David R. Blumenthal




The Household Manager
Textual Reprise: Eshet Hayil
Textual Reprise: The Psalm of the Gever
Echoes of the Eshet Hayil



The Lovers
Reprise: The Ra´ya and the Dod
Echoes of the Ra´ya


The Isha and the Ba´al
The Isha Zara: The Woman Who is the Stranger
The Zona: The Unencumbered Woman
The No'efet: The Adulteress
Textual Reprise: Ezekiel 16




In her fine study of the story of the binding of Isaac, Carol Delaney, an anthropologist interested in religion and committed to a feminist critique of culture, notes the following: [2]

Myths of origin may not point to "real, true" historical origins, but they are important representations of origins: they provide a framework within which people situate and interpret their lives; they affect people's identity and orientation in that world; and most important, they provide answers to the questions "Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?" ... Like them [other anthropologists], I, too, am concerned with origins, but unlike them I am concerned with people's representations of their origins, not for the information they might "really" provide about the past, but about what they can reveal about the present -- the concepts and values that underpin a people's view of themselves and their world.

Delaney goes on to point out that the story of the binding of Isaac is just such a story. It is a myth of origin for Jews, Christians, and Muslims not so much because it may, or may not, be historically true but because it shapes our understanding of who we are as Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

The same is true for the images of women in the Bible. For, as one reads the stories, studies the laws, and ponders the images, metaphors, and figures of women, one absorbs, almost subliminally, the attitudes that these sources convey. To read about "heroines" such as Deborah is to form an idea of what a "heroine" is in one of the sacred texts of our culture. To read about the people as a "whore" in their unfaithfulness to God is to form a judgement about sexual looseness and about women who practice it, and also to form a concept of what "faithfulness" is and is not. To read about the ideal woman in Proverbs is to shape an image of the ideal wife. To read the love poetry of the Song of Songs is to develop an expectation of what a woman is as lover.

This is true about men, too. To read about warrior heroes like David or sages like Solomon is to absorb a definition of manhood rooted in the sacred text of our culture. To read about Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only, beloved son is to form an image in one's mind and heart of what true male devotion to God is. To read about Moses and Aaron, Pharoah and Amalek, is to form and take into oneself models of moral behavior and political leadership. To read laws about unfaithful women and what happens to them but not about unfaithful men and what happens to them is to be absorbed in a web of expectations about sexual-social behaviors appropriate to men and women. It is to form a subliminal concept of the proper relationship between men and women.

Furthermore, if the sacred text portrays God as a man, then all these sources shape our image of what, or who, God should be; of what appropriate behavior is for God. Thus, if David is a military hero defending the people, then God is a "man of war." If Solomon is a wise judge, then God is The Wise Judge. If a husband can demand and legally enforce faithfulness from his wife, then God can do so from His [3] people. The parallels are also true: If God can demand loyalty, so can men. If God can create, then so can men become the source of "seed," of life. If God can act in ways that are not always clear in their justification, perhaps so can men.

Sacred text, then, is not just text; it is inter-text. Sacred text, sometimes overtly and sometimes very subtly, interacts with us. It shapes us. It forms our values, our expectations of life. Sacred text poses and answers the questions "Who am I? Where do I come from? What should I do? What should I feel? Where am I going? What is purpose of my being here?" In so doing, sacred text forms who we are.

It is also true that we give shape to sacred text. There are parts of it that captivate us but there are other parts that we skip over or ignore. There are parts of it, too, that we question, sometimes deeply. There are models we reject, laws we disallow, and doctrines we deny. We construct sacred text, as it constructs us. Reading classic sources, then, is an interaction between the sacred text and the personal "text." As I have written elsewhere: [4]

"Reading" (Hebrew, qeri'ah ) is "calling" (Hebrew, qeri'ah ). To read is to call to the text, to attend to the voice, to listen to the word. To read is also to be called by the text, to be spoken to by the voice, to be addressed by the word. "Reading" (Hebrew, qeri'ah ) is also "proclaiming" (Hebrew, qeri'ah ). To read is to speak, to address, to communicate. Hence, to read is to receive and to give; simultaneously. It is also to give and to receive; simultaneously. Text is voice, and voice is text.

This essay takes as its starting point that the stories, poems, laws, and other presentations of women in the Bible are formative for the consciousness of western civilization, in its religious forms -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- as well as in its secular forms. Whatever the Hebrew Bible teaches us, we are part of that worldview even in our conscious rejection of parts of it. It seems important, therefore, to develop a typology of women in the Hebrew Bible. Such an effort will at least bring to the surface some of the assumptions and basic values that lie behind much of the attitude toward women in this classic source of our culture. [5]

This essay proposes that there are five main images of women in the Tanakh [6]: the Eshet Hayil , the woman of Proverbs 31 and elsewhere; the Imahot, the women who act in holy history of the Jewish people and its God; the Ra´ya, the woman of the Song of Songs; the Isha, the woman as a legal category; and the Anusa, the woman as victim. There are also some subcategories, including: the Isha Zara , the woman who is not a blood member of the people; the Zona, the sexually active woman unencumbered by a legal relationship to a man; and the No'efet, the whoring wife. Each will be discussed and then some reflections on these figures and their meaning in modern culture will be made.

Caveat: Every typology has its limits and this one is no exception. In the first place, it is my typology; I speak for no one but myself. I believe this to be a thoughtful essay but there are surely other ways to analyze the biblical material on women. Second, there are certainly perspectives I have omitted: the woman as visionary (Deborah, Hulda, the visionary of Endor), the woman as poet (Miriam, Deborah), the woman as clever schemer (Sarah, Rebecca, Abigail, Batsheva), and so on. Third, as my friend and colleague, Deborah Greniman, has pointed out, the very same woman can be seen within several typologies. Thus, Sarah can be seen as acting in Jewish history but she can also be seen as a woman desperate about her childlessness who acts in ways that she and her husband may later regret. Similarly, Batsheva can be seen as acting in Jewish history but she is also a lover, a victim, and perhaps a temptress. And some women don't seem to fit at all (Eve, Hagar). No typology, then, can account for all, or even most, of the specific characters it typologizes -- including this one -- though I think this is a considered effort to trace a few general categories of thinking, a few key images, that formed, and continue to form, the biblical view of woman.

Finally, I see this issue from a masculine point of view, a particularly unfair position when speaking about women. While I consider this to be a reasonably fair typology and have certainly tried to incorporate the critical voices of colleagues, I certainly do not intend to offend and welcome response from women and men.


 The Household Manager

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Archaeologists of the holy land in the early and middle part of the twentieth century expended their efforts in uncovering ancient cities with their palaces, temples, fortifications, and other public buildings. In the latter decades, however, archaeologists devoted themselves to uncovering the small villages which dotted the highlands and foothills. This work disclosed a great deal about the Hebrew settlement of the area during the period of the judges and very early monarchy, 1200 - 1000 B.C.E., also known as iron age I. The importance of this work was twofold. First, it gave us a picture of what ordinary life was like for that period and, second, since most of the population continued to live in such small villages until the destruction of the southern kingdom in 586 B.C.E., this work gave us a picture of what everyday life was like for most people during most of the biblical period. Using a combination of ethnology and archaeology, "ethnoarchaeology," the following picture emerges. [7]

After 1200 B.C.E. there was an upsurge in the number of sites built in the highlands such that, as of 1985, there were 118 sites from the late bronze and iron age I periods. Terracing and cisterns were the keys to the development of this ground. A family would come, clear the land, terrace it, carve out a cistern to store water, and build a house which had two floors and pillars; hence, known as the "pillared house." The low-ceilinged first floor housed animals and tools while the family lived on the upper floor. The pillared house (Hebrew bayit) held a family. A series of houses formed a compound (Hebrew beit 'av ) with a courtyard in the middle. A series of compounds formed a small village (Hebrew mishpaha) and larger villages formed a very small city (Hebrew ´ir). Villages were, thus, largely composed of kin, including the handicapped, the unmarried, and the divorced and widowed women. There were also some dispossesed persons, transient laborers, and poor -- "sojourners" -- who were cared for in the village. Villages formed themselves into larger groups (Hebrew mateh, shevet ), poorly translated as "tribe" or "clan."

The system was patrilocal -- the women moved into the homes of their husbands. The system was also patrilineal -- the tract of land (Hebrew nahala, hevel ) was passed on by inheritance, usually to the oldest male. If one had to sell the land for some reason, it was to be redeemed to keep it in the patrilineal system. There were no public buildings: fortifications, temples, storehouses, or palaces though there might be a shared threshing floor or wine press. Non-inheriting males could stay on in the village or could clear new land and start their own beit 'av.

The highlands were the frontier of ancient Israel and life was tough. Everyone was a "small holder" and had to work all the time. Men cleared land, built terraces, dug cisterns, planted, harvested, took care of the livestock, and maintained the property. Occasionally, they had to defend their villages from marauders. The main crops were barley, wheat, grapes, and olives and the primary skill of the men lay in judging the unpredictable weather. The women processed food, created textiles, gardened, wove baskets, produced pottery, helped with the planting and harvesting, and of course bore and raised children. Preparing daily bread was a particularly time- and energy-consuming process. [8] Their skills were largely "technological," having to do with the instruments that enabled them to do their work. Women also controlled household worship; had certain public religious roles in mourning, seeking of oracles, and singing songs of praise; and were involved in forms of worship that were heterodox. [9] In addition, women controlled the spread of information. They knew who needed what kind of help, where and when it was needed, and who was available to lend a hand. A large percentage of children died in childbirth or of disease. Those that survived were taught to share tasks at an early age, with increasing participation in the burden of family life expected as they grew older.

Until the consolidation of the monarchy under David, most of the Hebrew people lived like this, slowly expanding into new areas of the highland frontier. They did not settle in the valleys which were largely inhabited by Philistines, though some hardy souls did descend from the highlands into some of the valleys. And they did not move into the Canaanite cites of Shechem, Jerusalem, or Hebron. The monarchy changed all that. David contained the Philistines to the plains and defeated many of the Canaanites, conquering the city of Jerusalem. He set up a royal bureaucracy, a centralized military, and his son set up a royal cult with its own staff and pilgrimage. All of this took money and peoplepower and, while the new urban structures absorbed some of the non-inheriting males, the burden that the monarchy imposed on the population was severe. People were drafted for military service, for corvée (forced labor), and had to pay taxes. In addition, members of the royal entourage were given estates. Disputes, which had always been settled by the elders of the village, were now subject to a national legal system. Villages that had grouped by kinship were now superseded by royal administrative districts. Not only drought and disease -- always problems -- but taxes, war, forced labor, and the courts could destroy the family compound and the village. Still, the rural family was the backbone of biblical society. [10]

Feminist analysis of the place and roles of women in this agricultural setting indicate that women filled a series of tasks as important as those of men. They were equals, certainly in the inner world of daily life, though in the public square -- meetings of the family heads, community decisions, and so on -- men were dominant. Women in the urban setting were probably in a similar position. [11] They managed the household including children and servants, conducted a certain amount of business based on the production of their household staff, entertained their husbands' associates, and filled their roles in court or government life. Again, public decisions were taken by the men. The Eshet Hayil of the Tanakh, rural or urban, was the household manager par excellence.

The laws and customs surrounding man-woman relations also figure prominently in the definition of the Eshet Hayil . The marginal environment required a very strict authority structure: Parents had to be honored and not repudiated or challenged in any substantial way. Ungovernable children, especially of adult age, had to be kept in line. Respect even for the dead was obligatory. In addition, sexual lines were drawn rigidly. Virginity was prized; violation of it through seduction or rape was severely punished. Adultery was the worst of crimes; even coveting another's wife was forbidden, and suspicion of adultery by the woman led to a trial by ordeal. A woman was considered be´ulat ba´al, "owned by a master." She was subject to very strict purity laws, especially with respect to menstruation and childbirth. Non-conforming sex -- homosexuality, bestiality, cross-dressing, and masturbation -- was punished. A woman was always under the authority of a man: first, her father; then, her brothers; then, her husband; and, since she did not inherit, then her eldest son. In general, "stringent protection of the marital bond" was the order of the day and loyalty to kin was very strong. [12]

These structures and strictures created a society that, in addition to being patrilocal and patrilineal, was also patriarchal; that is, social life was dominated by males and that dominance was seen as part of the cosmic order, as a natural and proper part of creation. Laws forbidding the mixing of plants and animals, sexual taboos, and laws protecting male authority all formed "part of an overall taxonomic system, a kind of cosmology reflecting a cosmic order in which everything is created 'according to its kind.'" [13] The reality of the agricultural / urban household formed, and was woven into, this patriarchal worldview, with the result that the equality that women enjoyed was set within a larger framework of submission to a male-dominated view, and way, of life.

