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Torah reading: Exodus 13:17 to 17:16.  
Haftarah reading: Judges 4:4 to end of chapter 5.

I volunteered for D'var Torah this week since I’ve always been quite a feminist -- or, as I prefer to put it, an advocate for gender equality. I was the sort of 6-year old girl who would ask her mom, “Why do people say ‘mankind’ and not ‘humankind’?” or, “Why is God called ‘He’ in the Bible?” Later, I delighted in fictional characters like Alanna from the "Lioness Quartet" or Eowyn from Lord of the Rings, as well as historical figures like Nellie McClung, a prominent advocate for women’s sufferage in Canada. “Yeah! Girl Power!” I would cheer.

So naturally I was thrilled to read Deborah’s story in Judges. A woman who not only judged Israel but who also directed an army -- indeed, such a strong, charismatic woman that her compatriot Barak refused to go to war unless she accompanied him! Even better, Jael, who killed the enemy commander Sisera in a surprise maneuver while he was asleep. As a bonus, over in the Torah reading we have Miriam singing in triumph with all the Israelite women after the Red Sea crossing. Surely these stories are a brilliant vindication of Girl Power, if anything is?

However, re-reading the Deborah/Jael story with fresh eyes, I wondered if it is truly liberating as it appears at first sight, and concluded that -- like Miriam’s song in Exodus -- it may reinforce the very stereotypes and limited gender roles that it seems to challenge.

More below the fold.

Deborah, Jael, and Miriam

The story begins with Deborah, a prophetess, leading (or judging) Israel. (“Girl Power!") It’s interesting, though, that even in this first sentence the words “wife of Lappidoth” are tacked on. Apparently Deborah’s identity is not secure enough in her own right, as a woman, a prophetess and a judge; she needs to be a “wife” as well. (This despite the fact that Lappidoth is never mentioned again anywhere!)

Deborah resolves to free her people from oppression and calls upon Barak to muster an army. She formulates a strategy for the battle; they will lure Sisera’s army, with its iron chariots, into a swampy place by the river where the wheels will end up clogged. Barak insists that he won’t go unless Deborah goes with him. She agrees, but warns him that because of his protests, he won’t have the honor of killing the enemy commander -- “the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

Gasp -- a woman! Unheard of! Perhaps I’m reading too much into the text, but I sense a distinct undertone of rebuke and even shame here. “Barak, you pathetic excuse for a man! Because you’re such a coward, now a woman is going to kill Sisera!” (Note, also, the subtle implication of “the Lord will deliver Sisera...”; apparently, the idea that a woman could simply go out and kill Sisera without any divine aid is unthinkable.)

The battle goes just as planned and Sisera ends up fleeing to an ally’s tent. Jael, “wife of Heber,” invites him in, assuring him that he’s safe and giving him food and shelter. Once he’s asleep, she picks up a tent peg and hammers it through his skull in what seems like a rather underhanded maneuver. Yes, she shows great courage in seizing her opportunity to rid Israel of a hated enemy. But in emphasizing Jael’s deviousness, even treachery (for wouldn’t this violate basic rules of hospitality?) I feel this story reinforces anti-female stereotypes far more than challenging them. The implication seems to be that women are untrustworthy, opportunistic creatures who can’t even defeat a man in a fair fight and have to resort to stabbing them in their sleep. Perhaps it’s better than “women as seductresses” (Judges 16) or “women as victims” (much of Judges but especially chapter 19) -- but it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Popping over to the Torah reading for a moment, we find Miriam leading the women of Israel in their triumphant song after Pharoah’s army has been defeated. Great -- but, of course, Moses sings first. Miriam’s song is only a faint, four-line echo of Moses’ far more elaborate song, reflecting Miriam’s limited role in the events of Exodus. Moses is the leader of the Israelites, and Aaron is the High Priest, but Miriam? She’s just Moses’ older sister, who helped save his life once as a baby. End of story.

“Strong Female Characters”

A few months ago, Sophie McDougall published an essay entitled “I Hate Strong Female Characters” in New Statesman. In it, she argues that the trend of intentionally writing “strong” female characters in movies or novels actually makes these female characters weaker and more one-dimensional. In her words:

“Are our best-loved male heroes Strong Male Characters? Is, say, Sherlock Holmes strong?...It’s not just that the answer is “of course”, it’s that it’s the wrong question. [...] Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”
Deborah, and Jael, are both undeniably Strong Female Characters. (Deborah’s strength is more of the spiritual and mental kind, while Jael’s is undeniably physical -- it can’t be easy to hammer a tent peg through a man’s skull! -- as well as emotional.)

But are they anything else? We know Deborah is a prophetess who is, presumably, wise and just. She’s also, along with Balak, a talented poet. All this undoubtedly makes her even more Strong; but we don’t learn much else about her as a human being. And we know absolutely nothing else about Jael.

Compare how Moses is depicted throughout Exodus. He’s a short-tempered, selfless, reticent, conflicted, humble, impulsive, deeply loyal, sometimes a bit of a coward but more often deeply courageous, fiery, intuitive, tenacious man.

What about Aaron? He gets less “screen time” than Moses, but we can still piece together a portrait of him: confident (and sometimes overconfident!), a smooth talker, charismatic, extroverted, more intellectual than intuitive, somewhat prone to selling out, a born leader who’s sometimes envious of Moses’ superior status.

And Miriam? Well, she’s Moses’ sister.

...I’m not saying that the inclusion of female characters who happen to be strong (in whatever way) is a Bad Thing. It’s merely that, for them to be truly three-dimensional, we need to know a little bit more about them as humans: their flaws as well as their strengths. No doubt the Bible does a lot better than a great deal of ancient literature in this regard, but it’s just a starting point.

The Bechdel Test

A number of years ago, the cartoonist Alison Bechdel proposed a test for evaluating gender bias in literary or cinematic works. The test is very simple: does the work contain two (or more) named women who talk to one another about something other than a man? If all four conditions are met, the work passes the test; otherwise, it fails. A surprising number of contemporary movies in particular tend to fail the test, showing that, though we may have come a long way in gender equality, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The blogger Paidiske tried applying the Bechdel test to each book of the Bible (both the Christian and Hebrew Bibles, including the Apocrypha.) She found that only a single book, Ruth, from the canonical Hebrew Bible passed the test. (Tobit, from the Apocrypha, also passed, as did Mark and Luke from the Christian New Testament.) Interestingly, Exodus would have passed if either Pharoah’s daughter or Miriam’s mother had been given a name; and Judges would have passed if Deborah and Jael had talked to one another, instead of, individually, to the men around them.

Obviously, the Bechdel test is quite informal and not an iron-clad rule for determining gender bias. But it does speak to the fact that, though Deborah and Jael may be prominent female characters, they’re also deeply isolated, appearing only briefly within a book that deals with men’s stories and is told primarily in men’s voices.

Conclusion

At this point I’d like to open things up to discussion. Since I’m not from a Jewish background, I’m curious what many people here think about the issues of gender equality and women’s rights within Judaism. (For example, historically, women were forbidden to become rabbis or study the Torah. I’m wondering how this came about, given that Israel was once judged by a woman!)

Thanks for reading and for commenting! :)

6:27 PM PT: Wow -- thanks everyone for the comments, and especially thank you Rescue Rangers! I just got back and am looking forward to replying to everyone's thoughts. Thanks again!

