On the “Ordinary” Inclusion of Rape in the Teaching of the Hebrew Bible
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On the “Ordinary” Inclusion of Rape in the Teaching of the Hebrew Bible

Although the feminist study of rape in biblical texts and their interpretation histories has constituted the core of my doctoral research and much of my ensuing scholarship, I taught a course on “rape in religion” only once in my two decades of full-time teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels.1 In spring 2000, fifteen brave undergraduate students enrolled in the course, and we studied how various religious traditions deal with the issue of rape.2 It was then that I hatched the idea to write a monograph on rape in the Hebrew Bible. I had noticed that no comprehensive volume existed at the time.3

I never again had the opportunity to teach an entire course on rape in religion. Instead, I encountered active administrative resistance from male-performing deans in two different institutions of higher education. One dean threatened me verbally to stop talking about biblical rape in the context of reports about rape charges on campus in the local student newspaper. Another dean advised that he thought it was time for me to identify a research topic other than rape. Meanwhile, national and international reports on rape in the world, in society, and on university campuses proliferated. The increased visibility and notoriety of rape made me wonder why these colleagues did not welcome my research as necessary scholarship on a virulently relevant topic in biblical, theological, and religious studies. Why should I let go of a research topic that stands so obviously on the sociopolitical and cultural-religious fore-front of our time?

I did not entirely follow the questionable advice of the second dean although I did increase my output of more general publications in feminist biblical studies.4 Most importantly, I decided to teach about biblical and scholarly discourse [End Page 164] on rape whenever possible, especially in my bread-and-butter introductory religion and Bible courses. I have never regretted this decision for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, I avoided the risk of putting time and effort into the creation of a new course that might have been voted down in the proposal stage or appeared too daring during student registration time. As an elective, such a course would have appeared in the curriculum only every three years or so. However, by teaching biblical and scholarly rape discourse in my required classes, I address the topic every semester. This ordinary-inclusion approach has also allowed me to reach students from a broader spectrum of theological and religious backgrounds, many of whom would probably never register for an elective course on rape. I find that this approach is particularly helpful to seminary students who face serious curricular restraints or hold theologically restrictive views about the feminist study of the Bible. When they enroll in my introductory course on the Old Testament, they do not usually expect to study the Bible with a rape-prone critical hermeneutics.

The surprise moment works to my pedagogical advantage, as students encounter biblical rape texts and their interpretation histories as part and parcel of the required course work. In fact, the ordinary-inclusion approach helps first-year or even more advanced students to connect exegetically, historically, socio-politically, culturally, and theologically rape-prone assumptions with their own readerly expectations about the meaning of the Bible. Thanks to recent activism surrounding campus rape and Title IX, my own teaching efforts have become considerably easier than they were in earlier years. Although, for instance, the current Title IX coordinator at my institution—Southern Methodist University (SMU)—still seems puzzled as to why my teaching and research matters to her efforts of making SMU compliant with Title IX, many of my current students are aware of the law. They favor the idea that the issue of rape matters profoundly to reading the Bible and studying religion.

The best of my students come away from my courses with considerable sensitivity to the sociopolitical, cultural, and religious locatedness of their own hermeneutical preferences for reading the Bible as a political artifact about rape. They recognize the various structures of domination that make them assume rape-prone meanings...