All this would be of only passing historical interest if it were not for the fact that the household, with its Eshet Hayil and her male counterpart, the Gever, forms the root metaphor for the theology of the Hebrew Bible and, hence, of one of the most sacred texts in western civilization. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as secular western thinking, all have their roots in the patriarchal-rural life of ancient Israel. As one scholar has put it: [14]

... ancient Israel's major understanding of God, creation, the nation, the nations, and morality were forged in large part by the social character and experience of the family household. Many of the key metaphors for imaging God, Israel, the land, and the nations originated in the household.... Indeed, the household not only grounded Old Testament theology in Israel's social reality but also became the primary lens through which to view the character and activity of God, the identity and self-understanding of Israel in its relationship to God, the value and meaning of the land as the nahalah God gives Israel, and Israel's relationship to the nations.

Thus, ancient Israelite society and God value labor; sustenance and fruitfulness are God's reward for labor. Children are considered a sign of blessing; barrenness and being cut off are a punishment. Caring for the poor and oppressed are a value for the people; God is the ultimate Caregiver and Redeemer. God is portrayed as the head of the Israelite household and as the husband ( ba´al) of the Israelite bride; the words for household ( bayit), wife ( isha), son ( ben), daughter ( bat), servant ( ´eved), and sojourner ( ger) are all used to describe the people. The land ( nahala) is God's to give to His kin; His kin pass it down patrilineally. God gives the law, and then designates a class of people whose interpretation of it is authoritative because they participate in the lawgiver's authority. Abraham is the male founder of the people, having been chosen by God. It is with him, and then again with Moses, that covenant is established. In fact, the whole theology of covenant is rooted in, and at the same time reinforces, the household realities and responsibilities of ancient Israel. "The household became the metaphorical or symbolic world for expressing the theology of the themes of covenant and obligation, redemptive history and creation." [15] The Eshet Hayil and the Gever were the central figures of everyday biblical life, and they served as the generative metaphor for the theology that underlies the Hebrew Bible.

Textual Reprise: Eshet Hayil

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The text of Eshet Hayil, which is contained in Proverbs 31, begins with the queen mother rebuking her son, the king, and offering him some strong advice. The first rebuke is that the king not waste his sexual energy on women who are not worthy: [16]

The words of Lemuel, [17] the king;
the message with which his mother reproved him.
"No, my son. No, son of my womb. No, son of my vows. [18]
Do not give your vigor to women,
nor your strength to those who would sap the energy of kings."

The second rebuke is not to get drunk. Rather, the queen mother advises her son to give drink only to the hopeless:

"It is not for kings, Lemuel. It is not for kings to drink wine.
Nor for officers of the court to ask, 'Where is liquor.'
Lest one drink and forget what the law is,
or distort the judgment of the poor.
Rather, give drink to the one who is lost, and wine to those who are bitter.
Let them drink and forget their poverty,
and not recall their labor anymore."

The queen mother, then, concludes with the advice that Lemuel act like a king -- that, when the judicial system fails and the cause of the oppressed comes before him, he judge justly:

"Open your mouth on behalf of those who cannot speak,
on behalf of the judgment of those who are transient.
Open your mouth. Judge justly.
Deliver fair judgment for the poor and the destitute."

If Eshet Hayil is to be taken as part of its context of chapter 31, it constitutes the king's reply to his mother's rebuke and advice. It is a hymn to the ideal woman and, for precisely this reason, it is recited at the Friday evening table ritual still today and even interpreted by the mystics as applying to the feminine dimension of God. The king responds that he will not waste his seed on women who only want to sap his strength, nor waste his moral capacity on drink. He will choose a woman worthy to succeed his mother, a woman of vigor, a woman of valor. And, without saying it, he commits himself to judge the poor justly when their cases fall through the judicial system and come before him: [19]

t A woman of vigor, [20] who can find?
She is worth much more than any jewelery.
c The heart of her husband trusts her, and bounty is never lacking.
d She is good to him, and never bad, every day of her life.
s She searches out wool and flax, and willingly works them by hand.
v She is like a merchant ship, bringing goods from afar.
 She rises while it is still dark,
and gives sustenance to her family and the daily portion to her servants.
Ê She considers a field and buys it;
with her own hands she plants a vineyard.
Á She girds herself with power, and fortifies her arms.
Ë She perceives her merchandise as good;
her light does not go out at night.
È She extends her hand to the distaff, and her palm holds the spindle.
Î She opens her palm to the poor,
and stretches out her hand to the destitute.
Ï She is not worried for her household when it snows,
for they are all clothed in wool.
Ó She makes covers for herself; her clothing is of fine linen and purple.
ðb Her husband is prominent in the gates
when he sits with the elders of the land.
Ò She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers belts to the merchant.
Ú Power and majesty are her clothing;
she laughs about ultimate matters.
Ù She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the Torah of kindness is on her tongue.
m She oversees the activities of her household,
and eats not of the bread of laziness.
e Her children rise up and affirm her; her husband, too, praises her.
¯ "Many women have acted vigorously, but you surpass them all." [21]
a Charm is a lie and beauty is breath;
a woman who has an ongoing fear of the Lord is she who will be praised.
, Give her credit for her work, and her deeds will praise her publicly.

The Eshet Hayil of biblical times, then, is a very effective household manager, on the farm and in the city. The Hebrew root 'ahov / "love" is not present in this poem because, in this text, love is creating order out of the chaos of real life. It is creating and managing a sea of plenty and the people in it. Love, for the Eshet Hayil is responsible management of the family.

The Eshet Hayil has two complementary figures in biblical Hebrew. The first is the Gibbor Hayil. This term is used of Yiftah, the farmer turned general; of Kish, the father of King Saul; of Jeroboam, the farmer turned king of the northern kingdom; of Na´aman, the God-fearing Aramean general; of Zadok, a military leader; of Elyada, a military leader; and of Bo´az, the husband of Ruth and the ancestor of David. [22] The term, thus, fairly consistently denotes someone from a prosperous agricultural background who assumes a public role, often but not always, a military one. Bo´az is the most interesting instance because Bo´az, the affluent farmer who redeems land and family seed, is called Ish Gibbor Hayil while Ruth, the convert who enables land and seed to be redeemed and founds the davidic dynasty, is called Eshet Hayil, the only woman to be given this title by name. [23] The second complementary figure to the Eshet Hayil is the Gever.

Textual Reprise: The Psalm of the Gever

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Psalm 128 defines happiness in biblical religion, for men. [24]

A song to be sung on the steps:
Happy is each person who has an ongoing fear of the Lord,
who persists in walking in God's ways.

"Walking in God's ways" is not a happy long promenade, nor is it a victorious march. Rather it is an ongoing attitude, a pattern of commitment. It is a biblical virtue. To walk in God's ways is to persevere in the fear of God in spite of one's sin, in spite of one's reservations about those who embody God's authority, and in spite of the dullness of spirit that keeps one from experiencing God's presence. To walk in God's ways is to call to memory the joy of God's presence and the glory of God's manifestations in nature, in sacred time, and in people. It is to live in those memories. To walk in God's ways is always to seek God anew, even when one is depressed by sin and life. "To walk" is to persist in walking. Neither fear of God nor walking in God's ways is easy. They are biblical virtues, goals of the religious life. They are the key to the deepest levels of happiness.

If you eat by the sweat of your hands,
you will be happy and goodness will be yours.

"Labor is highly valuable because it brings honor to those involved in it." "He who benefits from the sweat of his hands inherits two worlds [this world and the next]." "The most pious thing a craftsman can have in mind is simply: 'I wish to do the best job possible to serve my customer or client. I want every stitch to be as tight as possible.'" [25]

Not working is not good for humans; it is a sign of depression, and depression is a form of introverted anger. A slow burning anger can bring no happiness. Taking up a task and working at it, the harder the better, will restore a sense of competency, of setting a goal and achieving it. It is best if the task benefits someone else, too, for then it also serves God. Doing good is spiritually, as well as psychologically, therapeutic. In the concentration camps, inmates made gifts for one another. The giving of a gift creates a moral bond, a human obligation. Work, particularly for others, is the source of happiness and goodness. Labor, too, is a biblical virtue, a religious affection.

Your wife will be as a fruitful vine in the intimate recesses of your house;
your children will be as olive saplings around your table.

"When she remains in the intimate recesses of your house, she will be as a fruitful vine." [26] Fruitfulness and modesty are ongoing attitudes, patterns of commitment. They, too, are biblical virtues.

How, then, do we read the verses, "I took off my clothes; how could I wear them?! I washed my body; how could I let it be dirty?! My beloved placed his hand on the hole and my insides were aroused because of him. I moved to open for my beloved, my hands dripping, scented. My fingers, overflowing with scent, passed over the surface of the closure" (Song 5:3-5)? What is sexually erotic love? Is it, too, a biblical virtue?

The tradition, following psalms and the prophets, affirms the sexual and condemns the sexually erotic. Sexuality is deemed a right, but is carefully contained by the laws of purity and the preachments of modest practice. Sexuality is commended, but firmly channeled into marriage. Passionate, sexually erotic love is a moment of grace which illuminates the day: "Satisfy us in the morning with Your gracious love and we will sing and be happy all our days" (Ps. 90.14). There must be such moments in every human life, as indeed they occur in the life of God. But love as a virtue is an ongoing pattern. It is a commitment to till, to plant, to weed, to water, to prune, and to harvest.

Love as a virtue, not as an emotion, is rooted in family. It is the fruitfulness of the vine, abundant and regular. It is the youthfulness of the olive sapling, full of promise, requiring cultivation and attention. Love as a virtue is rooted in the future, in the seed, in the intimate recesses of one's home. This love is not sexually erotic. Rather, love, in the sense of commitment to family and modesty, is an abiding good, an ongoing attitude, a religious virtue.

When one is alone, what does one have? If one is to live in the presence of God, what makes sense? In the end, what matters? Only family, if there has been the love which is commitment and the modesty which avoids the erotic. Emotions of all kinds seduce; virtues are building blocks. Emotions lead one astray; virtues elicit commitment. Emotions fade in and out; virtues persist. Happiness, the psalmist tells us, requires love as a virtue, love as a religious affection: a dedication to labor, fruitfulness, and modesty.

This is how a man who has an ongoing fear of the Lord will be blessed.

There are, then, three components of happiness in the Gever psalm: persistence in an ongoing fear of God, hard work, and love rooted in the fruitfulness of family life. These generate the blessing with which the psalm concludes:

"May the Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see good for Jerusalem all the days of your life.
May you see children of your children.
Peace upon Israel."

The texts of Psalm 128 and Proverbs 31 complement one another. The Gever is the counterpart to the Eshet Hayil . For both, love is in the order of family living. For both, love is the hard work of negotiating life; it is responsible living with debts to the past and the future within a context of divine order and blessing. [27]

Echoes of the Eshet Hayil

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The Eshet Hayil became not only a biblical ideal but a Jewish ideal. The household manager became a model for Jewish women of all ages. This was done by assimilating her image to that of the heroines of the Tanakh.

Another interpretation: "A woman of vigor who can find?" This is what is written, "They will blossom in old age" (Ps. 92:15). These refer to Abraham and Sarah who were equal to one another in charity and good deeds, and who were a good sign to the world. Indeed, He does not prevent righteous men from having the pious women He couples with them. So, too, we find with the wife of Noah: her deeds were equal to his and, therefore, she merited to be saved with him from the flood. [2]

"The heart of her husband trusts her" -- This is Sarah, our mother, through whom Abraham became rich (Gen. 12:16) ...

"She is good to him, and never bad" -- This is Rebecca, our mother, who comforted Isaac when his mother, Sarah, died (Gen. 24:67) ...

"She searches out wool and flax" -- This is Leah , our mother, who received Jacob graciously ... Therefore she merited to have kings and prophets be her descendants ...