Originally posted to Street Prophets on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 10:39 AM PST.

Also republished by Elders of Zion and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for this engaging D'var Torah. (14+ / 0-)

    There is considerable Jewish feminist literature that grapples with the role of women both in Jewish tradition and in Hebrew scripture.  One of my favorites is The Five Books of Miriam: A Women's Commentary.  I've always found Blu Greenberg's writings, coming from within the Orthodox community, to be very engaging as well.

  •  I'm Jewish, but have been religiously out of touch (9+ / 0-)

    for awhile.  Though I was barmitzvahd and confirmed, so I do have the background.  I always felt Judaism had a large progressive side, as female rabbis were coming to the fore when I was growing up.

    The only troubling things to me about the Jewish religion re: gender stuff, are the ultra-traditional things, the stuff set in the dogma from way back, such as the famous prayer where a man thanks god that he was not born a woman, and the way that the hasidic (seem to) measure their manhood by their religion.  I realize that traditionally only the men could pray and study talmud, so that is where the thanks for making me a man junk comes from.  One look around Borough Park in Brooklyn will tell you that the frum yingermen really seem to have no sense of their male identity or manhood, other than the fact that they are indeed religious, and as men, pray to god.  I have never seen, as a group, men who care less about the societal macho stuff and appearance, fitness, etc.

    Please know I am not rude. I cannot rec anything from this browser. When I rec or post diaries I am a guest at some exotic locale's computer. Ayn is the bane!

    by Floyd Blue on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 11:30:47 AM PST

    •  Yet there are women (15+ / 0-)

      scholars throughout our history. Beruriah around the end of the Second Temple period is one example. Also, there is some evidence that some of Rashi's later rulings were written or edited by at least one of his daughters. Rashi said that, though women were not required to perform certain mitzvot, they were not forbidden to do so.

      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

      by ramara on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 11:54:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Golda Meir comes to mind as a recent (8+ / 0-)

        example of as very complex Strong Woman with long lasting impact on world and Jewish history.

        In addition I find it very interesting that most of the literature of the resistance in the ghettos during WWII focuses on the women participants / leaders (not sure if this is because they dominated the movements or because they were an anomaly, thus noteworthy - I do know that the courier aspect is because it was easier to "pass" as a woman).

        I never felt, growing up, that the bible (christian version) was inherently sexist - seemed to just show how each person can use his / her strengths as well as how our weaknesses can be overcome and used to better the world too.  However, as an adult there are certain aspects that are hard to reconcile which I tend to solve for the moment with the thought that God will reveal the meaning when it is the right time for me.  Basically, that is how I see the word of God:  that it is ever changing in how the individual interprets it based on the very instant that the verses are read and pondered - what I think it means today is probably different from yesterday and will be tomorrow...... (?)

        (Inter-personal and Intra-personal variance)

    •  I wanted to mention that the Torah... (4+ / 0-)

      ...itself never gives God a gender. That's a work of translations, and of the New Testament where Ancient Greek and Arabic had gendered pronouns, unlike Hebrew. God is often referred to as motherly.

      I've also heard many genders make their Gods male because men do not give birth. It's a sort of, "Well, you can make babies, but a man made everything!"

      I definitely agree with you, many parts are problematic.

  •  Two comments on the diary (16+ / 0-)

    First, the system of patriarchy probably began during the Bronze Age, the time also of these stories. I think there was an earlier and still-there matriarchy. The early books of the Bible are strongly supportive of the newer system, and some of the stories may even be retold from a patriarchal perspective. There are some women characters whose importance and dominant role cannot be completely suppressed - Rebecca, Miriam, Deborah, though I'm less sure about Miriam, whose predominance is based on Midrash rather than the Biblical text itself.

    Then - during the period of the Judges leadership was sometimes by prophets, sometimes by warriors, sometimes by wise men. Deborah is a prophet, along with Rebecca, Miriam, Deborah, Huldah (in II Kings). Also, military leaders often took prophets with them to battle, where there role was to choose the most auspicious day for the battle. Barak asking Deborah to come with him would not necessarily be considered strange or a sign of cowardice. But this may be an early instance of the practice.

    And Miriam led the women in song and dance only after Moses sang the Song of the Sea, and only the start of her song is given, and is the same as the beginning of Moses' song. This might have been a ritual remaining from a previous women's role, or a copying of an Egyptian ritual, where women at some periods had a good deal of power.

    Lovely discussion, Eowyn.

    Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

    by ramara on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 11:46:09 AM PST

    •  Several comments (11+ / 0-)

      First, thanks for an awesome diary.

      Second, I was wondering about your thoughts on the closing lines of chapter 5, where Sisera's mom is looking out the window wondering why her son is delayed, no doubt because he is looting to bring her nice embroidered fabrics.  Rabbi Joseph Hertz, the chief rabbi of the UK in the 1930's who compiled the chumash used in most synagogues in the English speaking world - US, Canada and the UK - for the remainder of the 20th century, claimed these lines proved a woman's authorship, no doubt Deborah herself.  I guess this was a sexist thing for him to conclude, but it was the 1930's, and the rabbi's thoughts were distracted as to events occurring across the English Channel.

      The second class citizenship for women in Judaism comes from the Mishnah Kiddushin 1:7:  

      All commandments of the son which are upon the father,
      men are obligated, and women are exempt.
      And all commandments of the father which are upon the son,
      both men and women are obligated.
      And every positive commandment which is time-dependent,
      men are obligated and women are exempt.
      And every positive commandment which is not time-dependent,
      both men and women are obligated.
      And every commandment which is a prohibition,
      whether it is time-dependent or is not time-dependent,
      both men and women are obligated;
      except for "You shall not round off [the corners of your head],"
      "You shall not destroy [the corners of your beard]"
      and "You shall not become ritually impure for the dead."
      What this essentially means is women are exempt from the requirement for thrice daily prayer.  One of the rabbis on Conservative Judaism's law committee - a woman - has written a responsum stating that this is a rabbinical ordinance, not a Torah ordinance, written to comply with the conditions of the time - 150 to 180 CE - but as they no longer comply with the conditions of our time this Mishnah is no longer incumbent upon Jews.  It should be passed, hopefully and probably unanimously, when the law committee meets in March and I promise to do a diary about it then.

      Finally, thanks Ramara for mentioning Bruriah - the only woman who sat with the rabbis to develop the Talmud and who was as learned as her male colleagues but - sexism being what it is and was - she is not referred to as "rabbi" but instead as "the wife of Rabbi Meir."  Although Rabbi Meir is not called "the husband of Bruriah."  I did a diary on her and her teachings when Street Prophets was its own website but it's in diary heaven now so I would have to recreate it from scratch.

      "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

      by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 01:44:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Extremely interesting comments, particularly about (6+ / 0-)

      the system of patriarchy beginning around the time of the Biblical stories. How much is known about the system before that? I'd be curious what evidence is out there (either way.)

      I didn't know that about prophets often going into battle with the military leaders. That's a good point and you're right that it's not necessarily a sign of cowardice (though Deborah's comment, with its "but", does seem to be a rebuke on some level.)

