Women in Scripture

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Overview

Available here for the first time in paperback, Women in Scripture is a landmark one-volume reference work exploring all the women mentioned in the Bible, named and unnamed, well known and heretofore not known at all. The book comprises more than 800 articles, written by the finest scholars in the field, that examine the numerous women who have often been obscured by the androcentric nature of the biblical record and by centuries of translation and interpretation that have paid little or no attention to them.

The women of scripture are remarkably varied—from prophets to prostitutes, military heroines to musicians, deacons to dancers, widows to wet nurses, rulers to slaves. Here are familiar faces, such as Eve, Judith, and Mary, seen anew with the full benefit of the most up-to-date biblical scholarship. But the most innovative aspect of the book is the section devoted to the many women who in the scriptures do not even have names.

In both scope and accessibility, Women in Scripture is an exceptional work. Combining rigorous scholarship with engaging prose, these articles on women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books, and the New Testament will inform, delight, and challenge all readers interested in the Bible.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Harvey Cox
"This is it—the one indispensable resource for anyone seriously interested in understanding the hundreds of women who appear in the Bible. Balanced, accurate, and fascinating to peruse and consult."

Roland E. Murphy
"By means of adroit organization and close textual reading, the invisible have become visible; the hidden influence of women, named and unnamed, in biblical times is now manifest from the hundreds of entries in this handy encyclopedia."

Susannah Heschel
"This is the most thorough and systematic survey ever undertaken of women in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The editors have gathered articles by the finest scholars, who present the most up-to-date results of biblical scholarship on women. An indispensable companion for anyone studying the Bible."

The Christian Science Monitor
"Women in Scripture is a remarkable reference book here to stay."

Publishers Weekly
"Prophets, poets, prostitutes — and all other women named and unnamed in the Bible — are finally given their due in what is not your usual biblical dictionary."

Library Journal
"Splendid. . . A monumental reference work that resurrects women from anonymity."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802849625
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
  • Publication date: 8/28/2014
  • Pages: 612
  • Sales rank: 700,450
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol Meyers holds the Mary Wilson Professorship in Religion at Duke University.

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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


An Introduction
to the Bible

* * *

Critical Biblical
Scholarship

* * *

Carol Meyers


The Bible is arguably the world's best-known book. Ironically, perhaps because it is so familiar—directly and indirectly—to so many, it also may be one of the world's least understood literary productions. Biblical scholarship, which seeks to understand the origin, content, historical context, and literary strategies of the Bible, is a well-developed, centuries-old discipline. Yet the discoveries of biblical scholarship over the past two centuries, which may constitute as revolutionary a contribution to Western intellectual history as have the theories of Marx, Darwin, and Freud, have had relatively no impact on the general public. Most people today approach scriptural texts precritically, in much the same way that they have for the past two millennia.

    The entries in Women in Scripture have been written by professionals working under certain assumptions about the Bible that have emerged from the historical-critical revolution in biblical studies. Because those assumptions are not widely known, the following comments are meant to introduce modern biblical scholarship and how it has shaped the contributions to this volume.

    Perhaps the most important issue to be raised and examined by modern biblical scholars concerns the unity and authorship of the Bible, which traditionally had been considered a unique, unified, consistent, error-free, and authoritative expression of God's word and will. The text itself, along with rabbinic or ecclesiastical interpretations, was the basis of belief and practice for virtually all Jews and Christians. For scholars, this ready acceptance of the inviolate sanctity of the existing text changed dramatically in the wake of the Reformation. Influenced by the critical thinking of European humanism and rationalism, they used common sense and logic to read the Bible as they would any other cultural document. This trend began in the seventeenth century and was widespread by the end of the nineteenth.

    Three other developments affected the new, post-Enlightenment readings of Scripture. First, the scientific revolution of roughly the same era produced new perspectives on the natural world and its origins. Second, explorations and excavations in Bible lands were beginning to uncover texts with remarkable similarities to many biblical passages. Third, the critical readers themselves, even though most of them were ordained Christian (largely Protestant) clergy, were largely free of dogmatic constraints because of the relative freedom of post-Reformation biblical religion.

