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Dangerous Sisters of the Hebrew Bible

By Amy Kalmanofsky

Publication Year: 2014

Fathers, sons, and mothers take center stage in the Bible’s grand narratives, Amy Kalmanofsky observes. Sisters and sisterhood receive less attention in scholarship but, she argues, play an important role in narratives, revealing anxieties related to desire, agency, and solidarity among women playing out (and playing against) their roles in a patrilineal society. Most often, she shows, sisters are destabilizing figures in narratives about family crisis, where property, patrimony, and the resilience of community boundaries are at risk. Kalmanofsky demonstrates that the particular role of sisters had important narrative effects, revealing previously underappreciated dynamics in Israelite society.

Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This is a book about relationships. I am grateful to have many relationships with people that shape me intellectually and support me emotionally. I thank my teachers and colleagues at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America who model how to apply a critical eye to beloved material, and...

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Ideal and Dangerous Sisters in the Bible

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pp. 1-16

Family narratives are among the most well known and beloved stories of the Bible. Fathers, sons, brothers, and mothers take center stage in the Bible’s grand narratives, which relate how God selects and sustains one family—and ultimately one nation—to participate in a covenantal relationship. The efforts to...

Part I: Sister Pairs

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1: Rachel and Leah

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pp. 19-36

Like brother stories, a sister story is a narrative paradigm that construes the family primarily upon its horizontal axis. In a sister story, identity is determined and the narrative is defined by the sibling bond, as opposed to the more hierarchical parent-child relationship. As I note in my introduction, brother...

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2: Michal and Merav

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pp. 37-52

Another sister pair appears in the narratives that relate King Saul’s fall from, and King David’s rise to, power in the books of Samuel. Although admittedly more fragmentary in its presentation, in significant ways the story of King Saul’s daughters Michal and Merav parallels the story of Rachel and Leah.1 The...

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3:Israel and Judah

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pp. 53-68

Paired sisters married to a single husband appear in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel as part of the prophet’s depiction of Israel as God’s promiscuous wife. Scholars credit the eighth-century prophet Hosea for introducing the marriage metaphor into prophetic literature when he compares his relationship with...

Part II: Incestuous Sisters

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4: Lot’s Daughters

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pp. 71-86

In the first part of this study, I looked at the Bible’s paired sisters—Rachel and Leah, Michal and Merav, and Israel and Judah. My reading of their stories suggests that the Bible tells a distinct sister story about the vulnerable patriarchal household. As temporary members of a natal household who typically cannot...

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5: Sarah

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pp. 87-100

In the last chapter, I argued that the story of Lot’s daughters can be read as a dangerous-sister story in which the sisters’ successful conspiracy to seduce their father subsequently results in the destruction of their natal household. My reading counters Seth Daniel Kunin who considers Genesis 19 to be a fantasy...

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6: Tamar

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pp. 101-116

Whereas brother-sister incest may only be a motif in Genesis 20, actual incest occurs in 2 Samuel 13. In this story, Amnon rapes his sister Tamar. In the first two incest narratives that I examined in Genesis 19 and 20, incest could be seen as an act intended to benefit the natal household. Through incest, Lot’s daughters hope to preserve their father’s seed, and wife-sister Sarah attempts to...

Part III: Sisterhoods

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7: The Daughters of Adam, Moab, theLand, and Israel

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pp. 119-140

In the previous parts, I identified a biblical sister story that is centered upon the vulnerable patriarchal home and that reflects the Bible’s implicit gender ideology. Although there are ideal sisters like Rebecca and Miriam, who support their natal households, most of the Bible’s sisters are dangerous. Dangerous...

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8: The Daughters of Jerusalem

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pp. 141-156

Like Genesis 34, the Song of Songs tells both a sister and a sisterhood story. When read as a sister story, the Song of Songs is about the sexualized sister who openly and actively pursues her lover. When read as a sisterhood story, as I do in this chapter, the Song of Songs is about sororal solidarity and the...

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9: Ruth and Naomi

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pp. 157-174

Among the Bible’s narratives concerned with having sons and selecting heirs, the book of Ruth tells an unconventional family story featuring women. As Ilana Pardes observes, the book of Ruth “violates” a number of biblical conventions, particularly the convention of featuring male protagonists.1...

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10: Conclusion

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pp. 175-186

Although anticipating the birth of sons and securing a son’s legacy provides much drama, sisters and sisterhoods also have an integral role to play in the family narratives in the Bible. My study shows that sisters and sisterhoods are a defined typology in the Bible, and it reveals common features and concerns that...


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pp. 187-194

Index of Names and Subjects

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pp. 195-204

Index of Biblical References

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pp. 205-208

Back Cover

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pp. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781451479690
E-ISBN-10: 1451479697
Print-ISBN-13: 9781451469950
Print-ISBN-10: 1451469950

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 869282734
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dangerous Sisters of the Hebrew Bible

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Subject Headings

  • Sisters in the Bible.
  • Bible. -- Old Testament -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
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