      Regarding Egyptian rituals -- I had wondered about that in relation to Exodus. Since women had quite a high status in Egypt and in fact were able to hold any position in society that men did (indeed, I've seen it speculated that Hatshepsut, a female Pharoah, was the Pharoah of the Exodus) why didn't God give Miriam any role in helping liberate the people of Israel? It seems a bit unfair to choose both her brothers and give her no role to play. (No wonder she later, along with Aaron, became jealous of Moses in the "leprosy" episode!)

      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

      by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 06:57:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  As for Bechdel (9+ / 0-)

    I did come up with a few films that pass - The Color Purple, Steel Magnolias, Fried Green Tomatoes among them.

    Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

    by ramara on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 12:03:02 PM PST

    •  And those films were fabulous IMO...go figure. (4+ / 0-)

      Probably because modern women identified with them rather than what our patriarchal society 'says' we are.

      •  add to Bechdel "don't commit suicide" e.g Thelma& (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        high uintas, Eowyn9, irishwitch, ramara

        Louise, a film that was disturbingly popular with men i knew at the time it was released, men who seemed to consider them 'heroes' and the plot 'liberating' for women.  there is a whole interesting discussion about the true nature of heroism requiring various forms of ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of others extensively in world literature (including film) but it's a concept somewhat alien to the american notion, which mostly requires personal triumph and personal success in the definition of hero.  thus, sports idols and business idols and political idols become heroes whether they do anyone but themselves any good with their tremendous power or not. (..idolatry... ~sigh~)

        the Maid of Ludmir said to be the only rebbe in chasidic history, who was also a quasi-secular authority under the ottoman rule (depending on which version in wikiped is being displayed at any given moment - this page seems to've been edited repeatedly & a lot) is another interesting 'exception that proves the rule' i.e.,  women are rarely heroes/leaders/authorities.  to put it in the tautologically popular thinking, "women heroes are rare because women heroes are rare."  possiby this appears true in WRITING dominated by male composition [pun intended] and males doing the revising, redacting, etc.    equally likely, the report of a hero depends upon what actions are considered of pre-eminent value by whomever are writing/revising/redacting the record.
        Dona Gracia of the House of Nasi (aunt of the duke of Naxos, i think Cecil Roth is the author of both books, but my bkshelves are a mess at this point) might be viewed as a hero of economy but in circumstances when sword and domination are the hero determinant, the women who keep the community alive by innovating in productivity, commerce, cooperation, etc ("A woman of Valor...") are less mentioned.  Male-written history tends to emphasize male conquest & domination.  In modern history, the women who powered the intellectual salons of european kingdoms and drove policy are often more mentioned in supeficial common history classes as the mistresses of kings than as the masters of kings.

        toda raba for a terrific drash, Eowyn9!

    •  Here is a whole database cataloguing (4+ / 0-)

      all movies ever released (at least it seems that way) by whether they pass the Bechdel test, with commentary as to why or why not.

      http://bechdeltest.com/

      Enjoy :D

      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

      by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 08:24:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I tried to enter (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mettle fatigue

        The Color Purple on their list, but I can't figure out what the URL code for films is or how to find it.

        Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

        by ramara on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 01:31:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for the diary (8+ / 0-)

    I love catching these diaries because I'm fascinated by all religions and endlessly learning. How could I pass up a diary with my first name Deborah in it?

    BTW, there were armies of Debbies when I grew up and I hated it. I always used the full form, Deborah. When I got to be about 11 I started going by my last name.

    It worked OK as a first name, but only really appropriate for a man. I didn't care. Then my second grandson was named after me so I lost my "name" and reclaimed Deborah.

    IMO, all of the "Sun Gods" as opposed to the "Moon Goddesses" are mostly vested in maintaining male dominance and assuring progeny.

    Hence the long lists of begats and tracing lineage thru the male. Tho I am impressed that Judaism is passed thru the female as I understand it.

    And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County Down by the Green River where Paradise lay. Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away. John Prine

    by high uintas on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 12:26:41 PM PST

  •  Most interesting, Eowyn (9+ / 0-)

    This diary deserves more attention than it's getting.

    I'm not an expert on the Bible, so I can't add to your excellent essay. However, I am heartily sick of the modern-day tendency of novelists (or is it their stinking publishers?) to make many, many titles end in "wife" or "daughter."

    I won't read them. Unwittingly, I read The Zookeeper's Wife and discovered it could equally have been titled The Zookeeper's Husband. They were both zookeepers for God's sake. That's when I started getting really outraged. Women are more than appendages. Is it Bill Clinton's wife who may run for president of the USA or Hilary Clinton, formerly Secretary of State?

    In the process of collecting books for my granddaughter to read or for me to read to her, I'm being careful to pick books that feature girls. Although girls will read stories about boys, boys do not like to read stories about girls. That's another feature of gender imbalance. No boy wants anything to do with girls, who are perceived as weak, silly, devious, etc., etc.

    I don't go to movies, so I can't speak about those.

    Thanks for this diary, Eowyn!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 12:44:14 PM PST

    •  hopefully more readers will show up over next (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      high uintas, irishwitch, susans

      few days, depending on when their observances of shabat permit.

    •  Yes, exactly -- about women being "appendages" (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      irishwitch, susans, ramara, mettle fatigue

      See my reply to EthrDemon, below.

      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

      by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 07:01:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You might want to make an exception (4+ / 0-)

      for Rashi's Daughters, a trilogy of novels about, strangely enough, Rashi's daughters. The stories are imagined, but the scholarship about the 11th century is meticulous.

      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

      by ramara on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 11:15:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  is this the trilogy? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ramara
        American novelist Maggie Anton has written a trilogy entitled, Rashi's Daughters: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France,[13] loosely based on this family. Book I – Joheved was published in 2005, Book II – Miriam in 2007, and Book III – Rachel in 2009 by Plume (an imprint of Penguin Books). http://en.wikipedia.org/...
        some inexpensive used copies listed alongside new at http://www.betterworldbooks.com/... if not available in public libraries or synagogue/community center libraries.
        •  Yup (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mettle fatigue

          Thanks for posting all the info.

          Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

          by ramara on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 08:41:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  "A Pickpocket's Tale" by Karen Schwabach, is (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eowyn9, ramara

      a remarkably well-researched, beautifully written middle-grades novel about a London girl indentured to a Jewish family in pre-revolutionary new york.  in quality, i'd rank it up there with Howard Fast's April Morning and The Hessian if at younger age-level of readership.

      if you mention the age of your granddaughter, other readers may offer more title and author ideas.  some of us have some professional background useful for that kind of search, which i think it's wonderful you're doing.

      Ethel Johnston Phelps' Tatterhood and Other Tales (c1978) and The Maid of the North:Feminist Folk Tales From Around the World (c1981) are extremely good, if you can find them.  Unicorns in the Rain by Barbara Cohen (c1980) is an s.f. take on the flood myth with a solid female protagonist, but is somewhat dark in tone and probably highschool level. E.L. Konisburg pretty darn good too, if i recall correctly.

      it is, perhaps, a sign of the more encompassing comprehension of females, that we're able to get a lot from good quality reading regardless of protagonist gender, and considering that female readership and buyership considerably outnumbers male, you'd think there'd be more female-protagonist material out there worth finding.

  •  You Have to Include the Midrash Regarding Jael (9+ / 0-)

    From the wiki:

    According to the Midrash, Sisera engaged in sexual intercourse with Jael seven times, but because she was attempting to exhaust him in order to kill him, her sin was for Heaven's sake and therefore praiseworthy.
    It raises interesting issues of both sexuality and situational ethics.