    It became increasingly clear to scholars that the traditional views about authorship, unity, scientific veracity, and function of biblical texts needed to be reevaluated. Neither the full Christian canon (Hebrew Bible, Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and New Testament) nor any one of its three component Scriptures is a single-author book, they realized, but rather a complex anthology, a skillfully organized blend of many literary genres (songs, letters, laments, aphorisms, laws, history, prayers, legends, and so on) composed by countless authors over a long period of time. The date of the earliest parts of the Hebrew Bible, though still disputed, may be the twelfth century B.C.E.; the "youngest" texts of the New Testament date to the first half of the second century C.E. The Bible itself, with a number of books bearing the names of individuals (for example, Jeremiah, Mark, Tobit), indicates some multiple authorship. But virtually all biblical books, scholars could now see, were the result of various hands, writing with different levels of skill and for different purposes, and—tellingly—with different points of view, over extended periods of time. In particular the Pentateuchal books (the first five books of the Bible), with their repetitions and conflicting details, seemed to result from redactional activity that combined any number of discrete sources. Even some prophetic books, notably Isaiah and Zechariah, were recognized to have separate components (known as First Isaiah, Second Isaiah, and probably Third Isaiah; and as First Zechariah and Second Zechariah), combined into one longer work perhaps because of thematic connections or for some other reasons that cannot be determined with surety. And the Gospels were understood to have been composed in stages, incorporating materials from various sources—some used by two or more Gospels, some unique to each Gospel. Recognition of this complexity of authorship meant discarding the traditional ascription of the first five biblical books to Moses, of the Psalter to David, of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon (also known as Canticles or the Song of Songs) as well as the Wisdom of Solomon to Solomon, of the full text of all prophetic books and many New Testament and Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical ones to the men whose names they bear.

    Scholars in the twentieth century developed increasingly sophisticated understandings of how and why the different kinds of literature represented in the Bible took shape. Furthermore, as more and more ancient manuscripts have been discovered in Old World libraries and through excavations, they were able to recover the long and fascinating process by which the various parts of the Bible were collected in a canonical whole by the early centuries C.E. They also began to understand how biblical manuscripts were carefully preserved and faithfully transmitted. For example, the earliest manuscripts of the entire Hebrew Bible—early medieval copies that may postdate by as much as a thousand years a posited "original" version of some parts of the Hebrew Bible—are highly reliable traditions.

    Recent trends in biblical scholarship do not necessarily view all the contradictions and differences among various passages of the Bible as reliable indicators of separate compositions, as earlier analyses did. Nonetheless, the acceptance of multiple authorship and divergent beliefs within the Bible as a whole is fundamental to all biblical scholarship except that of the most conservative, literalist groups. Individual scholars may differ greatly in their understanding of whether or not, or to what degree, God played a role in inspiring the creation of biblical texts; but they converge in their awareness of the complexity and diversity of the composite scriptural product. That is, biblical scholars now assume that the Bible consists of countless combined documents that reflect the biases and backgrounds of its many authors. So skillfully have the pieces been assembled, however, that attempts to identify them and account for their individual histories have not led to the same kind of consensus.

    The developments of modern science influenced biblical scholarship most strongly in its understandings of biblical cosmologies. (Note the plural: the early chapters of Genesis are not the only scriptural references to the beginning and the structure of the cosmos.) The ancient Ptolemaic concept of the universe could be reconciled with the biblical accounts. Not so for the astronomical and scientific observations of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. Biblical interpreters could no longer claim that the Bible was scientifically accurate; they could not approach biblical cosmogonies as if they were scientific treatises. Eventually, as other creation accounts of equal or greater antiquity became available to biblical scholars, they understood the biblical accounts of creation to be poetic expressions of the struggle of ancient Israelites, like that of other ancient peoples, to understand their own place in the created realm. The truths of biblical texts dealing with the cosmos are best evaluated in terms of their portrayal of the relationship between God and humanity within the world and not in terms of scientific veracity. Those texts convey ideas about the meaning of creation and not about how and when the world came to exist. Similarly, critical biblical scholars do not look to the Book of Revelation for a description of how the world will end any more than they look to Genesis for an understanding of how the world began.

