"O Eve, in evil hour thou didst give ear to that false Worm... and now we know both good and evil, good lost and evil got."
— Paradise Lost, Book 9
Now wait just a minute, Mr. Milton! For thousands of years I've been blamed for eating that darned piece of fruit. Sure things like original sin, mortality, and birth pain are bummers, but you know, it wasn't just MY fault. What about Adam? How come he gets off the hook? Androcentrism! Misogyny! That's what I say! What we need is a critical methodology that reflects women's issues and concerns!
Eve, I feel your pain... both literally and figuratively. Thankfully, there is a critical method that has come to our rescue. It's called Feminist Criticism. Since most ancient texts, including the Bible, were written by men in a male-dominated world, Feminist Criticism seeks to recover the lives and experiences of women in ancient times.
Right-O, matriarch dude! Feminist Criticism also like analyzes how the Bible presents women and how that presentation has been interpreted, or misinterpreted, by other dudes. I've invited the much-maligned Jezebel to give us an example from her own bodacious life.
Thank you, Bible Dudes. I'm glad to finally set the record straight. For centuries I've been presented as a seductress who put on makeup to try to stop a righteous man from fulfilling his duty. "Jezebel" has even become a word in the English language meaning "a promiscuous or shameless woman." Yet, the episode where I put on makeup had nothing to do with me trying to seduce anyone. I was about to be violently murdered by the usurper, Jehu. I was the queen and I wanted to die with dignity, so I painted my eyelids as queens did in those days. Then I faced my death bravely. I even called that lousy Jehu an usurper and a murderer... hardly the words of a seductress! You can read my story for yourself in 2 Kings 9.
My darling, the next time some misogynistic male dromedary calls me a "Jezebel," I'll be sure to thank him... and then give him a swift kick in the rear.
Actually, there are many positive portrayals of women in the Bible. I lived during a time when men were often looked to as military leaders and judges, yet I fulfilled both of these roles. And my friend, Jael, helped Israel win a major victory over the Canaanites, Israel's greatest enemies at that time.
That's right, Deborah. I'll never forget that day. After you defeated the Canaanites on the battlefield, Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army, fled to my tent in order to hide. Symbolically I acted like his mother, making him feel safe and even giving him some milk to drink. Then, while Sisera was sleeping, I secured Israel's victory when I drove a tent peg through his head.
Oh snap! There ought to be a song about that!
Dude! Click here to hear the song!
Methuselah my donkey, there is, and the lyrics are in Judges 5. Deborah and I wrote it together, and it goes a little something like this...
"Most blessed of women be Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite.
Most blessed of tent-dwelling women!
He asked for water, but she gave him milk.
She brought him curdled milk in a bowl fit for rulers.
She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
Her right hand for the worker's hammer,
And she struck Sisera, crushing his head,
Shattering and piercing his temple."
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Whoa! Barak dude, that song is the bomb!
Hey, isn't that Big E?? Shiloh's most famous HP is in the hizouse!
That's right, BibleDudes. I was the high priest, and even I was guilty of negatively stereotyping women.
I remember one day seeing this woman named Hannah praying at the Tabernacle. She was moving her mouth but not making any noise, so I accused her of being drunk. In truth, she was praying fervently for a child. What a fool I was! I judged her, when it was really I and my sons who were the unrighteous ones. I was getting fat from sacrifices that belonged to God and my sons were stealing from the people and sleeping with women who worked at the Tabernacle — and my sons were even married!
God answered Hannah's prayer and she had a son, Samuel, who fittingly took my place as priest over Israel.
Eli, your story underscores important goals of Feminist Criticism: to highlight the many positive portrayals of women in the Bible, to expose the many times people interpret women's actions in the Bible in a misogynistic way, and to better understand what life was like for women in biblical times.
Take my story, for example. I'm usually viewed as the ultimate bad girl, the original femme fatale, who seduces the naive Samson into giving me the secret of his strength. Yet, for years, people overlooked the fact that Samson was a womanizer who used his god-given strength to fulfill his own lusts and to kill those who got in his way. Shortly before Samson "fell in love" with me, he "fell in love" with a prostitute (Judges 16:1). And before that, Samson killed some men so he could take their stuff to pay off his gambling debts (Judges 14:19).
So when I sold the secret of Samson's strength to the Philistines, I was helping them apprehend someone who had caused them a lot of pain. So people, get off my back!
Ya. Dat is true, wat da girl says. I hawd it coming do me, ya. Ad da end of my life, only den did I look to God for de help. So, in a way, I owe Delilah dankes for helping me do see da error of my ways, ya.
Don't mention it, big guy. And, after all, we did have some good times together. We'll always have Timna. And remember that one night with the braided ropes...
Dudes! Okay then! To like summarize: Feminist Criticism is a valuable tool for like helping biblical scholars be more aware of how the Bible portrays women and women's issues, and like how these portrayals have been totally (mis)interpreted to justify the mistreatment of women through the centuries. It's like awesome, yes way!
Pretty amazing stuff. Let me add that the academic discipline of biblical studies was dominated by men for nearly 2000 years. Today, we're happy to report, the number of female scholars in the field has increased dramatically, though unfortunately the numbers are not yet even, though we're hopeful that they will be, and soon. In the next session we'll examine our final critical method, African American criticism. Let's take a look.