    6/24/05: Charlie the Tuna Creator Dies En lieu of flowers, please bring mayonnaise, chopped celery and paprika.

    by LunkHead on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 12:57:24 PM PST

    •  i wonder if judith&holofernes is just reiteration (5+ / 0-)

      n of yael&sistera story, written later. always been intrigued by that...

      •  major difference (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mettle fatigue, Batya the Toon

        Judith is not a Prophetess, but a widow, who confronts Holofornes, and decapitates him, due to the lack of resolve of the men to defend thier city.

        In Holofernes' questioning the origin of the Hewbrews, he is told they are of Sumerian origin. which calls back Abraham and his origins.

        "My case is alter'd, I must work for my living." Moll Cut-Purse, The Roaring Girl - 1612, England's First Actress

        by theRoaringGirl on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 09:04:13 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  yes, long past prophet era. an intriging history (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eowyn9, ramara

          [in both meanings of the expression] per handiest source (http://en.wikipedia.org/...

          ... likely written by a Jew during the Second Temple period ...  The Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible does not contain it, nor was it found among the Dead Sea Scrolls ...  Reasons for its exclusion may include the lateness of its composition, possible Greek origin, open support of the Hasmonean dynasty (to which the early rabbinate was opposed), and perhaps the brash and seductive character of Judith herself.[6]

          ...Judith, a daring and beautiful widow ... goes with her loyal maid to the camp of the enemy general, Holofernes, with whom she slowly ingratiates herself, promising him information on the Israelites. Gaining his trust, she is allowed access to his tent one night as he lies in a drunken stupor. She decapitates him, then takes his head back to her fearful countrymen. The Assyrians, having lost their leader, disperse, and Israel is saved. Though she is courted by many, Judith remains unmarried for the rest of her life....

          ...after disappearing from circulation among Jews for over a millennium, references to the Book of Judith, and the figure of Judith herself, resurfaced in the religious literature of French and Spanish Jewry in the 10th or 11th Century CE. [in] the form of "tales of the heroine, liturgical poems, commentaries on the Talmud, and passages in Jewish legal codes." ... it became customary for a Hebrew midrashic variant of the Judith story to be read on the Shabbat of Hanukkah. ... The textual reliability of the Book of Judith was also taken for granted, to the extent that Biblical commentator Nachmanides (Ramban) quoted several passages from a Peshitta (Syriac version) of Judith in support of his rendering of Deuteronomy 21:14.[11][4]

          Judith (which can be translated simply as "jewish woman") and her maid likely qualify by Bechdel in probably talking about strategy and purpose more than about boys.  

          it's fundamentally a reiteration of a realistic-minded, courageous woman.   who seems to've needed a man about as much as a fish needs a bicycle (to re-coin the phrase).   and given the tough life of servants, kol hakavod to her maid as well.  not girls, perhaps, but woman-power.

    •  Wow -- that's quite the story. (4+ / 0-)

      You have to wonder how the guy had enough energy for that -- I mean, he'd just been defeated in battle and fled to the tent of an ally, seeking shelter...

      I'm also intrigued by this bit: "the Talmud states that the descendants of Sisera studied Torah in Jerusalem and even taught children there." How did this tradition arise? Interesting that the story depicts the "bad guy's" kids as converting and even becoming teachers of the Law.

      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

      by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 07:05:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  She wanted to be sure (5+ / 0-)

        he was exhausted?

        By the way, I find myself feeling sorry for Sisera's mother, impatient and making excuses for her son, who is already dead.

        Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

        by ramara on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 11:18:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sisera's mother -- basis for shofar calls (3+ / 0-)

          The word describing her wailing is used in the Talmud to derive the sound the shofar should make for Rosh Hashana.  Always seemed an interesting integration of the suffering of non-Jews into the penitential season.

          And I've always thought of the description of Sisera's mother's mourning in the Song of Devorah as coming very close to passing the Bechdel test.  Just missing the mother's name, though many, many figures in Tanach go unnamed, not just women.

      •  OT (off Torah) but this brings to my mind (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eowyn9, ramara

        "The Widow and the Devil"
        http://celtic-lyrics.com/...

        >;)

        Fight them to the end, until the children of the poor eat better than the dogs of the rich.

        by raincrow on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 05:47:09 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Counter-analysis (10+ / 0-)

    Referring to someone as "wife of so-and-so" may have been a simple bookkeeping operation in an era before family names.

    As for this:

    Note, also, the subtle implication of “the Lord will deliver Sisera...”; apparently, the idea that a woman could simply go out and kill Sisera without any divine aid is unthinkable.
    Isn't a theme of the Bible that nothing was done without divine aid?  Think of the tribulations of the Hebrews when they fell out of god's favor.

    "LORD, I know that people's lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps."
    -Jeremiah 10:23

    Those who support banning cocaine are no better than those who support banning cheeseburgers

    by EthrDemon on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 01:51:13 PM PST

    •  bookkeeping: fem must be wife of or daughter of (6+ / 0-)

      some man, mostly, for ident purposes, it appears.

      there is some scandanavian culture in which some surnames end "-dottir" instead of son, and i believe i've read that Navajo familial lines (and some other First Americans/Native Americans) are matrilineal.  'tho i always wondered if someone in Betty Friedan's past removed the "m".

      •  That's Iceland I think (5+ / 0-)

        Even then, I believe the daughter's name is appended from the father's name, not the mother's (but I could be wrong on that.)

        Those who support banning cocaine are no better than those who support banning cheeseburgers

        by EthrDemon on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 03:19:45 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Apparently it can be both, but it is most often (5+ / 0-)

          patronymic (taking the name from the father.)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/...

          I can confirm that some Native American cultures are matrilineal, particularly Cree, as I have a friend who is partly Cree and who's told me about his background. Interestingly, even though he's only 1/8 Cree by heritage, that 1/8 falls on his mother's side though the female line and so he was raised as Cree.

          "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

          by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 06:40:45 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Before surnames (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Eowyn9, ladybug53, mettle fatigue

            men were known as ben (their fathers' names) and women as bat (their mothers' names). Thus a husband and wife would not have the same "last name," nor would a son and his father.

            Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

            by ramara on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 09:25:39 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Correct about Iceland. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Eowyn9, ramara, mettle fatigue

            Most people here have patronymic names, and the "default", which as a general rule people follow unless they have some statement they're wanting to make, is to use the father's name plus "son" or "dóttir". But there are all kinds of reasons a person can switch - someone who wants to make a feminist statement, someone who hates their father, someone who never really knew their father, someone with a really famous mother, and on and on down the line. But it's not the usual case.

            Check out the hilarious "The Office"-ish Næturvaktin/Dagvaktin/Fangavaktin/Bjarnfreðarson series, for an example. One of the main characters is Georg Bjarnfreðarson (Bjarnfreður is a woman's name) - he's often the target of teasing like "Is your dad's name Bjarnfreður?"; his mother in the series was an feminism-activist extremist, to the point of dressing her son in women's clothes when he'd go to school as a child as a statement against patriarchy.

            The literal translation of the Icelandic word for patronymic is "father-name".

