27. In recent years, feminist study of the Hebrew Bible has become a major enterprise. By focusing on some particular portions of the Hebrew Bible, and two particular academic scholars of your choosing, discuss what is involved in this work and the debate about it, and evaluate it.Edit

Note: I have left the evaluation open for you to decide on your own. 

Phyllis Trible (the godmother of feminist biblical criticism)

  • ·         wants to bridge the gap Hebrew Bible and the women’s movement (literary criticism)

o   responding feminist scholars, such as Mary Daly, who argue that the Bible and the women’s movement are enemies, as the Bible is purely androcentric

o   Trible doesn’t deny the patriarchy in the Bible

o   But she doesn’t see the Bible and women’s movement at war.

§  By rejecting the Bible, women accept male chauvinistic interpretations of it.

§  The trick is to reread (not rewrite) the Bible outside of the male lens

  • ·         Hermeneutical challenge: interpret the Bible without sexism

o   themes which disavow sexism: ex. Israel’s understanding of Yahweh

§  no cult of sexuality

§  a deity described as one, complete, whole, and thus above sexuality (cf. Deut 6:4)

§  Masculine words are used to describe Yahweh, but Israel repudiates both anthropomorphisms and andromorphism

§  There is also feminine imagery for Yahweh

·         Yahweh is also described as a parent, undertaking activities usually performed by mothers (feeding, tending wounds, etc.)

·         In the exodus, Yahweh provides the people with food and drink, which was women’s work (ex. Exod 16:4-36; 17:1-7; Num 11; 20:2-13)

·         Second and Third Isaiah uses gynomorphic language (Isa 42:14b; 49:15; 66:9, 13)

§  Also, unlike fertility gods, Israel saw Yahweh as neither male nor female, but transcends both sexes.

·         Modern assertions that Yahweh is masculine are misleading.

o   The Exodus relates strongly with women’s liberation.

§  freedom from oppression

§  Only women take the initiative which will lead to the exodus (Exod 1:15-2:10)

o   Exegesis of passages that deal with both female and male, such as Gen 2-3

§  Until the differentiation of the sexes in 2:21-23, the first human is basically androgynous

·         Only after the creation of woman are the specific terms ‘ish and ‘ishshah used.

§  In the J account, the creation of woman is its climax, not its decline

§  ‘ezer simply designates a beneficial relationship, but doesn’t imply inferiority.

·         2:18, 20 suggests that the helper needs to be equal to the man because the animals weren’t the right helpers.

§  The woman is not just “Adam’s rib” because Yahweh had to form the “rib” into the woman.

§  We don’t know why the serpent talked to the woman instead of the man, so any suggested reasonings are just speculations.

·         Trible suggests that the woman was more intelligent, more aggressive, and had greater sensibilities.

·         The man follows the woman without question or comment

o   Trible also provides an exegesis of Song of Songs, which I won’t go into here, as we’ve all read her interpretation of it in the seminar.

  • ·         “Depatriarchalizing is not an operation which the exegete performs on the text. It is a hermeneutic operating within Scripture itself. We expose it; we do not impose it.” [Depatriarchalizing, 48]

Carol Meyers—uses historical criticism and archaeology

  • ·         Notes that a problem with investigating women in the OT is that modern western culture has been shaped by biblical images and ideas as interpreted by post-biblical traditions.

o   ex. female inferiority and submissiveness, such as comes from traditional interpretations of Gen 2-3.

o   Thus, we need to look for clues about women in the texts and material remains of ancient Israel, as well as break these traditional interpretations.

§  We must be careful when using biblical texts to look at Israelite women because they don’t necessarily correspond with reality. Plus, they are often obscured by interpretational layers.

  • ·         The Hebrew Bible is itself a biased source of information.

o   written almost entirely by men (androcentric focus)

§  little attention is given to women’s lives

§  when attention is given, it is through a male perspective

o   largely concerned with public life, which is almost exclusively male

o   Mostly urban, specifically Jerusalem

§  the urban population was never more than 10%

o   large chronological time span

·         There is usually a disjunction between societal ideas/ideology (found in laws or normative narratives) and actual social behavior

o   daily informal interaction may exhibit a balance of power

·         We shouldn’t place our modern assumptions that male prerogatives and more inherently valued than females’.

o   These assumptions have been shaped by the industrialized West and aren’t necessarily appropriate for ancient Israel.

§  We should be careful of even using the term “patriarchal” for the Bible.

  • ·         In ancient Israel, people experienced themselves relationally, not individually.
  • ·         The Hebrew Bible isn’t sufficient to understand women, so it must be supplemented by archaeology and anthropological theories. Meyers begins with pre-monarchic Israel in Iron Age I

o   In the agrarian society of Iron Age I, women had two important roles: reproduction (need for large families for child labor) and food production

o   The locus of power was in the family household, which was autonomous and complex.

§  women had economic roles: production, technological skill, management of other workers (children and other women)

§  also parenting was important, through which women transmitted aspects of culture to their children, including ritual activities

§  Thus, filial obedience to the mother was critical (see Exod 20:12; 21:15; Lev 20:9; Deut 5:16; 21:18-21; and 27:16)

  • ·         Meyers argues that there are some biblical texts which reflect the above social situation, where women had great social impact in the context of the family household.

o   Judges: pre-state period; contains a high number of female stories

o   Song of Songs: favors female figures over male; power imagery used for women

§  See her article we read for the seminar on Song of Songs imagery

o   Genesis 2-3: a wisdom tale for both men and women to accept the harsh realities of their agrarian lifestyle

o   Female wisdom: female creativity, female instruction

o   Legal codes dealing with property transmission may be in response to female controls interfering with the expected patrilineal system.


Carol Meyers, "Women and the Domestic Economy of Early Israel," in Women's Earliest Records From Ancient Egypt and Western Asia, ed. Marbara S. Lesko (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 265-278.

Phyllis Trible, "Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation," JAAR 41: 30-48.

Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978).

For an overview of feminist criticism, see Esther Fuchs, "Feminist Approaches to the Hebrew Bible," in The Hebrew Bible: New Insights and Scholarship, ed. Frederick E. Greenspahn (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 76-95.