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"This Borrowed Language" "THIS BORROWED lANGUAGE": BODY POLITIC IN JUDGES 19 by Sheila Delany Sheila Delany teaches English and comparative literature at Simon Fraser University near Vancouver.' She studied at Wellesley College, the University of California at Berkeley, and Columbia University. Her most recent books are Medieval Literary Politics (1990), the translation A Legend of Holy Women (1992), and The Naked Text: Chaucer's Legend of Good Women (forthcomipg, University of California Press). I 97 I The outsider's privilege is the sense ofliberty to take a maverick view. I This is what I propose to do here, with a reading which is, I gather, rather unfashionably figurative and which runs what Herbert Schneidau calls "the danger of treating the narratives as merely ~instrumental"l-thoughI hasten to add that the instrumentality I might be accused of is not metaphysical or doctrinal. ! My text is the episode in]udges 19 usually!referred to as "the Gibeah outrage" or "the Gibeah Scandal."z The gloss Ilwant to perform inscribes my training as a literary medievalist specializing in Chaucer. It also I . incorporates a particular political inclination. and some contemporary critical approaches, particularly that of gend~r-awareness. Others have I . 'Herbert N. Schneidau, "Biblical Narrative and Modem Consciousness," in The Bible and the Narrative Traditon (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 132. 2Robert G. Boling, The Afu:hor Bible: Judges (New York: Doubleday, 1975), p. 271 and elsewhere; Meir Sternberg, The Poetics ofBiblicalNarratire: IdeologicalLiterature and the Drama ofReading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), p. 417. Quotations from Judges in this '1aper are from the Anchor version. ' 98 SHOFAR Winter 1993 Vol. 11, NO.2 written about this text from a feminist perspective, but my reading differs from theirs as well as from more conventional ones. i. To begin, a placement and summary: The episode in question opens the concluding movement of the book ofJudges-that is, its last three chapters, 19~21,-initiatinga sixth-century Deuteronomistic coda to the more archaic material found in the body of Judges. The story is set off at beginning and end by formulas of kingship; these set the narrative in a time before the loose federation of tribes sharing the worship of the deity named Yahweh consolidated themselves into a state. "In those days, when there was no king in Israel" (19: 1) is the opening phrase, and the last sentence is: "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right, as he saw it!" (21:25). Between these two formulas a hideous tale unfolds. A Levite, or administrator of the Yahweh shrine, lives in the hill country of Ephraim. His concubine or wife (depending on the version) leaves him. After a time the Levite follows the woman to her father's house in Bethlehem, to persuade her to return, and she agrees. On their way home, the couple have to spend the night in a town called Gibeah, where no one offers hospitality except one old man. Here the scandal takes place. Basically, it is a secularized version of the story of Lot at Sodom (in Genesis 19), only here there is no rescue. The worst scoundrels in town surround the house, demanding that the Levite come out and have intercourse with them. The host offers his virgin daughter instead; whereupon the Levite pushes his concubine outside for the gang of men. Next morning she is found lying at the door; some texts say she was dead, others omit this information, thus leaving the possibility that the concubine may have survived her ordeal. The Levite loads her onto his ass, and when they at last get home he cuts her body up limb by limb into twelve pieces and sends the pieces through the length and breadth of Israel. "We will exact retribution for [this] senseless disgrace" (20:10) is the consensus. In revenge, the Israelites make war on Gibeah, whose inhabitants triggered the atrocity. Gibeah is wiped out and other massacres and abductions are committed as well. The account of this civil war is extended and extremely interesting in itself, but not directly germane to my argument about literary processes in the Gibeah narrative. Even in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 97-109
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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