            It's important to note that patronymics are treated more like an adjective / additional description than like a "last name". You refer to people by their first names, even famous people and people that you don't know well. You'd never say "Mr. Sigurðsson" for example, that's like saying "Mister son of Sigurður". Even phone books are ordered by first name.

            When asking people about their patronymic, the question literally translates as "Whose son/daughter are you?"

            Já þýðir já. Nei þýðir nei. Hvað er svona erfitt við það?

            by Rei on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 05:34:28 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Wow. I never knew all this -- quite fascinating (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ramara, mettle fatigue

              especially the part about phone books being ordered by first name! It sounds confusing to people used to the North American system, but it probably works just as well when you've grown up with it...

              "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

              by Eowyn9 on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 09:53:51 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  Re bookkeeping, valid point and I thought of that (6+ / 0-)

      -- though, I would challenge you to find me a single place in the Bible that begins "Now X, husband of so-and-so" or "Now X took for her husband so-and-so..." (rather than the reverse.) It really seems like women were very much defined by who they were in relation to men (husband, daughter, mother...) while men were just defined by who they were, period.

      Regarding things happening only with divine aid: good point, and actually this does seem to be a major theme of Judges and even much of the Bible -- the theme of the Unlikely Victor (Gideon's tiny army, Samson alone against hundreds of Philistines, a woman against an army captain, etc.) triumphing against impossible odds with God's aid. (Of course, this only reinforces further the idea that in this society women were inherently viewed as weak and ineffectual, in warfare at least...)

      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

      by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 06:35:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And by the rabbinical period it hadn't changed (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eowyn9, mettle fatigue, ramara

        Bruriah is still "Bruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir."  After the failure of the Second Jewish Revolt, 132-136 CE, the Romans went to the rabbinical academies, rounded up all the rabbis, and tortured them all to death.  Rabbi Meir and Bruriah survived, apparently they were not at their academy when the Roman goons arrived.  

        The concept was, and survives today in Orthodox Judaism, that God gave the Jews two Torahs in the Sinai, the written Torah which is Genesis to Deuteronomy, and an oral Torah which - somewhat illogically - had to be kept oral to maintain flexibility, so it could change with the times.  Rabbi Meir feared that the Romans with their mass murder would eliminate all knowledge of the oral Torah, so it was up to him to write it down.  Hence, the Mishnah - the oldest part of the Talmud - the rest the Gemarah is a commentary and argument over the Mishnah, was begun by Rabbi Meir and completed on his death by Rabbi Yehudah ha Nasi - known simply as "Rabbi."

        My theory, as Rabbi Meir was married to a sage and not to the stereotypical woman of the time, was that Bruriah aided her husband in writing down the oral law - and was in fact a co-author up to the time of her death, but when the Talmud was finally compiled several centuries later she didn't get the  credit she deserved.  But, as the anti-evolutionist say, it's just a theory.

        "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

        by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 02:45:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  But that is also true (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mettle fatigue

      of armies - which is why prophets would come along, to choose the day God would be with them in battle.

      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

      by ramara on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 11:20:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Don't forget about Tamar. (14+ / 0-)

    That's a very interesting "subversive" story in the Torah.  Tamar makes real asses out of the men in her family, especially Judah, and exposes the injustice and hypocrisy of patriarchy.

    What I love to contemplate--and there's little else that we can do about it--is how stories like the one about Tamar ever got into the canon.  Was it some kind of respect for a text because it was old?  Were there "subversives" among the editors from time to time?

    •  it appears to have got in as a lesson to men, (6+ / 0-)

      from various viewpoints, besides perhaps being in some way needed for sequence in the narrativ.

      in completely diff direction, Esther not mentioned yet?  maybe too conventionally just a proper female for her day?

      •  Another reason (7+ / 0-)

        is Tamar, along with Rahab and Ruth, is an ancestor of King David... and, incidentally, the 3 of them along with Bathsheba, are ancestors of Jesus Christ...

        Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

        by awesumtenor on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 03:24:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Respect for the text, essentially. (7+ / 0-)

          The former is a very plausible reason for the Ezraite editors to have retained it.  The latter is obviously not.

          That's part of what makes the Hebrew Bible so interesting.  There's so much that's contradictory but retained out of respect for ancient written texts that had become part of the tradition.  It amounts to a kind of pluralism because there's also evidence that these ancient editors were aware of these issues and tried to patch things together.  Look at how all the conflicting texts about slavery were kept, e.g. Exodus and Deuteronomy.  It's a real window into how these ideas developed long ago and the debates that flared around them.

        •  Oh, I detailed the entire Tamar story below... (6+ / 0-)

          ...not realizing someone already mentioned her here.

          I think this and other stories demonstrate how the Bible has always been a living document. One of the Bible's main messages is that nobody's perfect.

          Another lesson from this and other stories, is that the only real principle about human relations that's set in stone according to the essence of Judaism, is justice.

          Regardless of the social norms of the day, and whatever specific rules oppress the crap out of women/non-Jews/gays/you-name-them, the only principle that's paramount is justice. All the rest are just arrangements of social convenience, and when push comes to shove they must bow down or bow out to justice.

          •  But mishpat is always subversive. (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Eowyn9, Assaf, ramara, maggid, mettle fatigue

            You don't hear much about mishpat in the D histories or in the Wisdom lit.  It's mainly in the prophets, and they're all a bunch of stinkin' commie terrorist radicals.

            There's a great debate in the HB between those subversives and the Establishment D historians (though the Ds are a bit progressive like DK) and the right-wing Wisdom pricks.

            What's amazing is that stories like Tamar and prophets like Amos made it into the canon.  I attribute a big part of it to the fortunate fact that the Bible was written by a "loser" people who were constantly overrun by cruel enemies and alternately oppressed by their own corrupt leadership switching off with bloodthirsty conquerors.

            You just don't find this kind of literature surviving among the great powers of the ANE.

            •  Sorry, what is "mishpat" (4+ / 0-)

              and why is it inherently subversive?

              "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

              by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 06:45:00 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  "Mishpat" = Justice. (6+ / 0-)

                Nice succinct statement of the prophetic point of view:

                Micah 6:8--What does YHWH require of you?  Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.

                Typical prophetic view of rulers and the rich:

                Amos 6:

                They lie around on beds decorated with ivory, and sprawl out on their couches. They eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the middle of the pen.  They sing to the tune of stringed instruments; like David they invent musical instruments.  They drink wine from sacrificial bowls, and pour the very best oils on themselves. Yet they are not concerned over the ruin of Joseph.

                (Joseph is metonymy for the northern tribes conquered by the Assyrians.)

                Modern paraphrase would substitute the billionaires who fly around in the gilded jets while not giving a shit about their fellow human beings starving in poverty.

                Prophetic prediction that God will punish the rich and powerful--Amos 5:

                "There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth.  You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain.

                Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.  For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins."

                Later in the same chapter:

                "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

                The message is "subversive" in the sense that it is not the dominant message of the HB.  The D histories and Wisdom lit reflect a modern Republican line of thinking that those who suffer deserve it.

                At the same time, even the prophets aren't truly revolutionaries.  They look to God to bring mishpat rather than relying on their own devices.  This quietism perhaps reflects their powerlessness both within their social group and beyond that, their nation's powerlessness among the much greater nations that surrounded it.