    By the end of the nineteenth century, biblical scholars had also recognized that the narratives in the New Testament and Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books as well as the Hebrew Bible that read as if they were history cannot be taken as factual records. The stories of the ancestors in Genesis, for example, were understood to be highly legendary if not fictional accounts of the pre-Israelite world. Like the beginnings and endings stories, they contain important messages but are not themselves literally true or historically accurate. Similarly, the divergent accounts of Jesus in the Gospels often say more about the meaning of Christ to different groups of early Christians than about the exact details of his life on earth. More blatant departure from historical veracity is characteristic of biblical "novellas" such as the books of Esther, Judith, and Susanna.

    The crafting of the books of the Bible, like the writing of other documents known from the ancient Semitic and Greco-Roman worlds, was never intended to record the past in a way that fits our modern conceptions of historiography, conditioned by Western intellectual traditions. The compelling literary productions collected in Hebrew and Greek Scripture have blurred forever the boundaries between historical event and cultural expression. The formative events and formidable personalities of the biblical period are available to us now only in narratives and poetry, often brilliantly constructed, that frequently tell us more about the world of the narrators and poets than about the past they alternately celebrate and decry. In some quarters of biblical scholarship today, there is great skepticism about the ability of researchers to recover from the scriptural legacy much of the history of ancient Israel, early Judaism, and nascent Christianity. But for most people working in this discipline, the biblical record does contain valid and authentic clues about the biblical period and its timeless cast of characters and depictions of communal life.

    The contributors to this volume accept the concept of the Bible as a historically conditioned anthology of books produced by many writers over a long period of time—more than a millennium. They thus avoid taking the biblical record naively at face value. They are, for example, more apt to say that the text says that something happened rather than to report it as having occurred. And they are more likely to focus on the literary presentation and function of biblical women, be they generic types or figures in narratives, than on their role in Israelite history. Yet, at the same time, passages with female characters, like most biblical texts, often are invaluable sources of information about the general social world, with its own conventions and values, in which the anonymous composers of biblical literature lived. Many entries thus provide information about the social dynamics of women's lives in biblical antiquity. The women and men who have written the entries for Women in Scripture are well trained in ancient biblical languages and in Near Eastern or Greco-Roman history. Their approach to the female figures in the Bible both respects and contributes to modern critical scholarship; it also speaks to the interests and concerns of Bible readers outside the academy.


The Hebrew Bible

* * *

Carol Meyers


The first, largest, and oldest part of the combined Jewish and Christian Scripture is the Hebrew Bible, known in Christian tradition as the Old Testament. Because it is so much a part of the religious and cultural life of the contemporary world, its antiquity and complexity are not often recognized by Bible readers. Biblically based liturgy and theology and also biblical allusions in Western culture are so familiar that the long passage of biblical texts from their often unrecoverable origin to their role as sacred Scripture is obscured. It is beyond the scope of this work for the individual entries to indicate the place of various passages or persons within the overall shape and story of the Hebrew Bible. The following description is thus meant to provide rudimentary information about the organization, age, contents, and authorship of the Hebrew Bible.

    In its original languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) and in modern Jewish translations, the Hebrew Bible is an anthology of twenty-four books. Those books are organized into three major divisions, which probably reflect the order in which they became selected and collected. That process, whereby certain writings became important in the community and were considered sacred and authoritative, is called canonization. The word canon is derived from a Greek word that goes back to the Hebrew word qaneh and eventually to a Sumerian word denoting a reed that served as a measuring rod. The concept of physical measurement came by extension to mean a standard by which something is evaluated. Biblical literature was considered canonical when it "measured up" to some standards, which cannot be clearly recovered, about what was authentic revelation and should be included in a collection of holy texts.

