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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Methodologies

In contrast to the field of biblical studies more generally, Jewish women's biblical scholarship does not focus very much on source analysis and other historical‐critical issues, nor is there much concern about “what really happened,” an issue that is of great interest in feminist New Testament scholarship (for example, concerning the role of female disciples of Jesus, and the role of women as deacons in early Christian worship). One exception is the work of Savina Teubal (Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis [Athens, OH: SwallowPress, 1984]; Hagar the Egyptian: The Lost Tradition of the Matriarchs [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990]), which attempts to treat Hagar and Sarah as historical figures and account for their biblical representations on the basis of the history, politics, and demographics of Israelite society. Most scholars, however, refrain from such specific historical reconstructions, due to the paucity of evidence (but see the discussion below on social‐scientific methodologies).

If the Bible does not provide a clear window into Israelite history, it does provide ample basis for other types of approaches. Most prevalent among women writers on the Bible have been literary‐critical methodologies, either on their own or in combination with other methods. From Adele Berlin's Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (Sheffield: The Almond Press, 1983) to Yairah Amit's introduction, Reading Biblical Narratives: Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), a central concern has been to explore the workings of biblical narrative by employing the categories and methods applied to the genres of narrative and poetry. Such works consider the fundamental building blocks of narrative, including plot, character, and setting, as well as more subtle dimensions such as narrative point of view and linguistic elements such as morphological and syntactical parallelism (e.g., Adele Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985]).

In most cases, literary approaches are seasoned with a strong dose of historical consciousness. Exemplary in this regard is the work of Susan Ackerman (Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel [New York: Doubleday, 1998]). While Ackerman does not assume a historical reality for the stories or characters of the book of Judges, she does take seriously the historical reality of the authors and their audiences. In analyzing Judges’ stories about women, she discerns six character types and compares their stories to others from the ancient Near East in order to discern the ways in which they were imagined and developed over the thousand‐year period of Israelite history.

Other scholars explicitly combine literary approaches with social‐scientific methodologies. Athalya Brenner (The Israelite Woman: Social Role and Literary Type in Biblical Narrative [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985]) draws on biblical narratives in order to examine the social roles available in ancient Israelite society outside of the family and household contexts. Carol Meyers (Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context [New York: Oxford, 1988]) uses a socio‐historical method that draws upon archeology, feminist criticism, anthropology, and social‐scientific theory more generally to discern the social world of ancient Israel, in particular women's lives within the household in relation to the larger community.

Another fruitful combination has involved literary studies and psychoanalysis. For example, Ilona N. Rashkow draws on psychoanalysis in The Phallacy of Genesis: A Feminist‐Psychoanalytic Approach (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993) and, more recently, Taboo or not Taboo: Sexuality and Family in the Hebrew Bible. In a category all its own is the work of Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg (Genesis of Desire: Reflections on Genesis [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1995]; Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus [New York: Doubleday, 2001]), which draws both from traditional Jewish sources and from a broad range of philosophical, literary, and psychoanalytical works in her struggles with the meaning of the biblical text.

On the whole, these varied approaches and areas of investigation coexist amicably within the field of biblical studies. This state of affairs may reflect not only the desire of women to be supportive of women's study of the Bible generally, but also a postmodern ethos that validates the notion that a given text may be subject to a plurality of interpretations. Nevertheless, there is one contentious issue that also makes its way, at least occasionally, into the literature, and that is the extent to which Jewish women's writings on the Bible mayconfirm rather than resist or subvert the biases of mainstream biblical criticism, whether of “secular” scholars or traditional Jewish interpretation. In particular, the literary critical enterprise is sharply criticized by Esther Fuchs in her book Sexual Politics in the Biblical Narrative: Reading the Hebrew Bible as a Woman (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000). Fuchs argues that literary‐critical works are often fundamentally androcentric; by admiring “the virtuosity of the biblical narrator” they “ignore the patriarchal ideology that inspires so much of what they glorify” (Fuchs, p. 7). She is similarly dismissive of postmodern approaches that, in her view, implicitly or explicitly condone patriarchal readings (p. 9). Fuchs advocates a resistant reading that “questions the ways in which the biblical narrative universalizes and legislates its hierarchical endorsement of the power relations between male and female characters” (p. 9). Despite these views, her own approach is literary, in that it focuses on the Bible as a literary text or texts, at the same time as it is also ideological, in that it exposes the ideological tendencies within these literary texts.

The questions raised in these works, the approaches they take, and the audiences that they address, all place them firmly within the spectrum of biblical studies more generally, including feminist biblical criticism. The participation of Jewish women in the larger enterprise is illustrated by the multi‐volume anthologies titled A Feminist Companion to the Bible (edited by Athalya Brenner, first series, 11 volumes [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993–1997], second series, 7 volumes [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998– 2000]), in which chapters by North American and European authors—Christian, Jewish, and neither—sit side by side and often engage in dialogue with one another. These collections provide readers from many different social locations and levels of knowledge with access to the range of feminist scholarship, including the European and Jewish voices that are often not well known to North American and non‐Jewish readers.

In keeping with this broad range of approaches, Jewish women's writings on the Bible draw upon a wide variety of sources, from the classics of biblical scholarship, to works in other fields that develop the methodologies that women apply to the Bible, to a range of religious and other literature from which parallels can be drawn and to which connections can be made. While some women situate their work firmly within the spectrum of critical biblical scholarship, others draw liberally from traditional Jewish sources. This is apparent not only in the apologetic works, in which traditional Jewish exegesis is often seen as the key to the meaning of the text, but in a number of other creative works, including the work of Elyse Goldstein (ReVisions: Seeing Torah through a Feminist Lens [Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1988]), Norma Rosen (Biblical Women Unbound [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1986]), Alicia Ostriker (The Nakedness of the Fathers), and Ellen Frankel (The Five Books of Miriam: A Woman's Commentary on the Torah [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996]).

All four of these books evoke the genre of midrash, that is, classic Jewish biblical interpretation, as a resource for their own creative approaches. Goldstein and Frankel both intend their books as contributions to the Jewish commentary genre that has its roots in rabbinic midrash and is exemplified in medieval Jewish interpretation. Frankel's book reflects this genre not only in its content but also in its formal structure, in which biblical passages are quoted, and then the imagined responses of a range of collective (“our daughters,” “our mothers,” “our bubbes,” “the rabbis”) and individual (such as Lilith, Sarah, Hagar, Dinah, and Miriam) commentators are recorded, in a way that imparts a sense of lively dialogue. Books that fall more squarely into the genre of critical biblical scholarship, however, draw much less frequently upon classic Jewish sources such as midrash or medieval exegesis. Some refer occasionally to specific midrashim (Reinhartz, Steinmetz, Pamela Tamarkin Reis, Reading the Lines: A Fresh Look at the HebrewBible [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002]), or discuss midrash as a genre (Berlin, Meyers, Steinmetz), but their primary frame of reference is critical biblical scholarship.

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