                •  IMHO Amos was totally in line with most prophets. (4+ / 0-)

                  As you write, most of them were the subversive Lefties of their day.

                  And AFAIK, Jesus preached in direct continuation to that spirit.

                  •  At least as represented by the canonical gospels.. (4+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Eowyn9, ramara, Assaf, mettle fatigue

                    Jesus was a lot less political than the HB prophets.  In all likelihood, any political tendencies were toned down by the writers trying to get along with the Romans.

                    Still, Jesus seems more like a "transcendant" type than a revolutionary, Crossan notwithstanding.

                    •  Let me modify that... (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      ramara, Assaf, mettle fatigue

                      Actually, it's Luke who's in that prophetic tradition.  Compare his beatitudes to Matthew's.  Luke includes curses on the rich.  Very Amos-like.

                      The other two synoptics just don't carry that.  And John.  Well, that's another basket of fish entirely.

                    •  I would place Jesus (4+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      organicus, Eowyn9, Assaf, mettle fatigue

                      as practicing civil disobedience - if he felt a law was not right, he ignored it. And was willing to take the consequences.

                      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

                      by ramara on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 09:30:34 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Jesus never questioned the law... (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Assaf, mettle fatigue

                        ...so much as it was the interpretation and application of it that he attacked... As was noted earlier in the thread regarding Ezra, he set the law on a slippery slope towards a legalistic interpretations see that in the Sermon on the mount in both Matthew and Luke's accounts; particularly in the statements where he juxtaposes the letter and the spirit of the law like this from Matthew chapter 5:

                        Mat 5:43    Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44    But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you...
                        It is noteworthy that he says "Ye have heard that it hath been said" and not "it is written" because his issue is not with the law; it is with the low information believers who sufficed themselves to order their lives based on what someone told them someone else said and the teachers of the law Jesus characterized as blind guides because they were more prone to study what someone said regarding the law than the law itself...

                        Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

                        by awesumtenor on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 11:03:57 AM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                  •  And you're right. (5+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Eowyn9, awesumtenor, ramara, maggid, Assaf

                    Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Isaiah I and III, Ezekiel.  All rads.  I'd say that about Isaiah I even though he was Hezekiah's pal.

                    On the other hand, Ezra would make a good southern Republican.  Racist reactionary and Isaiah III's enemy.

                    •  "Isaiah III's enemy" -- that's quite an (4+ / 0-)

                      eye-opening concept. I know exactly what you mean (and I've always disliked Ezra.)

                      Coming from a traditional Christian viewpoint, I was brought up to see "the Bible" as a unified whole -- "the word of God" and all that. I've come to have a great appreciation for the diversity and dialectical nature of much of the Hebrew Bible (particularly, as you point out, the different viewpoints of the historians versus the prophets versus the lawgivers, etc.) But I'd never once considered the idea that the author of one book could be in heated disagreement with another (so much so as to term them an "enemy", if only intellectually...)

                      Instead of scribes obediently copying down dictation from God, this brings to mind the image of a discussion group or debating club with various people vigorously defending opposing views. The debate could get pretty rowdy, with people shouting at each other and even nearly coming to blows before some moderator (the rabbis who compiled the Talmud?) steps in and calms things down. I love it! :D

                      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

                      by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 08:04:46 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Compare and contrast: (3+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        ramara, Assaf, mettle fatigue

                        3rd Isaiah:

                        This is what the Lord says:

                        “Maintain justice
                            and do what is right,
                        for my salvation is close at hand
                            and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
                        2 Blessed is the one who does this—
                            the person who holds it fast,
                        who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
                            and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”

                        3 Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
                            “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
                        And let no eunuch complain,
                            “I am only a dry tree.

                        4 For this is what the Lord says:

                        “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
                            who choose what pleases me
                            and hold fast to my covenant—
                        5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
                            a memorial and a name
                            better than sons and daughters;
                        I will give them an everlasting name
                            that will endure forever.
                        6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
                            to minister to him,
                        to love the name of the Lord,
                            and to be his servants,
                        all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
                            and who hold fast to my covenant—
                        7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
                            and give them joy in my house of prayer.
                        Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
                            will be accepted on my altar;
                        for my house will be called
                            a house of prayer for all nations.”

                        8 The Sovereign Lord declares—
                            he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
                        “I will gather still others to them
                            besides those already gathered.”

                        Ezra's sermon:
                        “But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands 11 you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. 12 Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’

                        13 “What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this. 14 Shall we then break your commands again and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? 15 Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

                        If we understand that 3rd Isaiah and Ezra were contemporaries, it's clear that they were in direct conflict about how to handle the "people of the land."

                        For another stark contrast, compare Ezekiel's sermon in chapter 18 to the entire theme of the Deuternomic history that Jerusalem fell because of all the ancient sins of Israel/Judah, and for that matter, Exodus 20.

                        For another, compare the laws re: slavery in Exodus to those in Deuteronomy, especially what happens to a slave upon manumission.

                        There are plenty of interesting debates in the HB.

                        •  The D histories (2+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Assaf, mettle fatigue

                          come from the period between fall of the northern kingdom, and the destruction of the First Temple and exile to Babylon, as are most of the Prophets. The histories serve as an attempt to explain the destruction of the northern kingdom, and try to get Judah back on track, and to justify the Davidic kingship, which is from the tribe of Judah.

                          I'm looking for a study partner to study these histories in English because my Hebrew is elementary, though I would appreciate a partner who could help with translation issues. Might you be interested?

                          Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

                          by ramara on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 09:36:46 AM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                      •  One thought about Ruth (5+ / 0-)

                        is that it was added to the canon to counteract Ezra's intransigence.

                        Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

                        by ramara on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 11:33:03 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                  •  I'm glad to see you here. (4+ / 0-)

                    Except for Joel who spoke of turning plows into swords...

                    Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

                    by ramara on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 11:30:22 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                •  I love Amos and the other prophets, but I am (4+ / 0-)

                  curious as to why you say the idea of "justice" is not prevalent in the rest of the Hebrew Bible -- since a quick search for "justice" on Bible Gateway turns up at least 60 results from the non-prophetic works. (http://www.biblegateway.com/...) Is it a question of two different words in Hebrew both being rendered as "justice" in English?

                  I always saw the idea of justice as being deeply embedded in Jewish law -- the concept of the punishment fitting the crime ("an eye for an eye"), along with verses protecting the vulnerable of society (widows, orphans, and so on).

                  "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

                  by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 07:57:30 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Where do you see it and in what context? (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Eowyn9, mettle fatigue

                    Almost all of the "justice" is "mishpat," but remember the length of these texts.  As a matter of emphasis, it predominates in the prophetic material.

                    And in the Torah, it's the "D" material where it's found most often.  That's the "Book of the Law" rediscovered in Josiah's time that leads to a reformation.  And it's far more class conscious than the rest of the Torah material.

                    I do think that "mishpat" has a somewhat different meaning in Proverbs.  There's little to no recognition of class and oppression there.  There's definitely none of the attack on royal and wealthy privilege there that's found in the prophets.

                    I'd distinguish it this way.  In the Wisdom lit, especially Proverbs, mishpat is procedural nicety.  Let's not appear to be unfair to the poor plebes.  In the prophets, mishpat is a rushing torrent that God will send down to drown the rich and powerful because they have abused their privilege.

