Reading Women's Stories: Female Characters in the Hebrew Bible

Article excerpt

Reading Women's Stories: Female Characters in the Hebrew Bible, by John Petersen. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004. 226 pp. $22.00.

It was T. S. Eliot who said that any new work brings about a re-ordering and re-aligning of all works that preceded it. It is doubtful that John Petersen's Reading Women's Stories: Female Characters in the Hebrew Bible will have the same impact on the heavily trodden and ever proliferating field of the study of women in the Bible. Perhaps to make up for the lack of original insight or method, Petersen has taken upon himself to provide a summary of the abundant scholarly field, displaying his vast reading on the subject matter as well as his enthusiasm for it.

The early feminist interpreters of the Hebrew Bible in our own times have shuttled between the "hermeneutics of suspicion" (Mieke Bal and Esther Fuchs may be good examples) which attribute gender-politics agenda to any texts originating in the male community, and the "hermeneutics of reconciliation" (Phyllis Trible and her followers) which attempt to balance the feminist scholars' built-in admiration for the sacred text with their painful realization that the female voice is suppressed in it. The former engages in retrojection, reading the contemporary feminist anger and combativeness into the ancient texts and seeing conspiratorial, and often misogynistic, purposes in any given text dealing with women or referring to matters of gender. The latter seeks to uncover the feminine voice under the male-intoned narratives and locate those instances where the female is brought to center stage in a sympathetic light, either openly or subtly.

While not displaying any agenda of combativeness or a need to reconcile, Petersen has actually borrowed reading techniques and structural approaches from both camps. …