"She is like a merchant ship" -- This is Rachel, our mother, who every day was ashamed to be childless. Therefore she merited having a son who was like a ship full of all the goods of the world ... who fed the world in the years of famine ...

"She rises while it is still dark" -- This is Bitya, the daughter of Pharoah, who was a non-Jew and became Jewish and who took care of Moses (Ex. 2:5 with midrash). Therefore she merits to enter into the Garden of Eden ...

"She considers a field and buys it" -- This is Yocheved, [Moses' mother], from whom Moses was born, and he was equal to all of Israel who are called a vineyard ...

"She girds herself with power" -- This is Miriam who, before Moses was born said, 'My mother is about to give birth to the savior of Israel.' But when he was born and the yoke of the kingdom was heavy upon her, her father said to her, 'Where are your prophecies?' She stood and spat at him, and stood fast by her prophecy (Ex. 1 with midrash) ...

"She perceives [tastes] her merchandise as good" -- This is Hannah who tasted prayer (I Sam. 1:15). Therefore she merited to birth a child (Samuel) who was the equal of Moses and Aaron ...

"She extends her hand to the distaff" -- This is Yael who did not kill Sisera with a weapon but with the tent peg that she had in her hand (Ju. 4:21) ...

"She opens her palm to the poor" -- This is the Sarefite widow who fed Elijah bread and water (I Kings 17:9-16) ...

"She is not worried for her household when it snows" -- This is the prostitute Rahav who, when the Israelites came to destroy Jericho, did not fear them and they gave her a sign (Josh. 2) ...

"She makes covers for herself" -- This is Batsheva from whom was born Solomon who was wrapped in fine linen and purple, and ruled from one end of the world to the other (II Sam. 12:24) ...

"Her husband is prominent in the gates" -- This is Michal [the daughter of Saul and wife of David] who saved David from death (I Sam. 19:12) ...

"She makes linen garments and sells them" -- This is the mother of Samson through whom Israel was saved (Ju. 16:30) ...

"Power and majesty are her clothing" -- This is Elisheva daughter of Aminadav [and wife of Aaron] who saw four joys in one day: her brother became a tribal leader (Nu. 1:7), her husband became the high priest (Ex. 6:23), the brother of her husband became a king (Dt. 33:5, taken to refer to Moses), and her two sons became blooms of the priesthood (Ex. 28:1) ...

"She opens her mouth with wisdom" -- This is the wise woman, Serah the daughter of Asher, who said, 'Say to Yoav: Draw near and I will speak with you' (II Sam. 20:16) and, thus, saved a city ...

"She oversees the activities of her household" -- This is the wife of Ovadya who saved her children and they did not worship idols with Ahab (I Kings 18:13 with midrash) ...

"Her children rise and praise her" -- This is the Shunamite woman who is called a great woman because she maintained Elisha (I Kings 18:3) ...

"Many women have acted vigorously but you surpass them all" -- This is Ruth, the Moabitess, who came under the wings of the Shekhina (Ruth with midrash).

"Charm is a lie and beauty is breath" -- This [too] is Ruth who left her mother, her family, and her wealth to go with her mother-in-law and receive the commandments ... Therefore it says, "Give her credit for her work, and her deeds will praise her publicly" -- Be firm in what is right, observe the Torah, and you will be saved from the evil impulse. [29]

The image of the Eshet Hayil was even extended to the Torah [30] and to the people of Israel:

"A woman of vigor" -- Scripture is speaking about Israel. At the time that Israel was exiled from their land, the ministering angels said to the Holy One, blessed be He: 'Master of the universe, when Israel were settled in their land, they worshiped idols. Now that You have sent them into exile among the nations will it not be more so?' What did the Holy One reply to them? 'I trust in My children that they will not leave Me and cling to idols but that they will sacrifice themselves for Me at all times. Not only will they sacrifice themselves but they will bring others under My wings ....'

"She grants him only good all the days of her life" -- The Holy One, blessed be He, said to the ministering angels, 'Come and I will make known to you the righteousness of My children, for I have burdened them with many troubles and I have brought suffering upon them in every generation and at all times, and yet they have not rebelled against Me but call themselves wicked and Me just .... Therefore, Solomon praised the community of Israel saying, "A woman of vigor who can find?" [31]

To this day Eshet Hayil plays a part in forming the image of the ideal Jewish woman. The text from Proverbs is recited every Friday night in traditional Jewish homes as part of the table prayers before Shabbat dinner.

Eshet Hayil, then, was more than a real woman; she was also a model, an image for women to imitate and follow.


The Agentic Woman

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The Bible is not, properly speaking, a history book; rather, it is the highly edited story of the history of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. As such, the Bible is a book of "holy history" (German Heilsgeschichte). Women played a key part in this holy history, acting at crucial moments to determine the future of the Jewish people. Later Hebrew called them Imahot, the matriarchs; in contemporary English, one would call such a woman "the agentic woman."

Like the Eshet Hayil , the agentic woman is the emobdiment of competence -- full of vision, courage, and a willingness to act to accomplish her long-range goals. The difference is that the agentic woman acts in history. She acts to control the flow of God's relationship to the people. When Jewish history hangs in the balance, the agentic woman acts. There are many agentic woman in the biblical story. A few examples, though there are others:

Sarah, knowing that Abraham is the chosen one of holy history and recognizing she has not had children, gives her handmaiden to Abraham with the intention of having Hagar's son be hers by adoption and, hence, be the seed promised to Abraham. When, however, Sarah herself has a son, she realizes that the other child is not the real heir and acts to make that clear by expelling him and his mother (Gen. 16 and 21). [32]

Rebecca, mother of two, realizes that, again, the matter of succession in holy history is at stake. One child is obviously the spiritual heir; the other is not. So, Rebecca takes it upon herself to deceive her husband and to see to it that the overt blessing goes to the correct child (Gen. 27). [33]

Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, knows that she has an obligation to bear a child to his line so, when Judah refuses to let her marry his third son and bear a child through him, Tamar disguises herself as an available woman and conceives a child from her father-in-law. The text makes it clear that it is from this union that King David derives; hence, Tamar's role in the holy history (Gen. 38 with Ruth 4).

Shifra and Pu´a, the midwives in Egypt, defy the totalitarian government of Pharoah and allow Jewish babies to live (Ex. 1:15-20).

Deborah knows that men will fight the war she sees coming. But, since the leader won't go without her, she agrees to lead. Ya´el, the other woman in the story, realizes that God has given the enemy general into her hand and she kills him without hesitation (Ju. 4-5).

Ruth, and Naomi, know that they have land and seed that must be redeemed and, together, they act to implement that step. The narrator's hindsight makes it clear that these actions were of momentous import in the holy history of God and the people (Ruth).

Ritspa bat Aya, the concubine of Saul, refuses to let the corpses of the royal family remain exposed to the elements (II Sam. 3:3, 21).

Bathsheba, seduced by King David but having a promise that her son will rule after David dies, connives with the prophet to make sure her son, Solomon, will indeed have the throne. This is not simply a court intrigue; it is an active, agentic moving in Jewish history (I Kings 1).

Esther, the Jewish queen of the non-Jewish king, recognizes the danger to her people and intervenes in that holy history to undermine the wicked Haman and save her people (Esther).

The prophet, Jeremiah, understands that the dead matriarch, Rachel, is the one who will intervene to ease the pain and suffering of the people as they go into exile (Jer. 31:14). [34]

All these women are Imahot, agentic women. Like the Eshet Hayil , each is a manager, not only of her household but also of Jewish holy history. All became models in later Judaism for the agentic woman of holy history.

Avot is the term for the male counterpart to the Imahot. The Avot are men who are patriarchs, who act in the holy history of the Jewish people and God:

Abraham starts the peoplehood phase of the holy history by leaving his home and following his invisible God to a land chosen by that God. Abraham reinforces his place in the holy history by being willing to sacrifice his only son and the promised heir to that history.

Isaac earns his place by allowing himself to be almost sacrificed, setting an example of unparalleled piety and establishing himself as the intercessor par excellence.

Jacob earns his place in holy history by including all his sons in the line of the holy seed.

Moses becomes a key figure in the holy history by acting as God's agent to redeem the Jews from Egypt. And, then again, by acting as God's agent in giving them the Torah, the constitutional basis for the covenant that forms the holy history.

Some men act as warriors: David, Yiftah (Ju. 11), etc. Others act as nation builders: Solomon, Josaiah (II Kings 22), etc. Still others as prophets, priests, advisors, and so on. All these men are Avot, agentic men. Like the Gever, each is a manager, not only of his landholding but also of Jewish holy history. All became models in later Judaism for the agentic men of holy history.


The Lovers

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The Song of Songs is the biblical love song par excellence . The book is a collection of lyrical, erotic poems in which the woman lover wants her male lover. She wants his body. She sees him. She pursues him. Her call is romantic, erotic, sexual and yet not compulsively so. Her attention is directed toward him. She loves him. Similarly, the male lover wants his female lover. He sees her. He knows her body. He talks to her. He caresses her -- verbally and physically. True, he is stiffer than she but she draws him into her intimate world. He loves her.

The Hebrew root 'ahov ("love') occurs 248 times in the Tanakh: 201 times as a metaphor and 47 times expressing human love. Of those 47 occurrences, most describe a man loving (or not loving) his wife, or a parent loving a child. Two describe Michal's love for David. [35] Several describe the relationship between Jonathan and David; one describes Saul's love for David; and one describes Ruth's love for Naomi. Fully 38% of the occurrences of 'ahov, however, are in the Song of Songs and the woman speaks all but one of them. [36]

The words tell it all. The man in Song of Songs calls the woman ra´yati, "my lover, my beloved." Of the twelve occurrences of this root in the Tanakh, nine are in the Song of Songs. [37] The Ra´ya calls her man dodi, "my lover, my beloved." Of the twenty one occurrences in the Tanakh, nineteen are in the Song of Songs. [38] The Hebrew word for "love-making" is dodim and, of the nine occurrences, six are in the Song of Songs. [39] The Dod is, thus, the complement of the Ra´ya.

The contrast of Song of Songs with the rest of the Tanakh is startling. In the Song of Songs, there is no discussion of tum'a and tahara (purity and impurity) as it pertains to sexuality. The question of the woman being a nidda (a menstruating woman and hence forbidden to her lover) is not raised. The question of shikhvat zera´ (the emission of seed which renders impure) is not broached. The issue of gillui ´arayot (forbidden sexual relationships and, by derivation, anything that is sexually arousing) is not brought up. Nor is the rabbinic issue of yetser ha-ra´ (the evil impulse in its particularly sexual dimension). There is no reference to rape, incest, adultery, or fornication of any kind. In short, the Song of Songs has none of the ponderous, sin-and-temptation associations that sexual activity usually has in biblical and rabbinic literature.

There is also no discussion of kinyan (property) as it pertains to women in biblical and rabbinic culture in the Song of Songs. The issue of the male authority to whom the Ra´ya is subject is not raised. The issue of whether the sexual activity alluded to is licit is not brought up. The social and legal consequences of the activity of the lovers are not dealt with, though these matters occupy a good deal of biblical and rabbinic teaching and legislation about male-female relationships. There is no talk of marriage, of bride price, or of negotiation and no discussion of the exclusivity that sexual activity establishes in biblical and rabbinic law. In short, the Song of Songs has none of the weighty considerations of society, law, and social convention that sexual activity usually has in biblical and rabbinic literature.

There is also no discussion of children in the Song of Songs, in contrast to Genesis, Lamentations, II Isaiah, and other books of the Bible where descendants are the central motif. [40] Further, there is no discussion of child-raising problems, or of sibling rivalry which is a very central theme in much of biblical writing. There is also no trace of the burdens of elderly parents, or difficult in-laws, or inheritance and succession problems, or pressing community issues, or the political situation, or professional difficulties. In the Song of Songs one does not encounter problems with domestics, with business associates, and certainly not with the "other woman" -- be she a second or third wife, or a concubine. In short, family and familial issues are missing from the Song of Songs.

Furthermore, love-making in the Song of Songs is never an activity from which one is distracted, nor is it ever done perfunctorily or out of obligation. Sexual tension and interpersonal conflict between the lovers is completely missing.