    The formation of the canon of the Hebrew Bible represents an ongoing process rather than a single decree by an individual leader or a religious council. The status of certain sacred works was apparently discussed from about 90 to 100 C.E. by a group of rabbinic sages meeting at a center of ancient Jewish learning called Jamnia, near the Mediterranean coast west of Jerusalem. Most scholars reject the notion that the Jamnian sages made any official decisions about the canonical whole. Rather, they apparently were concerned with a group of texts, or biblical "books," that were already widely accepted as sacred. They may have consolidated some texts and debated the sanctity of others; but they were working with a set of works that was already close to its final canonical form. Indeed, long before Jamnia, several late Hebrew Bible passages refer to parts of the three major sections, to be described next, of the Hebrew Bible. Ezra 3:2 (late fifth or early fourth century B.C.E.) refers to the "torah [NRSV, law] of Moses"; Dan 9:2. (second century B.C.E.) alludes to "books" that seem to be a set of biblical prophets. Somewhat later, Luke 24:44 (late first century C.E.) mentions the "teaching [NRSV, law] of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms." It seems safe to say that twenty-two of the books of the Jewish canon had been accepted as sacred by the end of the first century C.E. (some of them having achieved that status many centuries earlier) and that the full Jewish canon of twenty-four books was fixed somewhat later, perhaps not until the end of the next century.

    The first of the major divisions of the Hebrew Bible is the Pentateuch or Torah (from Hebrew tôrâ), composed of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). This group of books is sometimes called the Five Books of Moses because of the traditional ascription, as in the Ezra and Luke passages just mentioned, of these works to Moses, who was considered the transmitter of God's teachings to Israel. The designation Torah for the Pentateuch—and sometimes for the entirety of Jewish Scripture—is often misunderstood. The word means "teaching" or "instruction," and by extension in its canonical setting, "revelation." A more narrow meaning, "law," is sometimes used in translations (as in the NRSV of the Ezra and Luke passages quoted earlier) and gives the erroneous impression that the Pentateuch and even the legal materials it contains are primarily laws when in fact they are conceptually teachings, some of which are expressed in the form of prescriptive regulations.

    The material contained in the Pentateuch represents a wide chronological range. No one knows how old the earliest passages are or how ancient are the events they purport to describe. As our discussion of critical biblical scholarship indicates, it is now deemed unlikely that the ancestral narratives of Genesis, believed for a tong time to reflect Semitic migrations of the early to middle second millennium B.C.E., are authentic historical documents. Even if they do contain vestiges of social customs of life in the second millennium B.C.E. or references to sites occupied in that epoch, the form in which they have come to us bears signs of the writing style and spelling of the tenth century B.C.E. or later. Similarly, the story of the exodus and the wanderings in the wilderness, which may reflect thirteenth-century B.C.E. movements of peoples out of Egypt, is the product of much later literary activity. Embedded in those narratives of Israelite beginnings, however, are several archaic poems, such as the so-called Song of the Sea and the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15, which many scholars date to the period of earliest Israel (thirteenth-twelfth centuries B.C.E.).

    The legal and cultic materials that comprise the rest of the Pentateuch contain sections of various ages and probably reached their final form at some point in the mid-first millennium B.C.E. Scholars vary widely in assigning dates to the completion of the Pentateuch, offering possibilities from the sixth to the fourth centuries B.C.E. However, because Ezra apparently considered the "torah [NRSV, law] of Moses" an authoritative document and is said to have read it out loud to an assembly of all the people (see Neh 8:1-3) by the late fourth century B.C.E., most scholars accept that the Pentateuch had achieved something close to its final form by that time, if not earlier.

    The second and largest division of the Hebrew Bible is known as the Prophets (Nevi'im in Hebrew). That designation is somewhat misleading in that the Prophets consists of two major sections, the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets, the first of these being a collection of "historical" rather than prophetic books. The Former Prophets consists of four books—Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings—which relate the tribal beginnings of Israel in the "promised land" and its subsequent existence as one and then two monarchic states. The ancient designation of the Joshua-Kings set as prophetic probably reflects the fact that these books have what might be termed a prophetic worldview in which, simply stated, God blesses those who obey the divine word and punishes those who are disobedient. It may also stem from the way in which a series of early prophets, such as Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha, figure in the narratives, particularly in the books of Samuel and Kings. In any case, these works are quite different from the Latter Prophets, which consists of the books of the three Major (that is, large) Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) and a fourth book, itself a collection: the twelve Minor (that is, small, or short) Prophets, sometimes called the Book of the Twelve.

