and violence. While early work on the topic was often part of larger studies of women, gender, or violence, more recent work tends to focus specifically on sexual violence. Feminist biblical scholarship has played a significant role in elevating sexual violence as a matter of importance for study. More recently, the #MeToo movement and increased popular awareness of rape culture have influenced the development of the field. “Rape culture” refers to the idea that rape is not an isolated or individual event, but rather part of a larger continuum of forms of sexual violence that encompasses both everyday microaggressions and extreme acts of sexual violence. Along with “rape culture,” “rape myths”—the false cultural assumptions about rape that uphold rape culture—often appear in these discussions. Following broader trends in feminist and womanist scholarship, many analyses of sexual violence also explore postcolonial, anti-imperial, and intersectional perspectives. Key texts for scholarship on sexual violence include the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34), the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13), the gang-rape and murder of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19–21), Bathsheba and David (2 Samuel 11), the “marriage metaphor” in the prophetic books (especially Hosea 1–3, Jeremiah 3, and Ezekiel 16 and 23), and the rape of Daughter Zion (Lamentations 1 and 2). Texts describing the treatment of female captives in warfare and other intersections of sexual and martial violence also draw significant attention, as do the laws regulating rape. However, scholarship is not limited to these texts, as the bibliography shows. The study of sexual violence in the Hebrew Bible is a dynamic, important, and still-growing field, and it should prove of interest to all attentive readers of biblical texts.
The study of sexual violence in the Hebrew Bible remains largely shaped by Phyllis Trible’s influential Texts of Terror (1984), a study of four stories of misogynistic violence, three of them rape stories: Hagar (Gen. 34), Tamar (2 Sam. 13), and the Levite’s concubine (Judg. 19). These stories are also a focus for Bader 2006 (though the author does not address the Levite’s concubine) and Yamada 2008, as well as Schulte 2017. Scholz 2010 addresses these stories and a range of others; Scholz’s work is an important feminist overview of biblical rape and updating of Trible. Graybill 2021 also addresses a range of rape stories, while also proposing new feminist reading strategies, critiquing the over-reliance on Trible’s paradigm. A range of new readings are also offered in Blyth, et al. 2018. Lipka 2006 largely avoids the language of rape, offering, instead, a broader study of “sexual transgression” that nevertheless touches on many of the same texts. Scholz 2017a and Kamionkowski 2021 offer short but comprehensive overviews of sexual violence that are suited for a nonspecialist audience.
Bader, Mary Anna. Sexual Violation in the Hebrew Bible: A Multi-Methodological Study of Genesis 34 and 2 Samuel 13. Studies in Biblical Literature 87. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.
A monograph comparing the rapes of Dinah and Tamar, using a range of methods from biblical studies.
Blyth, Caroline, Emily Colgan, and Katie B. Edwards, eds. Rape Culture, Gender Violence, and Religion: Biblical Perspectives. Religion and Radicalism. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.
A collection of essays on rape culture, sexual violence, and the Bible, including a wide range of international contributors.
Graybill, Rhiannon. Texts after Terror: Rape, Sexual Violence, and the Hebrew Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.
Argues that feminist scholars need new approaches to sexual violence beyond describing trauma or bearing witness; proposes “unhappy reading” as an alternative. Discusses Dinah, Tamar, Lot and his daughters, Bathsheba, Hagar, Daughter Zion, and the Levite’s concubine.
Greenough, Chris. The Bible and Sexual Violence Against Men. Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible 4. New York: Routledge, 2020.
A rare monograph devoted exclusively to male victims of sexual violence. Discusses Lot (Gen. 19), Joseph, threatened male rape at Sodom (Gen. 19) and Gibeah (Judg. 19), Noah (Gen. 9), Eglon (Judg. 3), Sisera (Judg. 4, 5), and Samson (Judg. 16), among other examples. Also addresses the New Testament.
Kalmanofsky, Amy, ed. Sexual Violence and Sacred Texts. Indianapolis, IN: Feminist Studies in Religion Books, 2017.
A collection of feminist essays on religious texts and sexual violence, including Kalmanofsky on how the feminist biblical scholarship can empower victims, Sarra Lev on Jewish perspectives on interpreting difficult biblical texts, and Fulata Lusungu Moyo on contextual biblical interpretation and Judges 19. Republishd in 2020 by Wipf & Stock.
Kamionkowski, S. Tamar. “Violence Against Women in the Hebrew Bible.” In The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women (online). Jewish Women’s Archive. 2021.
A short general overview that nevertheless gives a comprehensive account of forms of biblical sexual violence. An excellent introductory piece.
Lipka, Hilary. Sexual Transgression in the Hebrew Bible. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006.
A historically focused work of scholarship that examines what we can reconstruct about ancient Israelite sexual norms, practices, and attitudes. Includes analysis of many stories of sexual violence under the larger framework of “sexual transgression”; describes sexual transgressions as violating religious, communal, and/or personal boundaries.
Scholz, Susanne. Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.
A comprehensive introduction to rape in the Hebrew Bible. Topics include acquaintance rape (Dinah, Tamar), the rape of enslaved women (Hagar, Bilhah, Zilpah), marital rape (the matriarchs), rape laws, sexual violence against men (first brief study on the issue in biblical scholarship), gang rape and rape in warfare (including the Levite’s concubine), and God as a rapist in the prophetic literature. Written from a feminist perspective.
Scholz, Susanne. “Rape, Enslavement, and Marriage: Sexual Violence in the Hebrew Bible.” In Introducing the Women’s Hebrew Bible: Feminism, Gender Justice, and the Study of the Old Testament. By Susanne Scholz, 76–99. London: Bloomsbury, 2017a.
Offers an overview on sexual violence in the Hebrew Bible, with an emphasis on feminist perspectives.
Schulte, Leah Rediger. The Absence of God in Biblical Rape Narratives. Emerging Scholars. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017.
Argues that biblical rape stories are characterized by God’s absence, offering as examples Dinah, Tamar, and the Levite’s concubine. Proposes that Bathsheba’s story is not a rape narrative because God is present in the text.
Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.
A foundational work in feminist biblical criticism and responses to sexual violence. Offers literary and theological readings of the stories of Hagar, Tamar, the Levite’s concubine, and Jephthah’s daughter (Judg. 11). Stresses that the role of the feminist critic is to commemorate female victims of sexual violence.
Weems, Renita J. Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.
A classic feminist text about sexual violence, focused on the prophetic books. Argues that the so-called “marriage metaphor” is filled with domestic violence, and that God is represented as an abusive husband. Discusses Hosea 1–3, Ezekiel 16 and 23, and other marriage metaphor texts
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.
A literary study of the rapes of Dinah, Tamar, and the Levite’s concubine. Argues for the family resemblance between the three stories.
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