There are, then, no Eshet Hayil motifs in the Song of Songs. All the virtues of the "woman of vigor" mentioned in Proverbs 31 -- efficient household management, competent mothering, exceptional wife-like behavior, virtuous sexual and ethical behavior -- are simply missing. The Eshet Hayil of Proverbs is independent, mature, competent. She exists in a sea of plenty which she creates and manages. The Ra´ya of the Song of Songs is what her man calls her "a lover, a beloved." She loves him and wants him intimately. The Dod, too, loves her and wants her intimately. Their love is romantic, erotic. It is love without responsibility. [41]

Reprise: The Ra´ya and the Dod [42]

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Three times the Ra´ya adjures her companions not to interrupt their lovemaking. The first is in 2:5-7:

Feed me raisin cakes. Bed me down in the apricots, [43]
for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head; his right caresses me.
I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles and by the deer of the field,
that you not interrupt or disturb love [44] until it is satisfied. [45]

The second time is in 3:3-5. The woman cannot sleep and gets up to find her beloved in the city streets where the guards stop her:

The guards who patrol the streets found me,
"Have you seen the one whom I love?"
I almost passed them by before I found the one whom I love.
I seized him and did not let him go
until I brought him to the house of my mother, [46]
to the room where I was conceived.
I adjure you ...

The third occurrence is in 8:1-4:

Would that you were a brother to me,
one who suckled the milk of my mother --
If I found you out of doors,
I could kiss you and no one would disparage me. [47]
I would lead you, bring you to the house of my mother.
You would teach me.
I would give you to drink of my spiced wine,
of the juice of my pomegranate.
His left hand is under my head; his right caresses me.
I adjure you ...

These passages, which give voice to the erotic, romantic dimension of love, are all spoken by the woman of the Song of Songs. In them, she wants him, she desires his body, and she gives her body freely to him. The passages are arranged in increasing erotic intensity. [48]

The Dod, the man in the Song of Songs, also has an erotic, romantic voice in which he joyfully acknowledges his own sensuality and that of his lover. One passage is 2:10-15:

Get up, my love, my beautiful one, and go forth.
For the fall has passed, the rainy season is over and gone.
The buds of the flowers have appeared on the earth,
the time of singing has arrived,
and the sound of the turtle dove can be heard in our land ...
Show me all of you. [49] Let me hear your voice.
For your voice is sweet and the sight of you is pleasing.
"Catch the foxes, the small foxes that damage our vineyards;
but our vineyard is in flower." [50]

Again, in 4:9-10, the man speaks his love:

You captured my heart, my sister, my bride.
You captured my heart with but one of your eyes, [51]
with but one knob on your neck. [52]
How beautiful is your lovemaking, [53] my sister, my bride!
How much better is your lovemaking than wine!
And the smell of your perfume than the scent of all spices!

Perhaps most telling is the description the lovers give of one another's bodies. The man describes her body three times (4:1-7; 6:4-7; and 7:2-7) and the woman describes his body once (5:10-16), though there are other fragmentary descriptions. Two selections deserve special attention. In response to the question of her companions, the woman describes her lover (5:10-17):

My lover is radiant and ruddy, distinguishable among thousands. [54]
His head is like pure gold; the ends of his hair are curls, dark as the raven.
His eyes are like doves in streams of fresh water
who bathe in milk and sit in full pools. [55]
His cheeks smell like a bed of spices, towers of ointments.
His lips look like lilies which drip wet myrrh.
His arms are like pillars of gold studded with topazes.
His loins [56] are like a column of ivory set with sapphires.
His thighs are like stakes of marble set in pure gold bases.
His appearance is like Mount Lebanon, like the choicest cedars.
All of him is sweetness. All of him is beauty.

The man responds in 7:2-7: [57]

How beautiful is the sound of your footsteps in their sandals, [58] noble one!
The hollows of your thighs are like small sculptures, [59]
the work of a craftsman.
Your navel [60] is like an overflowing cup, [61] never lacking in choice wine. [62]
Your belly is like a mound of wheat surrounded by lilies.
Your two breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle. [63]
Your neck is like a tower of ivory.
Your eyes are like the pools of Heshbon at the gate of Bat-Rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon that looks toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel. [64]
The thickness of your hair is like royal garments. [65]
-- The king is trapped in the rafters. [66] --
How beautiful you are, and how pleasing!
Love is in its joys.

The Song of Songs, then, is literature which radiates the joy of 'ahava (love) -- of flirting, of love-talk, and of love-making ( dodim) -- and all of it in remarkably restrained, if allusive, language. The Song of Songs is a text about feeling and expressing love. It is poetry in which experiencing and displaying love is of the essence, in which sex is an outgrowth of love. The Song of Songs is about 'ahava -- naive, touching, erotic, romantic love -- simple and direct, even in its "suffering" moments. The lovers know each other intimately. They desire one another. "Love is in its joys." What a contrast with Psalm 128 and Proverbs 31 and, indeed, with the rest of Scripture where purity, possession, and power are at stake, where virtue and responsibility rule.

Echoes of the Ra´ya

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As the Eshet Hayil , the ideal manager, and the agentic woman became central figures in biblical history and literature, so the Ra´ya, the erotic romantic lover, became an essential figure in the biblical imagination. The Ra´ya developed into the idealized image of the past and of the future. She became a wishful metaphor, a bearer of reminiscence and of hope.

Societies have a way of idealizing their pasts. From the troubled present, the past has a tendency to look more fulfilling. This happened in the prophets and in the wisdom writings. Jeremiah says it best, invoking images of erotic, romantic love but using them metaphorically and historically (Jer. 2:1-3):

The word [67] of the Lord came to me saying, "Go and proclaim in the ears of the Jerusalemites saying, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts: I have remembered in your favor the steadfast love of your youth, the love of your marriage, your following Me in the desert, in a land that was not cultivated. Holy is Israel to the Lord, the first of His grain. All who eat of it will be guilty, evil will befall them.' The speech of the Lord."

As societies idealize their pasts, they also idealize their futures. From a troubled present, the future, fueled by hope, also has a tendency to look more fulfilling. This, too, happened in biblical literature in the prophets. Isaiah says it best, invoking images of erotic, romantic love but using them metaphorically and eschatologically (Is. 62:1-5):

For the sake of Zion, I will not keep silent; for the sake of Jerusalem, I will not be quiet; until her righteousness shall shine like a great light and her salvation burn as a torch ... "You will not be called any longer 'the deserted one' and, of your land, it will no longer be said 'it is desolation.' But you will be called 'she is my desire' and, of your land, it will be said 'it is been fructified,' [68] for the Lord desires you and your land will be fructified. As a young man has intercourse with a young woman, so shall your sons have intercourse with you, and your God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. [69]

And again, using the contrasting metaphors of the abandoned, rejected woman, Isaiah writes (Is. 54:1-8):

"Sing, barren one who has not given birth! Break forth in song! Rejoice, one who has not had birthpangs! For the children of the desolate one will be more numerous than those of the married one," [70] says the Lord ... "For the one who has intercourse with you is the One Who has made you, the Lord of hosts is His Name; and your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called the 'God of all the earth.' As an abandoned woman, as one who is sad in spirit, God has called you. Your God has said, 'Can the wife of one's youth be rejected?' For a short moment, I abandoned you, but I will gather you in with great mercy. In the foam of rage, I hid My Face from you for a moment, but I will have mercy on you with infinite love," says your Redeemer, the Lord.

Jeremiah takes this a step further, rooting the image of the future in the image of the past, thereby interweaving the erotic and romantic with both the historical and the eschatological (Jer. 31:1-5):

Thus said the Lord: "The people who survived the sword have found favor in My eyes. Go and comfort Israel." "From afar God appeared to me." [71] "I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore, I have drawn you [to Me] in steadfast love. I will build you up and you will be rebuilt, young woman of Israel. You will decorate your instruments [72] and go forth in playful dance. You will again plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria -- the planter will plant and have the use thereof ..." [73]

Hosea, the first of the prophets, after a long attack on Israel as the adulterous wife, comforts her with an erotic, romantic invocation of the end of days (Hos. 2:16-25):

"Therefore, I will seduce her, take her to the desert, and speak unto her heart. I will give her vineyards from there and turn the valley of ugliness into a door of hope. She will be answered there as in the days of her youth, as the day she went up out of the land of Egypt. On that day -- the speech of the Lord -- you will call me 'my Man' and you will no longer call Me 'my Master' ... I will espouse you to Me forever. I will espouse you to Me with righteousness and fairness, with steadfast love and with mercy. I will espouse you to Me in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord ... And I will have mercy on the one known as No-Mercy and will say to the one known as Not-My-People, 'You are My people' and they will say 'my God.'"

In yet another context, the figure of the erotic woman was evoked in the Bible. The Book of Proverbs echoes erotic, romantic love, though pointing out that this kind of love is dangerous when practiced with the Isha Zara, the woman who is the stranger (Prov. 5:15-20):

Drink waters out of your own cistern; and running water out of your own well. Let your fountains gush outward; let rivers of water be in your streets. [But] let them be yours only; let not strangers be part of you. May your fountain be blessed, [74] and have joy from the woman of your youth -- a hind in making love, a dove full of grace. May her breasts water you at all times and may you have rapture with her always. Then, why should you have rapture with the stranger and embrace a foreign bosom?!

The Ra´ya, the woman as lover, thus, had a long and varied career in biblical literature. She became not only a figure for genuine erotic and romantic love but also the image of the faithful people in the edenic past as well as of the restored people in the eschatological future. [75]


The Isha and the Ba´al

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The word i'sha means "a woman" and, in biblical law, women bear certain responsibilities as women and as people.The social status of a woman, however, was defined in terms of her relationship to the authority of a man: her father (sometimes, her brothers or uncles), then her husband, and finally her eldest son. Even a woman who is divorced, widowed, or simply mature and unmarried was defined in relationship to the men around her. A whole series of terms that specify that relationship: bat (daughter), betula (virgin), kalla (bride), 'eshet 'ish (married woman), pilegesh (concubine, i.e., an unmarried woman having a regular non-marital relationship with a married or unmarried man), nidda (woman in her menstrual period; she is forbidden to her husband), hara (pregnant woman), yoleda / yoledet (a woman giving birth), 'em (mother), ´aqara (barren married woman), gerusha (divorced woman), 'almana (widow), zona / qedesha (unencumbered woman, i.e., a woman not under the authority of any particular man), [76] and no'efet (adulteress). [77] There are a series of well-articulated, strict rules that govern women in each of these states.

The man in this legal worldview is either a biological relative or the Ba´al, the husband. His Isha is under his authority because she is be´ulat ba´al, a woman who has been possessed by the sexual act of her male through which he becomes her ba´al, her master. His act of sexual possession creates the rights and privileges that go with his authority as Ba´al.

From this sexual-social-legal relationship derives the place of man and woman in the Tanakh. Indeed, the patriarchal order is a function of this heirarchy. Everyone has his and her place. The rules are clear. If the Isha is vigorous in fulfilling her tasks as a married woman, she is an Eshet Hayil and, if the man is energetic in accomplishing his responsibilities, he is a Gever, as noted above. If, however, a woman is derelict in her duty, there are strong penalties to be paid, though a sinful man, except in the case of adultery, is not held to such a high standard. The very clarity of the sexual-social-legal heirarchy creates several categories of women who are dangerous, that is, women who, by virtue of their not being under the authority of a man, are a potential threat to the stability of the system. These women, and the echoes they generate, also require some attention.

The Isha Zara: The Woman Who is the Stranger

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In an important article in 1989, Carol Newsom dealt with the first nine chapters of the Book of Proverbs. [78] Concentrating on the mode of discourse, she pointed out that the text contains several voices. There is the voice of the father urging his son to follow in the father's ways, which are also the ways of wisdom. There is the depiction of the enemies whom the son must avoid. Finally, there is the voice of the threats and promises. Furthermore, in the struggle to control the definition of such terms as "righteousness," "justice," and "equity" as well as their negative counterparts, the appeal is not so much to reason as to authority. "Allegiance precedes understanding ... ('accept my words, treasure up my strictures, incline your ear, extend your heart')." [79] Hence, fault or sin result from recalcitrance in the face of legitimate authority while goodness comes from obedience and submission to that authority.