                •  And it is the subversive nature of mishpat (4+ / 0-)

                  that is the reason those texts and many others like it resonated with the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s... and still does motivate progressives, in many respects, today. Social justice and equity, being one's brother's keeper, having a burden for those on the margins of society cannot be separated from these writings and time and again we see that subversive voice of mishpat speaking truth to power when power failed to rule as the law and the prophets required.

                  Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

                  by awesumtenor on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 09:59:20 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  The other Hebrew word for Justice is (3+ / 0-)

                  tzedek.  Both words translate to "justice" in English, although tzedek is also translated as "righteousness".  My own take on the difference between the two is that mishpat is the equitable operation of the law whereas tzedek is the larger ideal of fairness behind the laws.  There is a good article on that here.

        •  They would have to be (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mettle fatigue

          ancestors of Jesus since the Messiah would be from the Davidic line. I would include one of Lot's daughters as well.

          Now that is an example of tracing lineage back to reach the mothers who began it.

          Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

          by ramara on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 11:25:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  How can Jesus have David as an ancestor (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ramara, mettle fatigue

            when he was conceived by a human mother and a spirit father, and the line of David was claimed to have come down to Joseph who did not father Jesus? Matthew chapter  1  traces the line to Joseph and then right after that explains that Joseph was not Jesus's genetic father. Plus Luke 23 has a whole other geneology that doesn't match Matthew's. For example, Solomon is in the first geneology and not in the second.

            •  Hey, I'm Jewish (3+ / 0-)

              I had the same question about it.

              Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

              by ramara on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 08:13:28 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Maybe we should check the holy spirit's (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                mettle fatigue, ramara

                geneology too! ;)

              •  I'm Christian and I don't think there was a virgin (0+ / 0-)

                birth; however, there probably are reasons that the some of the authors of the Jesus life narratives included it. Scholars seems to have several  ideas about the reasons it might have been developed and included; you can find them in the writings of contemporary New Testament scholars.

                The reason for the genealogies is probably more obvious, and if one is thinking of the gospels as accounts written by different people at different times and in different places,  the lack of agreement is not a surprise.

                And, of course, Mark's version, believed to be the oldest of the canonical gospels, starts with Jesus being baptized by John. And Paul, as I recall, does not deal with this kind of stuff at all. Neither the birth nor the genealogy of Jesus is relevant to his teachings.

                The recording of the oral tractions about Jesus was not done until  well after his death, and various stuff had been added on for various reasons by human beings.

                Applying scholarship to the Bible does not bring faith; but in my opinion, it need not destroy it either. It brings some clarity to some of the puzzling bit in the Bibles, others will probably always remain so.  

            •  Here's a whole article on the subject: (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              mettle fatigue, Navy Vet Terp

              http://en.wikipedia.org/...

              It's rather complex. Various scholars have put forth various theories. You're right, of course, that the two genealogies are very different. Some people think that the first is his genealogy through Joseph and the second is through Mary's line instead (since Joseph was not really his father.)

              "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

              by Eowyn9 on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 08:22:59 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Both of them list Joseph as (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                mettle fatigue

                the end of the line, so I don't know where they get Mary into all that.  My copy of Luke has "Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the sone of Heli, etc..."   I like the "as was supposed" part.

                •  If you read the article I linked, (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  mettle fatigue

                  you'll find out. ;)

                  "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

                  by Eowyn9 on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 10:10:17 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I DID read the article you linked, (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    mettle fatigue

                    but it doesn't change the fact that my bible SAYS Joseph is the end result of both geneologies, and there are no footnotes in either text that say "this COULD mean son-in-law" or maybe Mary, or whatever else the wiki article says. Or, for that matter, whatever the "let's make this all really complicated" analysis crowd says.

                    This is a good example of how people get their minds all stretched and folded up into total confusion by the interpretation games that religion presents, especially with texts.  IF these books were meant to be read by all of god's creation, then why make it a mysterious puzzle of words and expect everyone to figure it out.  If god intended Jesus to have a human geneology and "inspired" a gospel writer to record it, you would at least think god could get it right, make it clear to his transcriber,  and make it all understandable for the average Joe who picks up a copy.

                    It also would have helped if god had just sent down Wikipedia along with the bible, so people could have gotten it all straight a whole lot sooner! ;)

                    •  Ahem. From the section entitled (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      mettle fatigue, VirginiaJeff, ramara

                      "Maternal ancestry in Luke", we have:

                      Luke’s text says that Jesus was “a son, as was supposed, of Joseph, of Eli”.[35] The qualification has traditionally been understood as acknowledgment of the virgin birth, but some instead see a parenthetical expression: “a son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Eli.”[36] In this interpretation, Jesus is called a son of Eli because Eli was his maternal grandfather, his nearest male ancestor....In any case, the argument goes, it is natural for the evangelist, acknowledging the unique case of the virgin birth, to give the maternal genealogy of Jesus, while expressing it a bit awkwardly in the traditional patrilinear style.

                      According to this theory, the reason Mary is not implicitly mentioned by name is because the ancient Hebrews never permitted the name of a woman to enter the genealogical tables, but inserted her husband as the son of him who was, in reality, but his father-in-law.[41]

                      So, you were actually on the right track with the "supposed" bit!

                      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

                      by Eowyn9 on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 01:37:13 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Well, it looks like Luke forgot to share (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        mettle fatigue

                        these details with the reader, which is my essential point. No study guides were written to go with these texts, so I guess god only wants his messages and narratives to get through to those who have the time and the inclination to delve into the nuances of everything. Kind of backs up the Catholic idea that you need a priest to translate between you and god.

                        •  *shrug* Well, just like any work of ancient (4+ / 0-)

                          literature translated from another language into English, and into an entirely different cultural context -- yes, you have to study it, read some commentaries, and give it some thought. Learning a bit of the ancient language in question would certainly help, as well. Would you expect to understand Homer's Odyssey, Beowulf, or the Iliad without reading up on its cultural and linguistic context?

                          Of course, instead of putting one's time towards serious study of a religious text and various scholars' viewpoints on interpretation, one can always just spend one's time and energy engaging in endless internet debates instead...

                          Your choice, I guess!

                          "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

                          by Eowyn9 on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 03:04:29 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  The Odyssey etc. were not presented (2+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            ramara, mettle fatigue

                            then and not presented now as being the be all and end all word of the creator of the universe in his/her intent to communicated with mankind.

                            To me, the fact that the only manner that these gods (Jewish and Christian) felt was appropriate or effective in communicating his/her/their intentions to his/her creation was to pick one period in time to inspire some writings and then let the whole message go through thousands of years of interpretation.  No divine corrections, no divine updates.  So that leaves us in present time with trying to deal with modern issues based on these old writings. It usually doesn't work out too well.  

                            As for endless internet debates on religious, I thought that was exactly what D'Var Torah was all about.

                            I've seriously studied Christianity for a long time (and hope to continue when Richard Carrier's latest book comes out), but I have not studied other faiths in such detail (except a world's religions course in college, and some eastern and native american thought when I was going through my new age phase).  So I read D'Var Torah once in awhile to see what the process of analysis and comment is in terms of your small group on Kos.  Of course, I realize it can be completely different in other Hebrew studies sites, but I don't go to strictly religious sites.

                            Thank you for making me feel welcome to come and comment once in awhile on this series of diaries. Happy New Year.

