“The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, saying, ‘When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.’ The midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.” (Exodus 1:15-17)
Disturbed by the proliferation of the Hebrew people he had enslaved, the unnamed Pharaoh directed two named women to carry out a gendered genocide. By leaving him anonymous, the writer signals that the king is powerless and does not deserve to be named. As we shall see, the “midwives alone earn themselves a name by their conduct” (Siebert-Hommes, Let, pp. 113). Not only have Puah and Shiphrah been remembered throughout the generations, but the fact that they are actually named may indicate that they were national figures within Egyptian society. Continue reading
“And desert creatures meet with hyenas, and the wild goat cries to its companion; yes, there the night bird [לילית] rests, and finds herself a resting place” Isaiah 34:14 (Blair’s translation, p.63).
Traditionally this verse has been cited as the only biblical reference to Lilith. Many interpreters, ancient and modern, have understood the Hebrew word לילית as a reference to the demon Lilith and others have translated this as “screech owl” or “night bird” (for example in Blair’s translation above). Which is the more accurate translation? And regardless of which is correct, who was Lilith? Continue reading
“Queen Vashti gave a banquet for women, in the royal palace of King Ahasuerus. On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he ordered … the seven eunuchs in attendance on King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king wearing a royal diadem, to display her beauty to the peoples and the officials; for she was a beautiful woman. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command conveyed by the by the eunuchs. The king was greatly incensed, and his fury burned within him.” Esther 1:9-12 (new JPS translation)
For feminists, Queen Vashti is a heroine because she did not allow herself to be displayed like an object of art, or worse, as a play toy before King Ahasuerus and his drinking buddies. Until very recently commentators depicted Vashti in a negative light for her defiance. In contrast, the author of the story makes a farce of the king’s reaction to Vashti’s refusal. Guided by his advisors, King Ahasuerus turns her simple act into a threat against the entire Persian empire and passes a law that women must be ruled by men. Continue reading