Academic journal article Shofar

Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women

Academic journal article Shofar

Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women

Article excerpt

Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women, by Carol Meyers. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005. 105 pp. $6.00.

Carol Meyers has a distinguished career in biblical studies, and she has made pioneering contributions in the application of feminists perspectives. In this brief book, Meyers adapts a keynote lecture she delivered in 2001 at Basel for the Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament. She explores the impact of sociological and gender studies in the study of Israelite religion.

Aside from the Introduction, the book consists of six very short chapters and a seventh "discussion" chapter. In the Introduction, she notes that "feminist biblical study, whether conducted by women or by men, still tends to represent masculinized approaches" (p. 4). In particular, the emphasis on belief (theology) rather than on practice often effectively excludes or minimizes study of the religious behaviors of women. Similarly, the emphasis on female deities, as a reflection of women's religion, is flawed because, among other things, it assumes that goddesses are linked primarily to female devotees. The solution, argues Meyers, is "[r]ather than think of studying women's religion in the period of the Hebrew Bible, we need to think of studying women's religious culture" (p. 11).

In subsequent chapters, she focuses on the different approaches that can recover women's religious culture, including anthropological (chapter three), archaeological (chapter four), textual (chapter five), and ethnographic approaches (chapter six). In particular, Meyers argues that the religious practices unique to women are best sought among "life processes related to female biology" (p. 16). The overall focus is on how households functioned as sacred spaces where women could exercise powers often denied them in elite male institutions such as the temple. Even so, women also participated in communal religious life more than many scholars might realize. For example, in Ezra 10:1 women are among those praying in the assembly addressed by Ezra.

Even in this succinct study, Meyers effectively shows how new questions provide a more realistic picture of the religious practices of ancient Israel. For example, from ethnographic comparisons, we can see that health care is a much more important part of religious life than most scholars of Israelite religions have supposed. …

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