Prayers of Jewish Women

By Spencer, Aída Besançon | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2007 | Go to article overview
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Prayers of Jewish Women


Spencer, Aída Besançon, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Prayers of Jewish Women. By Markus McDowell. WUNT 2/211. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006, xiv + 277 pp., euro50.00 paper.

Markus McDowell, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California, has expanded and edited his Fuller Theological Seminary Ph.D. dissertation for the monograph Prayers of Jewish Women. This is a comprehensive overview of a massive amount of literature. McDowell has analyzed over 600 prayers. He has studied in depth 69 prayers by women alone, 58 prayers of women with men, and 379 prayers by men alone in the literature of the Second Temple period (second century BC to second century AD). His focus is on an exploration of how the primary Jewish literature of this period "portrays women at prayer through an examination of the literary context and character of those prayers" (p. 17). The women's prayers are compared and contrasted with the men's prayers in the same texts. This literature is organized by rough chronological order and Palestinian or Diaspora origin. Thus chapter 2 includes a study of second-century BC to first-century AD apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings (Additions to Esther, Judith, Jubilees, 2 Maccabees, Susanna, and Tobit). Chapter 3 includes a study of Philo's works and first-century BC to first-century AD pseudepigraphical writings (Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum or Pseudo-Philo, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Job, Joseph and Asenath, and 3 and 4 Maccabees). Chapter 4 includes a study of Josephus's works and first-century and second-century ad pseudepigrapha (2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, and the Sibylline Oracles). Rabbinic writings and the Dead Sea Scrolls were not included because of the later date or repetition of material. Each document is described by source (date, place of composition, genre and literary characteristics, summary of contents, purpose, and setting). David de Silva's Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) is an important resource for historical context questions. All the prayers in the document are surveyed. Documents that have no prayers by women are not included in the study.

Then, each passage that includes women praying is examined in more detail using five categories of analysis: (1) social location (Is it a public, private, or semiprivate prayer?); (2) content (Is the primary function of the prayer personal, communal, or national; praise or worship, or unspecified?); (3) form (Is the prayer praise and thanksgiving; petition, intercession or lament; confession and penitence; benediction and curse?); (4) occasion (Is the prayer a community crisis, personal crisis, or everyday life occurrence?); and (5) perspective (Does the prayer include a gynocentric perspective or feminine imagery and vocabulary or gender-specific language or a masculine perspective as the ancient authors portrayed them?). He defines prayer as "speech (interior or spoken aloud) that is addressed to God, usually in the second person, but sometimes in the third person" (p. 29). A summary follows each chapter, as well as the entire study. The book concludes with 62 pages of appendixes, an extended bibliography, and indexes of ancient sources, modern authors, and subjects.

After all this extensive work McDowell has concluded the following: (1) For the most part women are depicted in much the same manner as men when they are at prayer in terms of location, content, form, and occasion (p. 198). In general, the character of prayer remains relatively consistent across gender, theology, geography, and chronological differences.

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