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Hebrew Studies 31 (1990) 96 Reviews MURDER AND DIFFERENCE: GENDER, GENRE, AND SCHOLARSHIP ON SISERA'S DEATH. By Mieke Bal. Matthew Gumpert, trans. Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature. Pp. x + 150. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1988. Cloth. DEATH & DISSYMMETRY: THE POLITICS OF COHERENCE IN THE BOOK OF JUDGES. By Mieke Bal. Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism. pp. xii + 312. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1988. Paper. These two works join Lethal Love: Feminist Literary Readings of Biblical Love Stories (Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature, Bloomington: Indiana University, 1987) as the second and third parts of a trilogy by Bal on feminist readings of the Hebrew Bible. Although these three works were published within two years of each other and share certain perspectives, each is highly original and makes an important contribution to biblical studies, especially to the literary study of the Hebrew Bible. Lethal Love dealt with several biblical stories which have women as their central characters and analyzed these stories and various readings of them. The two books under consideration here concern the book of Judges, in which women are especially prominent; Murder and Difference focuses on the stories of Yael in Judg 4 and 5, while Death & Dissymmetry attempts a new reading of the entire book of Judges. Bal's works are difficult to read. Her main perspectives are from the disciplines of semiotics, feminist criticism, and psychoanalytic readings of texts; indeed, she entered biblical scholarship as a semiotician interested in the study of narrative.l Her perspectives are very different than the historical-critical or the new-critical approaches which characterize most scholarship on the Hebrew Bible, and her books constantly question the presuppositions that most biblical scholars share. No other set of works has recently forced me to confront my basic assumptions. Thus, if I criticize Bal's conclusions and certain aspects of her methodology, I still highly recommend reading her work. Bal's assumptions are most clearly articulated in the "Conclusion" to Death & Dissymmetry, in which she argues that the text is not an object which can be objectively interpreted. but rather is a "subject that speaks to 1 See especially her Narratology: Introduction to the Study ofNarrative (Toronto: University of Toronto. 1985). Hebrew Studies 31 (1990) 97 Reviews us" (p. 240). For her, "Interpretation is necessarily a reader's response brought to a text; it is, at most, an interaction, at least, a purely subjective act" (p. 238). In evaluating her own stance when confronting the text, she admits that her "strong motivation ... is the desire to understand the relations between gender, violence and politics that stand at the roots of our civilization" (p. 238). According to Bal, however, interpretation is not entirely subjective; the relative plausibility of different interpretations may be evaluated (p. 240). In this review, I will attempt to evaluate the relative plausibility of her interpretations. Given constraints of space, I will spend more time on Death & Dissymmetry, the longer and more recent work. Murder and Difference, the second part of the trilogy, focuses on Yael's murder of Sisera in Judg 4:18-22 and 5:24-30. Although this material has been studied in great detail, especially from the historical and poetic viewpoints , her approach is new: I intend to examine in greater detail the question raised by the difference between the two versions of the murder of Sisera, in a systematic confrontation of the two texts and the different disciplines that have tried to interpret them. My starting point will be the concept of code as it is currently accepted in semiotics. The four disciplines under consideration-history, theology, anthropology, and literary analysis-will be envisioned in the way they function as a code: as a rule of correlation institutionally tied to a group that projects its own interests upon it....Our interest will lie in the potential of these methods for the interpretation ofdifferences as such, and, on the other hand, in the different kinds of blindness (ranging from defective vision to the stubbom refusal to see) that prevent them from furthering this interpretation (p. 2). This book, with its explicit interest in applying semiotic method to biblical studies, is a challenge to read. Its semiotic squares...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1681
Print ISSN
0146-4094
Pages
pp. 96-101
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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