    The historical material that begins in Joshua and ends in Kings is a continuation of the story of the people Israel that begins in the Book of Exodus. Although not long ago critical biblical scholarship had understood the pre-Israelite narratives of the ancestors to be highly legendary, it had viewed the biblical books that comprise the Former Prophets as a collection of historical records, albeit ones with impressive folkloristic and literary embellishments. The biblical books that read as history were taken to be just that.

    Contemporary biblical scholarship has revised this notion. Because of disparities between the past "recorded" in the Bible and the past recovered by archaeological work that is far more sophisticated and accurate than the prove-the-Bible type of projects carried out earlier in this century, most biblical scholars now recognize that these narratives about Israel, from its twelfth-century B.C.E. beginnings in the land until its defeat by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and the subsequent exile of its leadership and many of its people, were not written as a historical record by eyewitness observers of a series of Iron Age events. Rather, much of the Former Prophets, especially those portions dealing with the premonarchic and early monarchic period—the united monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon (c. 1025-928 B.C.E.)—was probably composed to express emotions as well as ideas and values, using the vehicles of story and of poetry. The biblical materials mix creative imagination, historical memory, and probably some information from written sources; they were brought together for ideological purposes, decades if not centuries after the events they purport to describe. Even the materials about the later monarchic states, the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (formed after the death of Solomon and the breakup of the united monarchy), although probably drawn from archival records, are selected and framed by editors to express their views about past events.

    The process that cast the Former Prophets in its preserved form may have been initiated as early as the beginning of the monarchy in the late eleventh—early tenth century B.C.E. However, many scholars believe that a major impetus for collecting the historical narratives was the late-seventh-century B.C.E. nationalist reform of King Josiah, as reported in 2 Kings 22-23. A subsequent updating, to account for the latest event mentioned in 2 Kings (the release of the exiled King Jehoiachin from Babylonian prison c. 562 B.C.E.; see 2 Kgs 25:27), would then have occurred during the exile. These two spurts of compilation and editing together produced the four books of the Former Prophets, a work that many scholars link with the Book of Deuteronomy, calling the resulting five books the Deuteronomic History because the ideology of the Former Prophets seems to be based on that of Deuteronomy.

    The origin and dates of the Latter Prophets have been somewhat easier for scholars to identify. In some cases, the prophetic books themselves are replete with chronological data. The superscriptions of many of them link the ensuing prophecies to the reigns of certain kings, whose regnal years have been established quite reliably. For example, the first book of the Major Prophets, Isaiah, opens (1:1) by declaring that Isaiah's visions are from the epoch of four specific kings of Judah, whose reigns all date to the eighth century B.C.E.; and two of the Minor Prophets, Hosea and Amos, can similarly be dated to that century. These three prophetic books mark the beginning of what is known as the era of "classical prophets"—those who produced books that are called by their names and are included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible.


Excerpted from Women in Scripture by Carol Meyers, with Toni Craven and Ross S. Kraemer. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Contributors viii
Preface ix
An Introduction to the Bible
Critical Biblical Scholarship by Carol Meyers 1
The Hebrew Bible by Carol Meyers 4
The Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books by Toni Craven 12
The New Testament by Ross S. Kraemer 17
Feminist Biblical Scholarship by Alice Ogden Bellis 24
Names and Naming in the Biblical World by Karla G
Bohmback 33
PART I NAMED WOMEN 41
PART II UNNAMED WOMEN 173
The Hebrew Bible 175
The Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books 358
The New Testament 407
PART III FEMALE DEITIES AND PERSONIFICATIONS 505
Additional Ancient Sources 557
Abbreviations 565
Bibliography 567
Illustration Credits 591
Acknowledgments 592
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