Reading from the Inside Out: The Biblical Generation of a Feminist Hermeneutic

Tate, Ashley, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Halvorson-Taylor, Martien, AS-Religious Studies, University of Virginia

It is a truism that the Hebrew Bible is a patriarchal text, that it was produced in a patriarchal culture, and that the perspectives and experiences of women are underrepresented by it. Feminist biblical critics have responded with a bounty of diverse interpretations and methods, but despite this diversity, they all to some degree share in the resignation that women stand at the margins of biblical literature and tradition, that feminist readers must bring their concerns into the text from the outside if they hope to find them there at all. Such assumptions are certainly not unfounded, especially if one confines the scope of her analysis to biblical texts that deal explicitly with women and gender—texts which so often reflect and conform to the dominant gender ideologies of their day. This dissertation will argue, however, it is nevertheless possible to locate the dynamics of feminist reading within the biblical text itself. At its most fundamental, I define “feminist reading” as the result of one’s encounter with a text/situation/worldview/etc. that fails to adequately reflect one’s own subjectivity and sense of self in service to some other, oppressive ideological agenda. In fact, the biblical narrative abounds with characters grappling with similar clashes between the subjective experience of self and the external ideologies imposed upon it. I argue that, in those instances, the biblical narrative privileges these marginalized characters’ subjectivities and invites the reader to empathetically engage with those subjectivities. I will explore three examples of this dynamic as it appears in the Hebrew Bible, using narratological methods to trace how the text encourages the reader to “read with” marginalized characters instead of with the ideologies that marginalize them.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
feminist criticism, biblical studies, narratology, literary criticism, Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, religious studies, Genesis, Song of Songs, Book of Job, hermeneutics, biblical hermeneutics, feminist hermeneutics
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