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Poor Banished Children of Eve: Woman as Evil in the Hebrew Bible

Author: 
Gale A. Yee (Author)
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Description

What gave rise to symbolizing woman as evil in the biblical tradition and other ancient Near Eastern societies? Taking her title from a Roman Catholic prayer called "Hail Holy Queen," Yee investigates the history of this hostile tradition of symbolization, including Eve in Genesis, Gomer in Hosea, Oholah and Oholibah in Ezekiel, and the "strange woman" of Proverbs. Employing a materialist literary criticism, ideological criticism, and the social sciences, she investigates how this negative imagery crops up in a variety of forms. Among her important conclusions is that gender conflicts in ancient Israel could be deflected forms of class conflict—the struggles between the king and peasants are deflected to men and women.
ISBN: 
9780800634575
Price: 
$27.00
Release date: 
October 3, 2003
Pages: 
312
Width: 
6
Height: 
9

Endorsements

"A tour de force. . . . Gale Yee takes feminist scholarship on the Hebrew Bible to new levels. Combining traditional feminist critique with analyses of ethnicity, class, and colonial status, Yee discloses the complex forces that invisibly shape the symbolic representation of women. . . . This book is essential reading for all who are interested in the future of feminist study of the Hebrew Bible."
— Carol A. Newsom, Candler School of Theology

"Gale Yee has written a book that significantly advances our critical thinking about the ways in which ideology permeates scripture. The power of her analysis is that she offers . . . grounded, well-articulated critical theory alongside a careful, attentive reading of texts . . . a rare combination in current discussions!"
— Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

"Yee studies texts from the 10th century b.c.e. to the post-exilic period where 'female' is a signifying code for 'evil.' . . . This work [is] a welcome entry point into ideological criticism of texts whose ostensible subject is gender. For someone who is serious about the Bible or justice, this book is a 'must-have.'"
— Carole R. Fontaine, Andover Newton Theological School

Reviews

The award-winning British television series "Upstairs, Downstairs" fascinated viewers with its stories about the parallel worlds of the upstairs masters and their downstairs servants in a London household in the early 1900s. The relationships between the wealthy Bellamys and their maids, valets, cooks, and other servants showed that while the power dynamic between master and servant was unbalanced it was by no means all in the hands of the wealthy. The masters viewed the servants as their inferiors, and therefore showed little interest in the downstairs world. The servants, on the other hand, as silent and deferential observers of the upstairs world, were able to use the information they gathered about their masters to exert a covert and subversive power.

Yee offers an "Upstairs, Downstairs" view of the interactions between men and women in the world of the Bible. She examines the power dynamic between women and men in the ancient Near Eastern world by her skillful application of ideological criticism. Ideological critics focus on how categories of gender, race, class, and colonial status influenced the writers of texts, and how such categories continue to affect contemporary interpretations. This book offers new ways of interpreting and understanding some of the most troubling texts of the Bible. The first three chapters present an in depth discussion of the method of ideological criticism; the last four apply it to four texts: Genesis 2-3, Hosea 1-2, Ezekiel 23, and Proverbs 7.

One of the problems in reading biblical texts about women (or about any oppressed class) is that most writings come from a small segment of the population, the adult male elite, usually of the priestly or royal class.

Much like the wealthy "Upstairs" masters, the biblical writers were not interested in or knowledgeable about the world of women, their social inferiors. Since the Bible is mostly silent about the female world, Yee uses data from the social sciences, drawing analogies between the cultures of women in male-dominated Middle Eastern societies (e.g., modern Bedouin and Moroccan) and the culture of the biblical world to provide a reconstruction of women's experiences, values in the ancient Near Eastern world. Such investigations give interpreters of the Bible a strikingly different view of the interactions between women and men, the kinds of powers wielded by each, and the different values held by women and men.

Yee reads Genesis 2-3 as written at a time when royal power was consolidated to support the country against foreign incursion. This meant that the peasant class that had worked to sustain local tribal groups was forced to give tribute to the king whose interests took precedence over those of the tribe that threatened the stability of the state. However, instead of addressing the real class conflict, the writer of Genesis 2-3 obscured that conflict with gender conflict between the man and his woman. It was not the king but the woman who caused man to be condemned to till the earth in pain and suffering.