The enemy in Proverbs 1-9 is the person who offers an alternate authority, who tempts the son into a non-hierarchical understanding of power. In this, there are two figures. There is the wicked man who tempts the son with easy money and power: "Go with us and we will wait in ambush for them; we will wait for the completely innocent. We will swallow them alive like death, like the naïve ones who go down to the pit. All [types of] precious wealth we will find; we will fill our houses with loot. Cast your lot with us; we will have one common pocketbook" (Prov. 1:11-14). Or who tempts him with conspiracy: "He winks with his eye, scrapes his feet, and points with his finger, having rebellion in his heart, devising evil all the time, and sowing discord" (Prov. 6:13-14).

The other enemy is the quintessential other of patriarchal discourse: woman, particularly the strange woman, the unencumbered woman, and the adulteress. The Isha Zara, the strange woman, is the one who does not belong and who is, therefore, a sexual temptation. The text is clear (Prov. 5:3-20):

Indeed, the lips of the stranger drip honey; her tongue is smoother than oil. [80]
Ultimately, she is as bitter as poison, as sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet extend below to death; her insteps support hell -- [81]
Lest you clear a path of life [toward her] -- her roads wander who-knows-where.
Now, sons, listen to me; do not veer from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her; do not draw near to the door of her house.
Lest you give your wealth to others; your years to the cruel one.
Lest strangers be satiated with your power, and your toil go to a foreign house. [82]
You will regret it in the end; when your flesh and body are withered.
You will say, "How did I reject instruction? How did my heart despise reproof?
I did not listen to my teachers; I did not lend my ear to those who taught me.
I was almost in total evil, openly and publicly."
Drink water out of your own cistern ... [83]
Then, why should you have rapture with the stranger and embrace a foreign bosom?! [84]

The shorter text is equally unambiguous (Prov. 2:16-19):

To save you from the strange woman;
from the foreign woman whose words are smooth.
Who deserts the hero of her youth; and forgets the covenant of her god.
Whose house bends over into death; whose roads reach to the shades.
All who go in unto her never return; they never get to the paths of life.

The Isha Zara, then, is a woman who is not a member of the mishpaha, the clan; she may be a non-Hebrew woman, local or from abroad. She is dangerous because she is sexually active and attractive to the son (and probably to the father, too). Her threat to the patriarchal family lies, ostensibly, in the fact that she will consume the family wealth and power. In a deeper sense, however, the Isha Zara also represents sexual freedom and, hence, a challenge to the patriarchal authority and familial structure. Newsom puts it well: [85] "The strange woman is the devouring woman, for 'All who go in unto her never return' ... she figures as the father's chief rival for the allegiance of the son ... The point at which the horizontal speech of the woman's sexuality comes into conflict with the vertical speech of the father's authority is precisely at the point of generational transition, when the boy becomes a man ... The maturation of the son ... is the moment at which the patriarchal family will be successfully replicated or threatened."

Within the patriarchal discourse of the Book of Proverbs, "[i]nvoking the strange woman as a threat provides a basis for solidarity between father and son. Her difference makes available a shared sameness for father and son that bridges the generational divisions ..." By extension, all patriarchal discourse has an Isha Zara. Indeed, what makes these chapters "work" is, as Newsom points out, that the speaker in these chapters is the father and that "[a]ll readers of this text, whatever their actual identities, are called upon to take up the subject position of son in relation to an authoritative father. Through its imitation of a familiar scene of interpellation, the text continually reinterpellates its readers ... This is not a landed aristocrat speaking, not a senior bureaucrat, nor a member of the urban middle class, or a disenfranchised intellectual but 'your' father." [86]

The Zona: The Unencumbered Woman

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In another important article written in 1989, Tikva Frymer-Kensky [87] drew a contrast between the polarized view of women in the Greek world that even allowed some classic authors to write about a "race of women" [88] and the unified view of women in the Hebrew Bible in which the goals of women are no different than those of men: to be loyal to the their (husbands') families, to be desirous of having children and to be occupied with their welfare, and to be concerned for the common good and peace of the people. In achieving these goals, women were as active and aggressive as men, though with different strategies and techniques. These latter involved the use of "indirect power," but power nonetheless. Frymer-Kensky then goes on to describe Inana, a prominent figure in ancient Near Eastern mythology: [89]

She, who has a great variety of powers and roles, nevertheless does not fit any of the niches that society has provided for its women. As a result, she is restless and seeks additional power and prominence ... But her freedom as the unencumbered woman is certainly a major part of it, for she is a woman 'on the loose.' At least by Old Babylonian times, this was not what one expected from properly married women, who were expected to leave their family house only on legitimate errands. The one who goes out ... is equated with 'the prostitute' ... In her lack of encumbrances, Inana lives essentially the same existence as young men. Like them she is called 'hero.' Like them, and even more than them [sic], she loves warfare and seeks lovers. She is a woman in a man's life, free to be the quintessential femme fatale.... Inana's freedom from domestic encumbrances and the restlessness that it engenders may also account in part for the ferocious energy with which she confronts gods and humans.... She is dangerous, fearsome, and threatening by her freedom, and yet appealing and attractive at the same time. Unpreoccupied by domestic pursuits, she is free to be the ultimate femme fatale.

This description of Inana is the description of the Zona, the unencumbered woman of the Hebrew Bible. Such a woman must be free of patriarchal authority and she must be forthrightly seeking a man or men. Such a woman may be a professional prostitute (i.e., one who is paid) but that is not necessary. Thus, a gerusha (a divorced woman), or an 'almana , (a widow), or even a penuya,[90] (an unmarried mature woman) could be seen as a Zona though, to be sure, the usual divorced woman, widow, or unmarried mature woman did not behave like a Zona. We must also bear in mind that, being under no man's authority, the freedom of the unencumbered woman is recognized by biblical law and her sexual activity is not punishable. [91] The Zona, as the source of extra-institutional sex, thus, is a danger to the stability of patriarchal power and the family structure that it creates and supports.

The texts are quite clear. The following passages invoke the Zona: Dina's brothers are outraged that their sister was treated like one; Judah goes in search of one; the people go to the Moabite women that way; Joshua's spies go to Rahab; Samson goes to one; Yiftah is the son of one; the women who have the dispute about the dead babies are called Zonot.[92] The law provides a general prohibition against turning one's daughters into one and stipulates that a priest may not marry one; that a bride found not to be a virgin is called one; and that professional fees of a Zona cannot be used as an offering in the sanctuary. [93] Nonetheless, the practice of zenut was apparently rather widespread; there were even children who served sexually. [94] In each of these cases, the woman is not married or otherwise encumbered by the authority of a male figure. She is available and sexually active and, sometimes but not always, paid.

The echoes of the Zona are equally clear, for this kind of unencumbered sexual activity became a metaphor for serious improper behavior. Thus, the people are said to act like a Zona in going after other gods or after other nations; Jerusalem and Zion are accused of playing the Zona; one can be led to act like one by one's eyes; even the land is said to act like a Zona.[95]

 The No'efet: The Adulteress

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The worst kind of Zona is the woman who is married and acts like a Zona, that is, a woman who is under the authority of a man and acts as if she is not. The term Zona occurs 136 times in the Hebrew Bible; fully 52% of them are in Ezekiel and Hosea where the context is sexual activity by a married woman with a man other than her husband. This woman, however, is really a No'efet, an adulteress. [96] The law prescribes death to the adulteress and the adulterer (Lev. 20:10 and by implication Ex. 20:14 and Dt. 5:17; see also Hos. 4:2; Jer. 7:9). [97]

It is in its echoes that the impact of the No'efet / Zona is most felt, for it is she who becomes the image par excellence for lack of faithfulness to the sexual-social-order of the Isha and the Ba´al. Indeed, the image of the No'efet is broadened and she becomes the chief metaphor used to describe the people's unfaithfulness to God. The most lurid descriptions and the worst excoriations are reserved for her while the extra-legal punishment meted out to her, in the mind of the biblical writers, is shocking, bordering on the pornographic. Ezekiel, taking the No'efet as metaphor, makes the strongest statement (see below). However, the Book of Proverbs does not mince words either (Prov. 7:6-27):

I looked out of the window of my house and I saw the fools and perceived the boys, young and lacking understanding, passing in the street at her corner, walking toward her house, at twilight and at night in the dark. And behold a woman went to meet him attired like a Zona and wily in heart. She is tumultuous and rebellious; her feet do not reside in her house. Sometimes she is out, sometimes on the streets, waiting on each corner. She seized him and kissed him and, being brazen, said, "I owed sacrifices and vows; today I have paid them. Therefore, I have come out to greet you, to seek your face, and I have found you. I have covered my couch with coverlets of the best Egyptian linen. I have anointed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Let us go and be sated with love-making until dawn; let us be blissful in making love. For no man is at home; he has gone on a long trip." She misleads him with her great skill; with the smoothness of her tongue she leads him astray. He goes after her, suddenly, like an ox led to the slaughter ...

Now listen, my sons, to me; pay attention to to words of my mouth. Do not let your heart be deceived to follow her ways; do not err in her paths. For she has felled many men who are [now] dead, and mighty were all those she has killed. Her house is the path to hell; it goes down to the rooms of death.

The prophet, Hosea too, uses provocative, even offensive, language in envisioning the violent response to the metaphoric No'efet (Hos. 2:11-15):

Therefore, I will return and I will take back My wheat in its time and My wine in its season. I will snatch back My wool and My linen which was to cover her personal parts. Then, I will reveal her disgrace to the eyes of her lovers, and no man will be able to save her from My hand. I shall cause all her joy to cease: her holidays, her new moons, and her sabbaths; all her appointed moments. I will devastate her vineyards and fig trees, of which she said, "They are a gift to me, given by my lovers" and I shall make them wild like a forest, and the beasts of the fields shall eat them.

The language evoked by the No'efet / Zona is brutal; indeed, it is violent -- in its description of the acts and attitudes of this woman and, perhaps even more so, in the depiction of the chastisement that is due her. [98] What engendered this passionate, violent response to the dangerous woman, especially to the No'efet?

Tikva Frymer-Kensky notes that women in the Hebrew Bible do not use sex or beauty in order to achieve power, status, or security, [99] though they do seek sex as such. She implies that some biblical women simply want to be like Inana, unencumbered. [100] Carol Newsom has also proposed that the No'efet endangers the very fabric of patriarchal identity and society by the fact that she, a woman who belongs to one man and hence is not free sexually, acts as if she were sexually free by making herself sexually available to others. This threatens the institution of patriarchal marriage and, hence, personal and social stability: "Because there is considerable subjective investment in one's own proper wife ('your own cistern, your own well, yours only'), the selfhood of individual males and the solidarity of the community is severely threatened by adultery." [101] Reading with Newsom and Frymer-Kensky, one could say that it is the very "unencumberedness" of the acts of the Zona that make her dangerous and, a fortiori, render the No'efet even more dangerous, for it is the No'efet who insists on her unencumberedness when she is actually encumbered. She is not challenging the system; she is defying it. The Zona may be the woman who has escaped patriarchal control but the No'efet is the one who is struggling to get free of it, who is arrogating the right to be free when she isn't.

The virulence of the imagery, however, is so intense that there ought to be another explanation. Carol Delaney, working in an anthropological and psychoanalytic context studying the Akeda, the story of the binding of Isaac, suggests that that story became the founding story of the idea of holy seed. The Akeda is not a story about the limitation of child sacrifice; Abraham was willing to do just that. Nor is it a story about faith as such. Rather, it is the story about obedience to God and, more deeply, about the holy seed that is the reward for that obedience. Abraham is first circumcised; then he successfully plants the holy seed; and, then, he is willing to sacrfice it. In return for that obedience, he receives God's personal oath [102] that his seed will be eternal; that is, by being willing to sacrifice his son, Abraham becomes the human channel for God's holy seed. Delaney's arguments for this are many.

Commenting on the prohibition of sacrificing children to Molech, Delaney writes: [103]

At issue [in the prohibition of sacrificing a child to Molech] is the fate of "seed." It is as wrong for men to give it away to whores or to Molech as it is for women to play the whore and bring alien seed into the pure community. In either case, God's chosen is sullied; the message was meant to keep the lines pure and that demanded something of both men and women.

