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Dinah's Daughters

Gender and Judaism from the Hebrew Bible to Late Antiquity

By Helena Zlotnick

Publication Year: 2011

The status of women in the ancient Judaism of the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic texts has long been a contested issue. What does being a Jewess entail in antiquity? Men in ancient Jewish culture are defined primarily by what duties they are expected to perform, the course of action that they take. The Jewess, in contrast, is bound by stricture.

Writing on the formation and transformation of the ideology of female Jewishness in the ancient world, Zlotnick places her treatment in a broad, comparative, Mediterranean context, bringing in parallels from Greek and Roman sources. Drawing on episodes from the Hebrew Bible and on Midrashic, Mishnaic, and Talmudic texts, she pays particular attention to the ways in which they attempt to determine the boundaries of communal affiliation through real and perceived differences between Israelites, or Jews, on one hand and non-Israelites, or Gentiles, on the other.

Women are often associated in the sources with the forbidden, and foreign women are endowed with a curious freedom of action and choice that is hardly ever shared by their Jewish counterparts. Delilah, for instance, is one of the most autonomous women in the Bible, appearing without patronymic or family ties. She also brings disaster. Dinah, the Jewess, by contrast, becomes an agent of self-destruction when she goes out to mingle with gentile female friends. In ancient Judaism the lessons of such tales were applied as rules to sustain membership in the family, the clan, and the community.

While Zlotnick's central project is to untangle the challenges of sex, gender, and the formation of national identity in antiquity, her book is also a remarkable study of intertextual relations within the Jewish literary tradition.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. 1-3


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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Setting the Stage

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pp. 1-30

The basic hypothesis of this book is simple enough—to identify who belongs and who does not, who behaves in an acceptable social manner and who transgresses divinely ordained and man-made boundaries, it is necessary to examine the human body in specific contexts. These are, in turn, explored and resolved through situations of intimate sexual contacts. ...

Part I: Projections of Biblical Spheres of Women

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1. From Dinah to Cozbi: Rape, Sex, and Foundational Moments

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pp. 33-56

Love and lust appear in biblical narratives as a fatal combination, at least for the female objects of such emotions. In fact, women are rarely if ever made to experience these sentiments in the Bible. When Amnon, son of David and heir to the throne, conceives an irrepressible passion for his half-sister, Tamar, she begs him to seek permission to marry her (2 Sam. 13). ...

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2. Patriarchy and Patriotism: Integrating Sex into Second Temple Society

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pp. 57-75

In the book of Genesis, Jewish women marry relatives; non-Jewish women, when they are married to Jewish patriarchs, receive scant attention. This imbalance is, perhaps, not entirely coincidental. The matriarchs of Genesis hardly set a model of wifely behavior. Sarah forces her husband to send away a favorite sexual partner and ruthlessly advances the interests of her own son. ...

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3. From Esther to Aseneth: Marriage, Familial Stereotypes, and Domestic Felicity

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pp. 76-102

Only rarely do ancient texts allow us to probe the "happily ever after" stage. Divorce documents hint at marital tension but, on the whole, biblical and postbiblical narrators display a remarkable lack of interest in the intricacies of married life.1 How ancient Judaism perceived the basic conjugal unit in specific Diaspora settings can be glimpsed through two texts ...

Part II: Visions of Rabbinic Order

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4. Keeping Adultery at Bay: The Wayward Wife in Late Antiquity

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pp. 105-131

In the Decalogue no less than two commandments deal, apparently, with adultery. One forbids it, sweepingly stating "thou shalt not commit adultery" (Exod. 20:15 ).1 The foundational chart of Judaism also makes it clear that the burden of contemplating adultery lies squarely on male shoulders: ...

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5. The Harmony of the Home in Late Antiquity: Jewish, Roman, and Christian Perspectives on Intermarriage

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pp. 132-160

In the community of the Garden of Eden, at least according to Gen. 2: 20, the harmony of nature and the first human (male) was guaranteed only with the advent of the first woman.1 Boredom, too, was dispelled. With Eve came understanding and learning capabilities, conferred on the human couple through the intervention of a serpent. ...

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Conclusion: To Die like a Woman? To Live like a Woman? Is There a Jewess in Judaism?

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pp. 161-172

A classic deathbed scene guides readers of Genesis 48-49 through the dying moments of a venerable patriarch in his Egyptian home. Old, frail, and virtually blind, Jacob is pleasantly surprised to receive a visit from his powerful son, Joseph, accompanied by the latter's two young sons. ...


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pp. 173-214


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pp. 215-234

General Index

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pp. 235-240

Index of Citations

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pp. 241-246

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pp. 247-248

To the invisible presence of Nicole Loraux I owe much of the inspiration for the introduction and the conclusion of this book. For the encouragement and support of Peter Brown and David Noel Freedman I owe less tangible but very real and lasting gratitude. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812204018
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812217971

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2011