We Almost Ate from the Tree of Life: Fantasy and Horror in Ancient Near Eastern Religious Texts
If we strip away the interpretations of Christianity and the quite different ones of Rabbinic Judaism, we find surprising fantasy and horror themes in the Hebrew Bible and in the cognate literatures of the ancient Near East. These themes are mixed in together with laws and promises, stories, poetry, and advice to the young.
Many feminist theologians and other feminist authors aspire to construct a liberating Christianity or neopaganism by separating themselves from a Jewish tradition they formulate as the bleakest, meanest patriarchy. To make their point, they conflate legal texts of the Bible with narrative, as though laws on the books were the same as sociological accounts of real, daily life, and generalize wildly from isolated incidents or, in some cases, from conjectured etymologies. In this, they follow such patriarchal scholars as Roland de Vaux.
Hence, Phyllis Trible claims that biblical laws prove that "Hebrew females" lived in terror. Sally McFague accounts for Paul's misogyny by pointing out that, after all, he was a Jew. Historian Gerda Lerner thinks that "the few women mentioned" in the Hebrew Bible "are in subservient roles," though she offers no enumeration.
However, Lerner herself points out ten years earlier ( 1976) that when men write legal, medical, or other normative texts, they often do not describe real women's real lives, but men's fantasies about norms for ideal women. These ideal women may be imagined living in an ideal state. 1 "Ideal women" commonly turn out to be quiet, supportive, self-effacing, and so on. An alternative set of men's fantasies produces images of women as sick, deviant, or easily misled, needing men to straighten them out. Men, Lerner says, write such texts in reaction, when real-life women become more free and active in society. Michelle Rosaldo points out that we must see women as active social agents. Both Lerner and Rosaldo caution against interpreting women as mere victims.
And just as scholars have long separated normative from narrative (that is, Halakhah, law, from Agada, narrative) in studying Talmud, so we must do with respect