Discussing circumcsion, Delaney notes: [104]

More is going on with regard to circumcision than merely spilling of blood. When circumcision is first mentioned in Genesis 17, the context is not sacrifice but fatherhood and generativity. The sign of the covenant is inscribed only on males, and on the very member that is imagined as the "fountain of life," or at least the means through which life is transmitted. It is a "cut on the male sex organ: a partial castration analogous to an offering, which in return will bring God's blessing upon the organ that ensures the transmission of all life and thereby the survival of the Hebrew people."

Through submission to God, the father becomes the channel through which God's creative power flows to earth ... the power of the father derives from God ... Genesis, then, can be seen as the legitimating document for this theory of procreation, for Genesis, in particular, is concerned with genealogy, paternity, patriline, and the right "seed," through which God's line will continue.

Commenting on fatherhood as the criterion for masculinity, she writes: [105]

Just because the notion of masculinity has involved a notion of male generativity, this does not mean that any particular man has to become a father in order to exercise his power. Rather, every man is imagined as endowed with the ability to produce seed, and it is this ability that bestows maleness with life-giving, authoritative, god-like power.

It seems to me that Delaney is correct that holy seed and the fathering thereof is at the center of the understanding of masculinity, paternity, and meaning in the biblical text. It seems to me, too, that she is correct that circumcision and the Akeda combine to make obedience to the F/father -- for Isaac too must be obedient -- the earthly key to the proper succession of the holy seed. But what does this have to do with the danger posed by the Isha Zara, the Zona, and th e No'efet? Or with the Eshet Hayil, the Ra´ya, and the Isha? That is, what does holy seed have to do with the image of women in the Hebrew Bible?

First, the idea of the centrality of holy seed is itself rooted in a monogenetic theory of procreation; that is, in a theory of reproduction in which "the male role is construed as the creative one; he is the one who 'begets' and by means of his 'seed' imparts the life-giving essence that defines the child. The female role is to nurture the seed-child implanted in her and to give birth." [106] This monogenetic theory of procreation held sway in biology for millenia and, even though modern science has clearly established that women give 50% of the DNA and hence are equally "creators" of life, the monogenetic theory remains as a central underlying motif of all three biblical religions. [107]

There are theological implications to this: "The power to create life implies the concomittant power to destroy. God both creates and destroys. If He chooses, He has the right to destroy what He has created. Indeed, that is the pervasive threat in Genesis and in the Hebrew Bible more generally, as well as in [the New Testament and] the Qur'an. Men, with the help of God, were thought to bestow life; analogously, they were also given power over it ... In the natural world that He created, that creativity is channeled through males and becomes part of the definition of masculinity. The religious aspects of the story lend an aura that naturalizes patriarchal power; it is seen as part of the natural order, an order that is, however, ordained by God." [108]

The centrality of holy seed with its roots in the monogenetic theory of procreation, taken together with the divinely sanctioned, naturalized view of male power, means that the Isha is the woman who acts as the receptacle for the holy seed and as the recipient of male authority. Obedience is her virtue, being lower on the hierarchy than her man, though he, too, must be obedient to Him Who is higher still. Abraham does not, therefore, have to consult Sarah, or Isaac, about the intended sacrifice. The Isha follows her Ba´al[109] while the place of the Ra´ya in this system is that of a metaphorical woman – the idealized erotic, romantic lover and the idealized historical and eschatological woman.

Second, the centrality of holy seed in the biblical worldview makes paternity a major concern. Knowing that the child is yours is indispensable; otherwise, it is contaminated seed and cannot come into the community of the holy people. The child of an adulterous (or incestuous) relationship is a mamzer and such a child cannot be a member of the community. [110] This concern is called by Delaney and others "anxiety over paternity and legitimacy." [111] It is this anxiety which generates the "stringent protection of the marital bond." [112] It is this anxiety which allows the text to speak of a married woman as be´ulat ba´al, a woman ( Isha) who is possessed by the sexual act of her male through which he becomes her Ba´al, her master. If Delaney is correct, it is this anxiety that produces the fear and danger that surround the Isha Zara, the Zona, and especially the No'efet , for each of these women is the very embodiment of the opposite of holy seed. Each is the source of wasted seed, of misplaced seed. [113] In the case of the No'efet, there is actually impure seed that is brought into the house of the Ba´al, the pro-creative substitute of God on earth. The No'efet is, therefore, the most dangerous woman and the one treated most severely -- in law and, even more so, in metaphor. [114]

Textual Reprise: Ezekiel 16

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This typology of woman is too clean, too neat. In the texts, the Eshet Hayil, the Ra´ya, and the Isha, as well as the Isha Zara, the Zona, and the No'efet overlap; they flow into one another. No passage shows this more clearly than Ezekiel, chapter 16, one of the longest chapters in the Tanakh. The prophet begins with a graphic version of the Ra´ya in her metaphorical, historical form (Ezek. 16:1-14): [115]

The word of the Lord came to me saying: Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations. Say: Thus says God, the Lord, to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were from the land of the Canaanites -- your father was an Emorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, on the day you were born, your umbilical cord was not cut, you were not washed clean in water, you were not salted, and you were not swaddled. No eye was set upon you to do any of these things, to have mercy on you. You were thrown into the field in the filth of your being on the day you were born. But I passed by you and I saw you rolling in your blood and I said to you, "Live by your blood. Live by your blood." [116]

So I caused you to grow as the grass of the field, and you grew and increased, and you became a beauty among beauties. Your breasts became firm and your hair grew, but you were still naked and bare. [117] I passed by you and saw that the time of love-making had come. So I spread my garment over you, covering your nakedness, and I swore to you and entered into a covenant with you -- the speech of the Lord, God -- and you were Mine. I washed you ... annointed you with oil ... dressed you ... gave you jewelery ... and fed you, and you became very beautiful and were worthy of royalty ...

The prophet, then, slips into the metaphor of the Zona / No'efet , using very strong language (Ezek. 16:15-34):

But you put your trust in your beauty and acted like a Zona concerning your name, pouring out your whorings [118] on anyone who passed, whoever he might be. You took of your clothes and used them to make colorful platforms and you whored on them, doing things that have not, and will not be done. You took your glorious jewelery -- My gold and My silver which I had given you -- and you made phalluses and you whored with them too, taking your lace and covering them with it and setting My oil and My perfumes before them ... And, with all your abominations and whorings, you did not remember the days of your youth when you were naked and bare, rolling in your blood.

Then, after all the wickedness you had done -- woe unto you, the speech of the Lord, God -- you built an eminent place, making a platform on every corner. At every crossroad, you built your platform and you desecrated your beauty, spreading your legs for every passerby, multiplying your whorings. You whored with your Egyptian neighbors who have large members, multiplying your whoring with them to anger Me ... with the Philistines who were ashamed of your lewd way ... with the Syrians for lack of satiation and still you were not satiated ... How downtrodded is your heart -- the speech of the Lord, God -- yet you did all these things, the acts of an arrogant Zona woman ... you, the adulteress ( ha-Isha ha-Mena'afet ) who takes strangers in place of her man!

All whores get gifts but you gave your gifts to your lovers, bribing them in your whorings to come unto you from all over. The opposite of women happened to you in your whorings: they did not whore after you and, when you gave them gifts, they did not give you gifts. You were the reverse. [119]

The crime of the Zona / No'efet is so threatening that the prophet reserves his most graphic language for the chastisement that will be inflicted upon her (Ezek. 16:35-43):

Therefore, Zona, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord, God: Because you have poured out your filth, and your personal parts have been exposed in your whorings with your lovers ... I will gather all your lovers to whom you were good and whom you loved, together with those you hated; I will gather them from around you, and I will expose your personal parts to them and they will see all your personal parts ... I will give you into their hands and they will break up your eminent places and smash your platforms. Then, they will strip off your clothing; they will take your jewelery; and they will leave you naked and bare. They will gather a crowd against you; they will cast stones upon you; and they will pierce you with their swords. They will set your houses on fire; they will execute punishments against you in the presence of many women. Thus, will I cause you to cease being a Zona, and you will never again give gifts. My fury against you will die down; My jealousy will depart from you; and I will no longer be angry with you. Because you did not remember the days of your youth and you angered Me with all these, I have surely brought your ways down on your head -- the speech of the Lord, God -- for have you not committed this lewdness in all your abominations?

The prophet goes on to compare Jerusalem to her sisters, Samaria and Sodom, both of which have done evil and have been punished, though he emphasizes that their evil was less than that of Jerusalem (Ezek. 16:44-58). The prophet, then, concludes with a promise of renewal, evoking the Ra´ya in her metaphorical, eschatological form (Ezek. 16:59-63):

For thus says the Lord, God: You have been acted upon as you have acted, despising an oath and breaking a covenant. [Still] I will remember My covenant with you from the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant ... I will establish My covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord ...

The literature on woman as victim in the Hebrew Bible is vast, beginning with Phylis Trible's classic study, Texts of Terror (Philadelphia, Fortress Press: 1984) , and continuing in the work of other feminist biblical scholars, some of whom have been cited in this essay. [120] The list is long: Hagar, Leah (?), Dina, the daughter of Yiftah, the unnamed concubine, Batsheva (?), Tamar the sister of Absalom, Michal the wife of David (?), various "witches," the woman prisoner, and the metaphoric women: Jerusalem and Zion. It remains only to mention the numberless women who, reading these texts of terror through the ages, have themselves been terrorized. The stories, laws, metaphors, and moral teachings of the Tanakh sweep us up in their grasp – for better but also for worse – and texts of terror terrorize. The Hebrew Bible is, indeed, an inter-text, a text one reads and is affected by.


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Bearing in mind that this typology only includes categories selected by me and that it is incomplete, [121] I would like to return to Carol Delaney's general insight: "Once these ideas, structures, and values have been internalized psychologically, rationalized philosophically, codified legally, and embedded in institutions such as marriage and the family, the military, and the church, they become part of the reality we live." [122] While Delaney writes this of the Akeda, it is just as true of the images of women in the Hebrew Bible. These images are internalized, rationalized, and institutionalized, and then they become part of the ideological, value-laden air we breathe. They become part of our subconscious expectations of others and ourselves.

This realization generates the following questions: Do I affirm, modify, or reject the images of women in the Hebrew Bible? Do I assent to the Isha / Ba´al paradigm? Do I accept the Eshet Hayil as the ideal woman? Do I affirm the fantasy of the Ra´ya as the erotic, romantic lover and as the historical and eschatological woman? What shall I do with the Isha Zara, the stranger? With the Zona, the unencumbered woman? And with the No'efet, the adulteress? Do I accept these images and make them my own? How does the non-Jewish spouse fit here? How does the woman who chooses not to marry fit into these images? How does the lesbian woman, with or without partner, fit?

The images of women in the Bible stand in sharp contrast to the images of contemporary women. As has been broadly noted, the widespread availability and acceptability of the contraceptive pill allows greater freedom of sexual activity. The broadly accepted freedom of women and men to choose temporary sexual partners has the same effect. The increasing economic independence and educational level of women also contributes to their freer status. Indeed, the general atomization of kinship groups in western society reinforces the freedom of individuals to do as they please with respect to marriage and family. The value of formal marriage has declined with signficant numbers of people living together without the blessing of established religion or law. The freedom to dissolve formal marriage is reflected in a divorce-rate approaching 50%. The increasing recognition of homosexual relationships as a valid option for adult living also generates a freedom not envisaged in the biblical texts and images. If the institution of the small family farm, the craftsman, and the small merchant defined the competences of women in the biblical period, it is the institution of the entrepreneur in the capitalist enterprise that defines that competence of modern woman and man, generating a more individualistic and freer view of accepted activities and relationships, especially in the area of marriage and family.

By contrast, the institution of Eshet Hayil - Gever / Isha - Ba´al, together with its related concepts, by contrast, was sustained by the concept of contract or covenant. The relationships were contractual agreements, freely entered into Rooted in exclusivity, they also allowed the formation of a broader covenant encompassing several generations. The Isha - Ba´al marriage created and enabled the responsibility of the couple to the preceding and future generations. While there were certainly orphaned persons or childless couples, the principle of the contractual relationship based in exclusivity, which enabled the sustained family characterized biblical life. This concept generated, and was supported by, a theology of covenant in which society and even God sanctioned the contractual, covenantal nature of marriage. The idea of covenant was, indeed, the primary metaphor describing the relationship between God and the people.