            •  I 'm a Christain and I don't think there was a vir (0+ / 0-)

              gin birth; however, there probably are reasons that the some of the authors of the Jesus life narratives included it. Scholars seems to have several  ideas about the reasons it might have been developed and included; you can find them in the writings of contemporary New Testament scholars.

              The reason for the genealogies is probably more obvious, and if one is thinking of the gospels as accounts written by different people at different times and in different places,  the lack of agreement is not a surprise.

              And, of course, Mark's version, believed to be the oldest of the canonical gospels, starts with Jesus being baptized by John. And Paul, as I recall, does not deal with this kind of stuff at all. Neither the birth nor the genealogy of Jesus is relevant to his teachings.

              The recording of the oral tractions about Jesus was not done until  well after his death, and various stuff had been added on for various reasons by human beings.

              Applying scholarship to the Bible does not bring faith; but in my opinion, it need not destroy it either. It brings some clarity to some of the puzzling bit in the Bibles, others will probably always remain so.  

  •  Miriam's mother's name is given in the bible (7+ / 0-)

    it just is not given in the initial account of the birth of Moses in Exodus chapter 2. In Exodus chapter 6, however, we see this in verse 20:

    Exo 6:20  And Amram took him Jochebed his father's sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years.

    Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

    by awesumtenor on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 03:22:03 PM PST

    •  I knew I'd seen it somewhere! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      awesumtenor, mettle fatigue

      Looking more closely at Exodus 2, I guess, strictly speaking, it still doesn't pass the Bechdel test -- Miriam and her mother don't speak to one another, only interact (which must have involved some speech, we just don't see it!) This is really a grey area, though. I think I'd give Exodus honorary Bechdel status.

      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

      by Eowyn9 on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 06:48:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The irony of Moses (6+ / 0-)

        is until he escapes Egypt and trades the palace for the pasture he is surrounded by strong women and men who are less so. We know his father's name from that text in Exodus 6 but that is the extent of his presence in the story... we all know how his brother Fredo... I mean Aaron was wishy washy on his best days... but Moses entire life... from being saved by the midwife and hidden to being planted by his sister in the bulrushes to be found by Pharoah's daughter who then gets pharoah's daughter to hire his own mother to nurse him to his wife Zipporah who circumcises their sons to preserve their lives because Moses did not keep the covenant of Abraham and circumcise them... Moses is hailed as the greatest of the Hebrew prophets... and if it were not for all of those strong women standing in the gap on his behalf he probably never makes it out of infancy...

        Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

        by awesumtenor on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 10:48:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  "if it were not for all of those strong women..." (4+ / 0-)

          most babies wouldn't have made it out of infancy since time immemorial 'thru to today.  which kind of underlines that, even aside from maternity, women are by definition a lot "stronger" in ways that women don't get recognition for in societies that are lensed to only recognize strength, perseverence, courage, heroism, intelligence, creativity, and constructiveness in competitive and dominating terms.

          as a certain understanding of the golden rule is 'he who has the gold makes the rules', and the idea that 'might makes right', the generally greater muscle mass in males has throughout most of world history created and sustained a notion that men are better than women, a man is worth more than a woman.  by those principles, "all those strong women" were only doing their proper job sustaining moses, and "look how many women it took to sustain just one man; therefore women don't amount to much.

          except for keeping civilization, society, and the village viable and growing while & after men war their own gender into near extinction (victimizing innumerable masses of women in the process).  it's pretty rare for anyone in possession of prerogatives and privilieges to relinquish them, far less acknowledge the equal or superior worth of persons who haven't those perqs.

  •  FYI, the modern transliteration is Yael not Jael. (10+ / 0-)

    Some people write Ya'el.

    It's a very common modern Israeli name. One of my nieces is called Yael.

    IMHO the most feminist character in the Old Testament is not any of the 3 you mention - but the first Tamar, in Genesis (chapter 38 AFAIR). She was the daughter-in-law of Yehuda (Judea), married to his eldest son 'Er.

    She became widowed before bearing any children. And according to ancient-Hebrew patriarchical law (which still formally holds among Orthodox Jews and those under their power, e.g. all Israeli Jews) she became property of the second son.

    But he (perhaps having a non-standard sexual orientation, we don't know) preferred to "throw away" his sperm. That's why to this day masturbation is also known as Onanism (his name was Onan). In modern Hebrew this is both the formal and colloquial term for the act.

    God decided to intervene, killing Onan for his sin.

    Now, Yehuda feared for his 3rd son and refused to mate him with Tamar, turning her - in that uber-patriarchical natalist society - into useless baggage at her young age (probably early to mid-20's, max).

    That's when Tamar gears into action. She dresses up as a prostitute, and sits by the road junction. Yehuda passes by, and - you know, a man has his needs and Tamar apparently could turn quite a few heads (although not poor Onan's) - he has sex with her. But pre-credit card, he had no means of payment on him, so per her demand, he gives her his personal staff and seal.

    Well... a few months go by, and Tamar becomes pregnant. Again - according to the enlightened patrio rules of ancient Hebrew society, Yehuda orders that Tamar be burned to death for her whorish ways (that's literally how it's described in Genesis).

    This is when Tamar produces the staff and seal.  And lo and behold, she carries the day. Yehuda admits, "She was more righteous than I." She is not punished, and the first of the twins she gives birth to become the formal heir to Yehuda's main line, and eventually the ancestor to the kings of Judea many centuries later.

    I find this story amazing on so many levels. But there is no question that the first Tamar pulled off a stunning underdog upset, all of her own making, in a playing field totally rigged against her.

  •  Great d'var! Shabbat Shalom. : ) (4+ / 0-)
  •  Consider the circumstances (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eowyn9, Navy Vet Terp, mettle fatigue

    It may be that Deborah, Jael, and Miriam are characterized in less than respectful ways. But at that time, women in most societies were property, not to be mentioned.  

    I think it's more fruitful to contrast the treatment of Deborah, Jael, and Miriam with the treatment of women in, say, the Prophets.

    "What women?" you ask.

    Precisely my point.

    Gomer.

    Lo-Ruhamah.

    Hamutal.

    That's about it.

    What a sad list!  A prostitute, a woman named "not loved," and the mother of two awful boys.

    Within the context of the times, Deborah, Jael, and Miriam represented a high point of female influence. Unsurprisingly, this was at a time of rising Israelite fortunes, a time when not a person could be wasted.

  •  OT link to "1492 - 1992" Spain's Jews went east (0+ / 0-)

    A beautifully done little educational video, Ladino voice-over, english subtitles.  Just received from a friend.

    http://www.youtube.com/...

    shavua tov.

  •  On "wife of Lapidoth": (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eowyn9, ramara, mettle fatigue

    It's been suggested by some translators that this was not referring to her husband but to either a place she had lived ("the woman of the town of Lapidoth") or a job she had held ("the woman of the lamps" or "the woman of the flames").

    Since eshet, from ishah, could mean either "wife" or "woman," this is an entirely plausible suggestion -- especially since, as you say, no dude named Lapidoth is ever mentioned at all.

    (It occurs to me that it could also have meant "the woman of the Lapidoth family," as Mordecai in the Book of Esther is introduced as ish Yemini -- "man of the Benjaminites.")

    Excellent diary.  :)

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