From Deborah to Esther: Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible

From Deborah to Esther: Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible

From Deborah to Esther: Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible

From Deborah to Esther: Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible


"I am a woman deeply troubled.... I have been pouring out my soul before Yahweh."

- Hannah (1 Sam. 1:15)

The Hebrew Bible's fascinating narratives about women have occasioned some of the most important biblical scholarship of the last generation. Lillian Klein contributes to that wealth with her absorbing studies of key figures in the narrative material: Deborah, Jephtha's daughter, Delilah, Jael, the whore of Gaza, Kaleb's daughter Achsah, Hannah, Esther, the wife of Job, David's wife Michal, and Bathsheba. With a marvelous eye for the telling detail - or its absence - Klein examines the biblical portraits, often unfortunately brief, of these women and the dynamics of gender, power, and honor at work in their stories.

A remarkably lucid and careful scholar, Klein has surfaced the underlying and ironic ideals of womanhood in a society that both honored and marginalized women in stories of seduction and rivalry, deviation and obedience, public shame and private power.


Despite a well-publicized suggestion that one book of the Bible reflects a woman's point of view and was, in fact, written by a woman; and the possibility that the Song of Songs reflects female voices, the essays of this book are based on a less radical assumption: that most biblical texts are texts created by educated men in positions of authority and power. the texts reflect various sources of that power—primarily the realms of monarchy, priest and prophet. Each of these points of view encompasses an entire “worldview” and determines the character and actions of the individuals involved in a specific narrative. However, regardless of the disparity in sources of power, there is surprising agreement among the stories about the roles of females. Males may have disputed with one another about male power, but they were largely in agreement about control of females.

It seems safe to conclude that, in general, constraints on women are created by physically dominant males. Physical dominance leads, sooner or later, to psychological dominance, whereby the woman accepts her place as dominated and cooperates in it. Female acceptance of male dominance results in social and cultural subservience, and “might” has indeed made “right.” One significant aspect of male control of females is by restriction of the women to nonpublic areas, primarily the home, by invoking female “shame” and male “honor.” the women cooperate in protecting their males' (fathers/husbands) honor by demonstrating proper “shame” in . . .

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