Pregnant Passion: Gender, Sex, and Violence in the Bible

By Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan | Go to book overview

SOME PLACE TO CRY: JEPHTHAH'S DAUGHTER AND
THE DOUBLE DILEMMA OF BLACK WOMEN IN AMERICA

Valerie C. Cooper
Wake Forest University

The story of Jephthah and of his daughter, which is found in Judg 11, has both intrigued and perplexed commentators. Over time, the narrative of the nameless daughter of Jephthah the Giléadite has been reinterpreted endlessly and the characters appropriated as tools and symbols of the interpreter's social context, message, and philosophy. From Pseudo-Philo or Shakespeare to the works of modern feminist and womanist exegetes, the story of Jephthah's daughter has served as an archetype, tragic myth, or cautionary tale of man, woman, and nation. In my essay, I examine some interpretations of the story and then propose a womanist understanding of it in terms of the reality of contemporary life for African Americans.

My essay is womanist in that it considers the influence of race upon issues of gender and class. Gender is not the only identifier of importance in the lives of women of color (Barkley Brown).1 Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham agrees, underscoring the role of race as identifier and arguing that scholars need to “expose the role of race as metalanguage by calling attention to its powerful, all-encompassing effect in the contruction and representation of other social and power relationships, namely, gender, class, and sexuality” (Higginbotham 1995: 3–4). According to Higginbotham, race functions as metalanguage through which other identifiers such as gender tend to be interpreted. Together, race and gender have worked to produce a kind of double jeopardy for African American women, who suffer the consequences of racism and sexism. It is one aspect of such double jeopardy that I intend to explore in this essay.

1 Indeed, the emergence of womanist as a category of inquiry and study separate
and distinct from feminist points to the concern of many scholars that gender analysis
alone is insufficient without taking into consideration the significant, and complicating,
effects of race.

-181-

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