Likewise Yee interprets Hosea as having used the image of a promiscuous wife who turned from YHWH, her husband, to condemn the elite classes in the priesthood and kingship. Their crime was to forcing the peasantry into supporting their financial interests and entanglement with foreign nations. By referring to these men as a promiscuous woman Hosea feminized, castrated, and shamed them. Unfortunately, as in Genesis 2-3, the real clash between Hosea and the aristocracy is forgotten, and is replaced by the image of faithful husband with an unfaithful, evil wife.

These are but a few examples from this fascinating interpretation of a disturbing aspect of the biblical text. Readers are given a new access into the world of the Bible that allows them to view women as able to wield power rather than pitiful victims. An additional plus is Yee's extensive bibliography, which can take the reader in any number of fruitful directions of further research.

â€" Chris Franke, Professor of Hebrew Bible, College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN

In this provocative, challenging, and extensively documented work, Gale Yee advances further the direction of her scholarship over the past decade. She argues that the differing economic structures in the eras when various biblical texts were written provide clues to the interpretation of certain female biblical characters from the perspective of the elite males who produced those texts. Texts that are ostensibly about women may then be understood as "symbolic alibis" for economic and cultural issues facing the male creators of these accounts. In support and illustration of this approach, she adduces four examples: Eve in Genesis 2-3, the promiscuous woman in Hosea 1-3, the sisters Oholah and Oholibah in Ezekiel 23, and the Other Woman in Proverbs 1-9.

After a section setting forth the components of her methodological approach, chapters on each of the four texts are divided into two parts. The first, an "extrinsic analysis," describes the economic system and attendant sociopolitical structures presumably in place at the time of the text's composition; the second, "an intrinsic analysis," examines the text as it would be addressed to and heard by male elites within those circumstances.

Early in the time of Israel's monarchy, the family and village selfsufficiency of the era of the Judges returned to the economic system characteristic of Canaan before Israel's emergence, a system in which peasants were forced to pay for the upkeep of the elite in the cities. Yee argues that the story of Adam and Eve functions in various ways to legitimize this return to the so-called "tributary mode of production." Peasants were distanced from the king as the first couple was distanced from God, and the nuclear family unit was emphasized to undercut the anti-state power of extended kinship groups. Yet the ostensible focus of the story on the relationship between the man and the woman has successfully obscured this classist intent from generations of subsequent interpreters.

In a similar vein, careful attention to the socioeconomic context of Hosea suggests that the opponents whom he castigated were the "male aristocracy" who exported agricultural produce, engaged in foreign policy that Hosea opposed, and used Baal worship to legitimate these economic and political polices. The image of the promiscuous wife that dominates the opening chapters of Hosea was intended as a portrait of these male elites, not of the populace in general. Ezekiel's struggle to come to grips with the trauma of the exiled and colonized male priesthood of which he was a part is expressed in his horrifying pornographic imagery of two sisters upon whom guilt and punishment are projected. The Other Woman of Proverbs represents both actual women of non-Jewish families residing in Judah and women of Jewish families who remained in the land during the Babylonian exile. When male descendants of the group that had returned from Babylon eventually gained political, religious, and economic control, they deemed it socially unacceptable to marry women from these two "outsider" groups and developed their portrait of the Other Woman as a dangerous temptation to be resisted.

Yee's readings, like all others, require certain assumptions. To correlate her chosen texts with specific economic structures, for instance, she must place the composition of Genesis 2-3 in the early monarchical period and Proverbs 1-9 in the era of Ezra-Nehemiah. Each of these views is accepted by many scholars but disputed or declared unknowable by others. Similarly, she must choose certain economic analyses over others in developing the extrinsic analysis for each period. Even if all her assumptions are accepted, some of her cases are more compelling than others, with the analysis of Genesis

Table of Contents

Introduction
Ideological Criticism and Woman as Evil
The Social Sciences and Woman as Evil
The Mother of All Living and We Her Children—Eve in Genesis 2–3
She Is Not My Wife and I Am Not Her Husband—Faithless Israel in Hosea 1–2
They Played the Whore in Egypt—The Promiscuous Sisters in Ezekiel 23
My Husband Is Not at Home, He Took His Money Bag with Him—The Other Woman in Proverbs 7
Conclusion