The atomized, individualistic understanding of human existence that grows out of, and at the same time informs, the modern world generates greater individual freedom but it also generates greater existential alienation. The modern world atomizes us, for better and for worse. By contrast, the intergenerational understanding of human existence that grows out of, and at the same time informs, biblical existence generates greater existential integration. The Tanakh links us generationally, for better and for worse.

I, for one, think that the value of the multi-generational family is one that ought to be preserved in today's world as an antidote to the existential atomization and alienation of modern living. Intergenerational relationships orient us in life in a very basic way. They create meaning and serve as a source of comfort, even as they require a great deal of effort and work. While no one, I think, would -- or perhaps, could -- reverse the flow of history and return to the marginal existence of biblical times and to the rules and forms of its institutions, it seems to me that the institution of Isha - Ba´al / Eshet Hayil - Gever, in its covenantal conceptuality, remains an institution worth preserving.

Some of the rules and forms of the biblical covenantal marriage will have to be changed to accommodate to the social ideals of the modern world. Thus, room will have to be made for stable same sex relationships in the context of building multi-generational families. Thus, too, room will have to be made for temporary pre-marital relationships. I do not think that my view will allow for permanent non-intergenerational relationships. Thus, people who consciously choose not to have children and people who consciously choose not to care for their parents fall outside my understanding of the purpose of the modern understanding of marriage. Further, while I think that the exclusivity of the Isha - Ba´al / Eshet Hayil - Gever relationship requires continued use of the various categories of dangerous women I have described, I think room will have to be made for the occasional sinner, that is, for the partner, male or female, who violates the covenant. [123] I think, too, that the rituals that form the Isha - Ba´al / Eshet Hayil - Gever relationship may need to be changed. Various efforts have been taken in this direction already. [124] Ritual, however, is among the most conservative elements in human culture and it may be that formal change is not really necessary.

Finally, covenant in biblical thought grows out of, and is rooted in, law. The whole concept is set in the context of enforceability. While a certain amount of enforceable law is necessary to describe the boundaries of covenant, it seems to me that, today, covenant must be much more rooted in continuing informed consent. The law should be the outer perimeter of covenant; will should be its center and functioning axis. Following this line of thought, those dimensions of covenantal marriage which serve as a trope for assertion of power over the other must also be rejected.

The subject of the romantic ideal in everyday life, as well as in its metaphorical sense in history and eschatology, is an easier subject to accommodate in the modern world. I agree that everyone, including moderns, need to have a romantic ideal even, and especially, if the reality of their everyday lives does not conform to that ideal. Dreams sustain us. This is true metaphorically, too. Religious life needs a vision of the past, knowing it is romanticized, and it needs a vision of the future, knowing it too is romanticized. What would we be if we did not have the dream of world peace, of a better life than the one we see around us? The Ra´ya and the Dod will certainly live on, and should do so.

The question, why is there a sudden resurgence of violent imagery against women in classical prophecy, continues to be a conundrum for me. It is, indeed, the case that the return of the erotic, both in its historical and eschatological forms as well as in its vituperant forms, is prominent in classical prophecy. For those of us brought up in Protestant culture, this is very difficult to confront because it is the prophets who taught us that morality and ethics take precedence over organized religion and even over the power of the state. The classical prophets, thus, are our "heroes" and yet here, clearly, they are also the source of substantial mysogynist imaging and preaching. So, while I affirm the historical and eschatological dreams, I disaffirm the violent, mysogynist imagery that grew up with them. And I continue to ponder the question of why these two phenomena are so closely linked.

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[1] Appeared in Marriage, Sex, and Family in Judaism, ed. M. Broyde (Lanham, MA, Rowman and Littlefield: 2005) 15-60 . I am indebted to my colleagues, particularly Michael Broyde, John Witte, and Deborah Greniman, for their intelligent and sensitive response to earlier drafts of this essay.

[2] C. Delaney, Abraham on Trial: The Social Legacy of Biblical Myth (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press: 1998) 20, 24.

[3] Delaney (30, 156) notes that changing the word "seed" to "children" or "progeny" forces the loss of the overbearingly masculine intention of the text. One could argue that changing the gendered pronouns when referring to God does the same: it diminshes the overwhelmingly male dimension of God in the sacred text. With this, I reverse my previous practice of using egalitarian language when referring to (but not addressing) God.

[4] D. Blumenthal, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Louisville, KY, Westminster / John Knox: 1993) 57.

[5] For a comprehensive list of individual women's names and of terms relating to women in the Tanakh and the New Testament, see C. Meyers, et al., Women in Scripture (Boston, Houghton Mifflin: 2000).

[6] "Tanakh" is the Hebrew term for what some Christians call the "Old Testament." Since that term cannot serve for Jews, many Christians now use the term the "Hebrew Bible." I will use both "Hebrew Bible" and "Tanakh."

[7] The most comprehensive study I have seen is L. Stager, "The Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 260 (November 1985) 1-35. For the data on women, the four best studies I have seen are by Carol Meyers: "'To Her Mother's House,'" The Bible and the Politics of Exegesis: Essays in Honor of N. K. Gottwald, ed. D. Jobling, et al. (Cleveland, OH, The Pilgrim Press: 1991) 39-51; "Everyday Life: Women in the Period of the Bible," The Women's Bible Commentary, ed. C. Newsom and S. Ringe ( Louisville, KY, Westminster / John Knox: 1992) 244-51; "The Family in Early Israel," Families in Ancient Israel, ed. L. Perdue, et al. (Louisville, KY, Westminster / John Knox: 1997) 1-47; and "Having Their Space and Eating There Too: Bread Production and Female Power in Ancient Israelite Households," Nashim, 5 (Fall: 2002) 14-44.

[8] "It has been calculated that it took about one hour to prepare four fifths of a kilogram of flour. Daily consumption of flour has been estimated at about half a kilogram per person. Therefore, it would have taken approximately three hours of work each day to provide edible grain for six people" (Meyers, "Bread," 21-22).

[9] P. Bird, "The Place of Women in the Israelite Cultus," Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank M. Cross , ed. P. Miller, et al. (Philadelphia, Fortress Press: 1987) 397-419.

[10] Two exegetical notes from Carol Meyers (in Perdue, 29, 34): (1) Gen. 3:16, God's curse to Eve has, since Augustine, been taken to mean that women will have pain in childbirth. This is a mistranslation of Hebrew ´itsvonekh and heironekh. The proper translation would be: "I will greatly increase your toil and [the number of] your pregnancies; [along] with travail, shall you give birth to children." (2) In Lev. 27:1-7, the values for redeeming a man and a woman from service to the sanctuary differ, the woman being worth less. This is due to her inability to bear children while dedicated to the sanctuary, not to her status as woman as such.

[11] I have not seen an article on this and am projecting what I think the situation may have been.

[12] J. Blenkinsop, "The Family in First Temple Israel," in Perdue, 48-103.

[13] Blenkinsop, 74.

[14] L. Perdue, "The Household, Old Testament Theology, and Contemporary Hermeneutics," in Perdue, 225-26.

[15] Perdue, 254.

[16] Following Y. Keel, Mishlei (Jerusalem, Mossad Harav Kook: 1983) who cites Prov. 30:19 and the traditional rabbinic commentaries. All translations from the Tanakh are my own.

[17] Commentators differ on who the king is (see Keel, ad loc) . I rather favor the evidence that it was a name known in Mesopotamian literature.

[18] On children of vows, see I Sam. 1:11.

[19] Verses 10-31 of chapter 31 of the Book of Proverbs form an alphabetic acrostic poem and, hence, may be a separate literary unit though, as indicated, I favor taking the poem in context. I have indented those verses that seem to reflect a clearly urban setting while leaving the others, which are more likely to reflect an agricultural setting, though one of some comfort, on the margin. As expected, the poem is overwhelmingly agricultural in apparent background.

[20] Heb., hayil, the same word which the queen mother uses in urging the son not to give his vigor to women. The word also means "soldier" and "prosperity."

[21] Heb., ´asu hayil, the same word that serves as the motif for this chapter. It seems to me that this is an aside to the queen mother, so I have inserted the quotation marks. It could, however, be the words of the husband (of the previous verse) to his wife.

[22] Ju. 11:1; I Sam. 9:1; I Kings 11:28; II Kings 5:1; I Chron. 12:29; II Chron. 17:17; and Ruth 2:1, respectively.

[23] Ruth 3:11.

[24] See my full exegesis of this ( Facing the Abusing God, 67-84) where I also include alternate versions created by women for women.

[25] Talmud, Nedarim 49b; Talmud, Berakhot 8a; and Yisroel Salanter; respectively.

[26] Based on Talmud Yerushalmi, Kil'ayim 1.7.

[27] Note that the background of this psalm is clearly agricultural; hence, a very good complement to the Eshet Hayil.

[28] Midrash Mishle 31:9.

[29] Midrash Mishlei 31:9-29.

[30] Midrash Mishlei 31:3.

[31] Peskita Rabbati 35:2.

[32] Moderns can debate the ethics of this choice but Sarah's acts are understood by the tradition to be clearly motivated by her need to act in the holy history of God and the people.

[33] I am of the opinion of Thomas Mann in Joseph and His Brothers that the real blessing -- the one which uses the name of God and passes on the threefold blessing of seed, land, and blessedness -- is given to Jacob, not in chapter 27 in the presence of his brother but, privately, in chapter 28.

[34] Abigail (I Sam. 25) acts agentically to protect herself and her household, as do Hannah (I Sam. 1), the Shunamite widow (I Kings 4), and others. However, since their acts seems to have no implications for holy history, I have not included them in this list. Eve does not fit in these categories.

[35] 1 Sam. 18:20, 28. On Michal's change in feeling for David, see the exceptional work of A. Fishkin, Michal: Voice of a Woman (M. A. thesis, Emory University: 1998).

[36] The exception is Song 7:7.

[37] Two others occur in connection with the daughter of Yiftah (Ju. 11:37-38) and one occurs in Psalms (45:15), all in connection with the young female friends of a virgin.

[38] One other occurs in Isaiah (5:1) and is a metaphor for God; the other appears to be a name (I Chron. 27:4).

[39] The other three are as follows: Ezek. 16:8, 23:17 and Prov. 7:18a ("Let us go and be satiated with love-making 'til the morning"), all used in a negative context. For the variant 'ahavim, "making love," see Prov. 5:19, 7:18b, and Hos. 8:9.

[40] On the centrality of children, see T. Linafelt, Lamentations (Chicago, University of Chicago Press: 2000).

[41] I have jokingly called the love of Song of Songs "love without carpools" while the love of Proverbs is precisely "love with carpools." See my "The Shulamite is Not the Woman of Valor," Relating to the Text: Interdisciplinary and Form-Critical Insights on the Bible, ed. T. Sandoval and C. Mandolfo (London/New York: T & T Clark International: 2003) 216-31. where I first discussed this contrast of images. See also my "Where God is Not: The Book of Esther and the Song of Songs," Judaism (Winter: 1995) 80-92.

[42] It is not possible here to give a full commentary to the Song of Songs; I have, therefore, chosen passages I think are illustrative. The question of the nature and authorship of the Song of Songs is very complicated. See A. and C. Bloch, The Song of Songs (Berkeley, University of California: 1995), 1-36; A. Brenner and C. Fontaine, The Song of Songs: A Feminist Companion to the Bible, second series (Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press: 2000); and D. Clines, "Why is There a Song of Songs and What Does it Do to You if You Read it," Interested Parties: The Ideology of Writers and Readers of the Hebrew Bible, ed. D. Clines (Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press: 1995) 94-121.

[43] Heb., sammekhuni ba-'ashishot, rappeduni ba-tappuhim, following Bloch, ad loc .

[44] Heb., 'im ta´iru ve'im te´oreru 'et ha-'ahava. The usual translation urging the companions not to arouse love until it is ripe makes no sense. The Shulamite wants not to be interrupted until the lovers are satisfied. Hence, the literal translation should be: "that you not arouse or awaken [us] from [our] love...."

