Tired of seeing the Bible weaponized against her as she and her comrades stood up for women’s rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton created The Woman’s Bible, the first commentary written only by and for women. Stanton’s 19th-century book, which provided commentary on biblical passages featuring or ostensibly excluding women, is the first published example of a feminist approach to the Bible. Feminist biblical interpretation began to flourish in the 20th century, as scholars focused on telling long-neglected stories of named and unnamed women in the Bible and sharing information about women’s lives in the Bible. biblical times.
The Bible Women Scholarship has come a long way since The Woman’s Bible. Several new books offer readers new insights and in-depth analyzes of women in the Bible. They use intersectional and global feminism as interpretive lenses, view women not just as characters but also as interpreters, situate biblical women in their Afro-Asian cultural contexts, and make the lives of ancient Israelite women relevant to readers. of the Bible today.
At Kimberly D. Russaw’s Revisiting Rahab: Another Look at the Woman of Jericho (Wesley’s Foundery Books) invites readers to re-read Rahab’s account of the Book of Joshua in a way that devalues her profession as a prostitute or sex worker and instead focuses on the questions her story raises about identity, autonomy, difference and privileges. In this well-written, clearly organized, and widely accessible book, Russaw revisits Rahab by summarizing the history of scholarship on this biblical heroine, placing Rahab’s story in conversation with African-American literature, and proposing a new strategy of interpretation.
Each chapter stands on its own, and Russaw’s writing allows readers from diverse backgrounds to join in the conversation. She provides literary directional markers, skillfully constructs her argument, defines new and potentially unfamiliar terminology, and carefully guides readers along the journey.
Russaw reintroduces Bible readers to Rahab through a feminine approach to the text. She draws on the writings of Harlem Renaissance novelist Nella Larsen to argue that Rahab “passes” in Joshua 2. The pass – a way of positioning her identity – was commonly used against African Americans whose racial heritage, ethnic or cultural seemed ambiguous. By portraying Rahab as a cultural transgressor, Russaw dislodges her from the corners of marginality and re-presents her as an empowered role transgressor.
In The Hadassah Trafficking: Collective Trauma, Cultural Memory and Identity in the Book of Esther and in the African Diaspora (Routledge), Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar uses Africana’s biblical critique to place Esther’s story in conversation with the sex trafficking discourse and the lived experiences of African women and girls, particularly in the transatlantic slave trade . Dunbar argues that Esther and her comrades in the King’s Harem are victims of sex trafficking, and she uses this realization to raise awareness of the collective trauma and identity imprint caused by the trafficking. By naming the literary devices deployed by the Book of Esther that normalize the violent seizure and displacement of virgin girls, many of whom Dunbar says were of Ethiopian descent, she challenges readers to examine their own attitudes toward (and their complicity) in violence against women and girls. , even in forms that appear in the scriptures.
Hadassah traffic opens up new avenues in Esther studies by broadening the discourse to include the impacts of ethnicity, colonization and minoritization on sexual exploitation and abuse. Dunbar writes that she pays “special attention to beauty, pageantry, humor, secrecy and concealment, euphemisms and stereotypes”, to address “kyriarchy, patriarchy, hierarchies of gender, political conflict, abuse of power, domination and brutal physical and sexual violence”. in and out of biblical texts. Not only does her reading call for reconsideration of Esther, but she also makes visible the oft-forgotten African women and girls who have been and continue to be trafficked and whose absence anchors a collective trauma across the African diaspora. Thereby, Hadassah traffic is both a call to remembrance and a call to action.
This year, Fortress Press published a new edition of Phyllis Trible’s seminal book Texts of Terror: Feminist Literary Readings of the Biblical Narrative. Originally published in 1984, texts of terror combines feminist hermeneutics and literary criticism to tell the stories of four biblical women and their horrific treatment in and by the text. Trible focuses on Hagar and Tamar in Genesis and Jephthah’s daughter and Levite’s concubine in Judges, highlighting the harm inflicted on these four women in the larger context of female subjugation in ancient Israel. texts of terror confronts the “sexism of scripture” and its violence against women in part as a means of illuminating the sexism, patriarchy and violence suffered by contemporary women.
A sin Revisiting Rahabeach chapter of texts of terror is designed to be read on its own, allowing readers to enter the book at any time and follow its logic. Each of the four women’s stories receives close reading, and Trible isn’t shy about the shocking and disturbing elements of their stories. More importantly, she does not attempt to ease the tension by absolving the human and divine actors of the stories – nor the text itself – of their complicity in the terrifying acts against these women.
Trible and Dunbar argue that the way stories are told has implications for identity formation – in the text, behind the text, and in front of the text. Additionally, both authors invite readers to reflect on the politics at play in storytelling. Who are the victims and the victors in history? Who continues to be victimized and who continues to be valued? What ideas about value and validity are elaborated in these models? The Trible and Dunbar books demand that Bible readers interrogate the meta-narrative of ancient Israelite history in order to liberate today’s women and girls.
In Sarai: Is she the goddess of ancient Israel? (Wipf and Stock), Dvora Lederman-Daniely explores the biblical story of Sarah/Sarai and argues that she is used as a disguise to mask the presence of the goddess Asherah, a divine consort of the Israelite deity YHWH. Lederman-Daniely uses the tools of biblical hermeneutics from the social sciences, including archeology and anthropology, to center the stories of a female character and a female deity and to shed new light on the old Israelite religion. Following in the footsteps of Saul Olyan, Mordechai Gilula and Susan Ackerman, she argues that the goddess Asherah was a legitimate part of the worship of YHWH, thus making ancient Israelite religious practice polytheistic rather than monotheistic.
Sarai begins with a close reading of Genesis, in which Lederman-Daniely searches the text for ancient mythological clues. She then engages in a comparative analysis between the stories of Genesis 12, 18 and 20 and Canaanite mythology. Lederman-Daniely advances several theories about a plausible redacted merger between Sarah/Sarai and Asherah, including the possibility that Sarai’s and Abram’s name change in Genesis 17 was editorial cover to conceal Asherah’s name change.
Lederman-Daniely offers etymologies of both Sarah/Sarai and Asherah to lay the groundwork for a renewed consideration of Asherah not only as the wife of YHWH but as divine queen and co-ruler of the divinity. She builds her argument with textual and archaeological evidence, including inscriptions found at Deir ‘Alla alluding to a goddess named Sarai. Through this fascinating study of Sarah/Sarai, new questions emerge about the divinity of ancient Israel, Israelite religious practice, and the relationship between the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern texts.
These four books tell ancient stories in new ways, bringing women to the fore as biblical subjects in their own right, as key figures in the history of ancient Israel, and as a vehicle to keep readers from the Bible responsible for interpretive practices that harm women and girls. . Although the reading can be difficult and the stories sometimes violent, I am excited by the trajectory of feminist and related hermeneutical approaches and their gains in reclaiming women in the Bible. We’ve come a long way since The Woman’s Bible.
Read Jason Micheli’s Theology Picks and Jonathan Tran’s Ethics Picks.