Matriarchs, Saviors, and Jezebels: Women in the Bible
The world of the Hebrew Bible is a man’s world in so many ways. Yet, women play a pivotal, and often controversial, role in the unfolding of the book’s most significant stories. There are mothers—Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah—saviors—Deborah, Jael, and Esther—and the others: Ruth, Hagar, Jezebel, and of course, bearing the blame for sin and civilization alike, Eve. Moreover, from the political heroics of the Book of Esther to the erotic poetry of the Songs of Solomon, feminine imagery is deployed in ways both beautiful and horrifying to depict success, failure, and even those aspects of God for which masculine imagery cannot possibly do justice. In one of the world’s most famously patriarchal texts, how can we understand the ways in which women are depicted, imagined, and related to men? Are the biblical narratives oppressive, empowering, or ambiguous—and how can we read them, not only as documents of an ancient civilization, but as a means for exploring gender identity and politics in the modern world?
In this course, we will explore the position and depiction of women and femininity in the Hebrew Bible through a reading of its narrative, poems, and legal texts. We will talk about what patriarchy is and how it makes itself felt in the Bible. We will consider how the legal and social status of women is reflected in biblical texts, taking into account factors of race, ethnicity, and class, in addition to gender. We will explore how women are both subject to manipulation and often able to maneuver within and manipulate systems to different ends. And, given the monumental influence of the Hebrew Bible on Western culture, we will reflect on the questions and possibilities that biblical women raise for the way we think about gender identity and gender roles in contemporary life. Alongside biblical texts, we will read from a variety of thinkers, including Hildegard von Bingen, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible, Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy, Kimberle Crenshaw work on intersectionality, and Kate Manne’s Down Girl.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
April 12 — May 03, 2022