[45] Heb., ´ad she-tehpats. The usual meaning of this word is "desire, want" which does not fit here. The medieval commentator, Rashi, gets close with "as long as he has love / desire for me" though this requires a masculine pronoun. The exception is Job 40:17, as noted by A. Hacham, "The Song of Songs," introduction and commentary, in Hamesh Megillot (Jerusalem, Mossad Harav Kook: 1973) ad loc . I have translated "to be satisfied" according to the sense and those biblical verses that might be stretched in this direction; e.g., "his fulfilment is in the Torah of God" (Ps. 1:2). Note Arabic, khafada, "to be be at ease, to be gentle, to be tranquil" (verb); "a state of abatement, ease, tranquility, pleasantness" (noun) (E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, 8 vols. [London: 1872; reprinted Beirut: 1968] ad loc ).

[46] See Bloch, ad loc, and the literature cited there. See also Meyers, "Her Mother's House," cited above.

[47] The lover slides easily beyond the fraternal relationship, as the plainly erotic imagery of the passage shows.

[48] This argues for a deft editorial hand for the book as a whole.

[49] With Bloch, ad loc .

[50] This last verse is a puzzle to all. For an ingenious solution, see Hacham who takes this to be a song about foxes sung by the Shulamite in response to the request of her lover in the previous verse. The lack of conceptual and imagistic connection to the context, combined with the repeating mem sound, however, lead me to think that he may be tickling her, this being the kind of nonsense rhyme that one uses when tickling a lover. Note however that, even in play, the lover contrasts the damaged vineyard with their own flowering one.

[51] The man comments frequently on his lover's eyes: 1:15 and 4:1 (they are like doves), 6:4 (they arouse him), and 7:5 (they are like the pools of Heshbon).

[52] With one of the vertebrae of the neck.

[53] Heb., dodim, with Bloch, ad loc .

[54] Following Bloch, ad loc .

[55] Heb., mil'et, is problematic. My reading is rooted, with others, in male', "full" while Rashi and Hacham render "set properly in their sockets" with Exod. 25:7, etc.

[56] Heb., me´av, literally "his inner organs" as elsewhere in the Tanakh. Here, it is clearly a euphemism for the male organ with its flesh color and blue veins. This is also clear from the descending description of his body. Bloch, ad loc, seeking to be true to the delicacy of the original, correctly renders "loins."

[57] Some commentators think that this passage is recited by the chorus of women. The lush detail might incline one that way but the context of 7:8-10a argues for the male lover's voice here.

[58] Following Bloch, ad loc .

[59] Heb., hala'im, a crafted object of unknown kind (see Prov. 25:12).

[60] Heb., sharerekh, "navel" as elsewhere in the Tanakh. As in 5:14, however, this is a euphemism for the female sexual organs with their wetness. The meaning is also clear from the ascending description of her body. Again Bloch, ad loc, following the delicacy of the original, correctly renders the euphemism. This may also be a pun with the Arabic sirr, meaning "secret," and "penis" or "vulva" (sic, with Lane, ad loc, and some of the commentaries cited by Bloch).

[61] Heb., 'agan ha-sahar. The first word is "vessel" or "cup" as elsewhere. The second word is a hapax. Lane lists ´ayn sahira meaning "a fountain that runs day and night" and 'ard sahira, "land which produces abundantly."

[62] Literally, "blended wines."

[63] With Bloch, ad loc .

[64] With Bloch, ad loc .

[65] Lit., "like purple."

[66] Heb., rehatim, with the qeri of 1:17, as a metaphor for her hair.

[67] I have consistently translated as follows: ne'um / speech; dvar / word; and 'amar / said.

[68] Hebrew be´ula, the same word for a woman who has been copulated with in marriage.

[69] Note the mixing of God and the people as the lover.

[70] Again, be´ula.

[71] This phrase is said by the people who are wary; then God's speech resumes.

[72] With the medieval commentator, Metsudat David, ad loc.

[73] In 33:10-11, Jeremiah promises that the "sound of bridegroom and bride, the sound of rejoicing and joy" will again be heard in the streets of Jerusalem. This reverses his prophecies in 7:34, 16:9, and 25:10.

[74] Note the erotic image.

[75] Given the erotic, romantic nature of the Ra´ya, there is a substantial problem about the canonization of the Song of Songs. The usual proposal is that it merited canonization precisely because of its metaphorical, historical and eschatological, use already by the prophets and the wisdom literature. For a summary of this and my own, more suggestive thesis, see my "The Shulamite," xxx-xxx. On the feminization of the Jewish male, especially in relation to God, see H. Eilberg-Schwartz, God's Phallus and Other Problems for Men and Monotheism (Boston, Beacon Press: 1994).

[76] The meaning of the term qedesha is under dispute. I agree with those who take it broadly, and not cultically.

[77] To these, later rabbinic Judaism added: qetana (minor), bogeret (adolescent) and moredet (rebellious wife). In addition, they used penuya (available one) for an unencumbered woman and zona for a prostitute.

[78] C. Newsom, "Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom: A Study of Proverbs 1-9," Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel, ed. P. Day (Minneapolis, Fortress Press: 1989) 142-60. Newsom did not realize that at least seven verses from these chapters appear in the traditional Jewish liturgy and, hence, are well-known to rabbinically educated Jews.

[79] Newsom, 147.

[80] See G. Yee, "'I Have Perfumed My Bed wth Myrrh': The Foreign Woman in Proverbs 1-9," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 43 (1989) 53-68, for the uses of the language of Song of Songs by the Isha Zara and by her complement "Lady Wisdom." The two appear to be in competition for the son; see Prov. 9:2-6, 16-17.

[81] Hebrew, she'ol. I have kept the English "hell" to preserve the ferocity of the image, though the biblical she'ol seems not to have been a place of vivid punishment.

[82] The four Hebrew words here are typical of the whole passage: aherim, akhzari, zarim, nokhri.

[83] See above for the rest of the quotation.

[84] Hebrew, zara, nokhriya.

[85] Newsom, 149, 153-54. In the interest of consistency here and elsewhere, I have modified biblical texts inside quotations to correspond with those I have given.

[86] Newsom, 149, 143-44.

[87] T. Frymer-Kensky, "The Ideology of Gender in the Bible and the Ancient Near East," Dum-e2-dub-ba-a: Studies in Honor of A. Sjöberg, ed. H. Behrens, et al. (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Museum: 1989) 185-91.

[88] For the material on Aristotle's mysogynist views, see his The Generation of the Animals , IV,3,767b,5-15 and IV,3,770b,1-18. See also the studies of M. C. Horowitz, "Aristotle and Women," Journal of the History of Biology, 9:2 (1976) 51-65; L. Lange, "Woman is not a Rational Animal: On Aristotle's Biology of Reproduction," Discovering Reality, ed. S. Harding, et al. (Dordrecht, D. Riedel Publishing: 1983); and, in general, A. Fausto-Sterling, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Men and Women (New York, Basic Books: 1985).

[89] Frymer-Kensky, 189-90.

[90] The term itself is rabbinic; see above.

[91] In biblical and rabbinic law, as probably in all patriarchal law, adultery can only be committed by, or with, a married woman. A married man, by contrast, is free to indulge in extra-marital sex but onlyl with a non-married woman; such behavior is not a prosecutable offense under the law.

[92] Respectively: Gen. 34:31; Gen. 38:15; Nu. 25:1; Josh. 6:17-25; Ju. 16:1; Ju. 11:1; and I Kings 3:16.

[93] Respectively: Lev. 19:29; Lev. 21:9; Dt. 22:21; and Dt. 23:19.

[94] Respectively: Is. 23:15; Jer. 2: 20; Hos. 4:13-14. On children, see Joel 4:3.

[95] Respectively: Dt. 31:16; Lev. 17:7, Ex. 34:15, Hos. 9:1; politically: Ezek. 23:30; Jerusalem and Zion: Is. 1:21; one's eyes: Nu. 15:39; the land: Lev. 19:29; Hos. 1:2. There are many more verses.

[96] The word No'efet appears three times, as does the alternate form Mena'efet. Hosea has another term: Eshet Zenunim. All refer to a married woman who is having sexual relations with man other than her husband.

[97] The actual cases I have found are few: Bathsheba (II Sam. 11:4), Gomer (Hos. 1:2), and Jezebel (II Kings 9:22). The cases of Tamar (Gen. 38:24) and the concubine of Gibeah (Ju. 19:2) are different; they are not actually married women but they are under marital-type restrictions; the root zana is used of them. The women in Ezekiel 16 and Hosea 2, 5, and 7 are figures, not actual cases.

[98] These texts are so violent that I hesitate even to present them. I know that reading them can itself be a revictimization, especially for women who have been abused by this patriarchal imagery. I express my regret to any reader so affected. On the public use of these passages, see D. Blumenthal, "Who Is Battering Whom," Conservative Judaism , 45 (1993) 72-89 which was part of a larger discussion about the propriety of using the passage from Hosea liturgically.

[99] I think Delila may be an exception.

[100] Frymer-Kensky, 187.

[101] Newsom, 154. See also C. Camp, "What's so Strange About the Strange Woman?" The Bible and the Politics of Exegesis , ed. D. Jobling, et al. (Cleveland, Pilgrim Press: 1991) 29.

[102] In the chapters between 12 and 22, God has spoken to Abraham but He has not sworn an oath. That happens at the end of the Akeda (Gen. 22:16). For the supreme importance of this, see my re-reading of the Akeda (together with Elie Wiesel) in "Confronting the Character of God," God in the Fray: A Tribute to Walter Brueggemann, ed. T. Linafelt and T. Beal (Minneapolis, Fortress Press: 1998) 38-51; also available on my website.

[103] Delaney, 91.

[104] Delaney, 97 (emphasis Delaney's), 100.

[105] Delaney, 157.

[106] Delaney, 18.

[107] Delaney devotes chapters 5, 6, and 7 to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

[108] Delaney, 18-19; I have capitalized the personal pronouns for God for emphasis.

[109] Even the agentic Sarah does not intervene in the Akeda (assuming she had a suspicion about what was about to happen), though I admit that I have never met a Jewish woman who has said she would agree to let her child be sacrificed.

[110] Dt. 23:3 with the commentaries, though there are others, too, who cannot join the community (Dt. 23:2, 4-9).

[111] Delaney, 99, 216-18.

[112] Blenkinsop, 74, cited above.

[113] The same holds true for masturbation, homosexual activity, etc. -- all of which are treated with extreme severity in biblical literature.

[114] To this one might add Freud's insight about civilization in general and religion in particular: Civilization demands renunciation of primitive drives such as uninhibited sex and violence. Humanity does this because it is the only way the group can exist. However, individual humans (read: men) resent this renunciation and then must repress their resentment, leaving a residue of unexpressed anger in socialized men. In the case of the women discussed here, one could argue that the Ba´al, the male empowered by God to be the bearer of holy seed with all the power that that empowerment grants, accepts his status; however, that involves his renouncing precisely what these three "dangerous" women offer: satisfaction of the unsocialized sex drive. Such a man represses his resentment but allows it to come out in his hostility toward the women involved.

[115] I apologize again to readers who are revictimized by this text. If it is too invasive, skip this section; it is only a textual reprise of the points already made. For an antidote to this kind of text, see my Facing the Abusing God, chapters 16-18.

[116] This verse, which clearly applies to a woman figure, is curiously reversed and used during the circumcision ceremony.

[117] This verse is used in the Passover Haggada.

[118] I shall translate the many verb forms of zana with "whoring." This catches the sense well in English, probably deriving from such biblical passages. I shall, however, leave the noun zona untranslated.

[119] For a dramatic description but of drunken men, see Is. 28.

[120] To these should be added G. F. Ellwood, Batter My Heart (Wallingford, PA, Pendle Hill Pamphlets: 1988).

[121] I have not dealt with women as visionaries (Miriam, Hulda), or as schemers (Rebecca, Rachel, Esther, Tamar daughter-in-law of Judah), or wise women (Serah; see also II Sam. 14:4-20 and II Sam. 20:16-19), and so on. Some I have not mentioned probably do fit in my categories (Delila as Isha Zara ) but others do not (Eve). For a full list of women's names and terms, see Meyers, Women in Scripture, cited above.

[122] Delaney, 233.

[123] I think, de facto, this has probably always been the case.

[124] See, for example, Rachel Adler, Engendering Judaism (Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society: 1998), reviewed by me in Association for Jewish Studies Review, 24:1 (1999) 111-19; review also available on my website.

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