Tag Archives: Matrilineal

Shiphrah & Puah: The Midwives who Delivered Israel

Shifrah & Puah 4

“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

Dinah: Don’t Hang Your Head


In their analysis of Genesis 34 most commentators  assume that Dinah was raped by Shechem, the local Hivite prince. Feminists use the story as the textbook example of what is wrong with patriarchy. In addition, Genesis 34 also records the massacre of the Hivite people by Dinah’s brothers in retaliation for the way in which they perceived Shechem had treated their sister. Even today, some ultra-orthodox Jews claim the brothers as heroes for cleansing the land of the Canaanites and look to the narrative as a model for “solving” the current Palestinian “problem.” Continue reading

In the Name of Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, pt. 1



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Her Birth Announcement

Just after Sarah dies, Rebecca’s birth is recorded, the only woman given this distinction in the Bible. It seems that the narrator wants to reassure the reader that the saga will continue. “Before the first matriarch died, the second is already born” (Teugel, p.92). But it is not just that she is mentioned, it is the way that her birth is recorded. The genealogical record lists Rebecca as the only progeny of Bethuel (22:23) even though very clearly she has a brother, Laban. Through the notice of her birth, Rebecca is being emphasized so that we understand that she will carry on Sarah’s role. Continue reading

The House of Sarah



The Bible both prizes Sarah and disparages her. Her high valuation is reflected by the following events:

  1.  In Egypt, Abraham does not order Sarah but pleads for her to pretend she is his sister;
  2. Sarah demands that Abraham impregnate Hagar for the benefit of building up Sarah;
  3. Abraham complies with Sarah’s demand for the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael;
  4. God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah;
  5. Sarah’s name was changed from Sarai, just as Abraham’s was from Abram, with the accompanying promise that “she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (17:16) – in other words the covenant blessings and promises apply to her (Evans);
  6. a whole chapter is devoted to Sarah’s burial.

In addition, the rabbinical tradition was eager to see Sarah as a prophetess whose spirit of prophecy was even greater than Abraham’s!

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The Silence Itself Turns Into Speech

Women as Booty in War3
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Women as Property

As part of a whole section of rape legislation, Deut. 21 outlines the laws for taking women as booty during war. Sometimes it is difficult to read the Bible, particularly the rape texts and it’s easy to relegate the Bible to “long ago and far away.” Vastly different from our time, so the argument goes; most ancient cultures stole wives and the Israelites were just fitting in with their neighbors. “[T]he abduction of women by men for marital purposes is a familiar feature in nation-building myths of the ancient world” (Zlotnick, p.47). Furthermore, most often the rape laws and stories are classified as seduction, marriage or love. A traditional commentator “emphasizes the need for marriage as the law’s noble intention. That the marriage is coerced does not become problematic for the commentators” (Scholz, p.109). Here is a typical example of this kind of thinking:  Continue reading