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(Re)constructing the Religious Thought and Practices of Women in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism

Mon, December 17, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Waterfront 2 Ballroom
Tue, December 18, 10:15 to 11:45am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Waterfront 2 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Seminar


The seminar asks its participants to pursue new avenues of research in reconstructing the religious lives of ancient Israelite, Judahite or early Jewish women. In the past fifty years, researchers have sought to excavate the traces of female religious lives in the Hebrew Bible and other ancient texts. Over the same period, archaeologists like Carol Meyers, Beth Alpert Nakhai, and Jennie Ebeling have brought a "gender agenda" to the material finds by formulating a set of questions about gender roles and relationships in ancient Canaan and Israel in an effort to retrieve the distinctive religious lives of women. These efforts have faced conceptual, methodological and evidentiary challenges, and yet they have also generated many new and surprising insights that validate integrating feminist perspectives and gender studies into the study of ancient religion. This seminar is aimed at pushing the conversation forward by bringing reflections about the history of this kind of scholarship together with new evidence and interpretations. It also seeks to transcend artificial disciplinary boundaries by putting scholars of biblical studies into conversation with scholars of later periods of ancient Jewish history, literary production and interpretation.

Isabel Cranz will explore how imagery tied to the female experience of failed pregnancy and parturition is used in the context of prayer and lament. Sarit Kattan Gribetz will explore the impact of rabbinic traditions of time-keeping on the cultivation of gendered difference in rabbinic Judaism. Beth Alpert Nakhai will discuss how archaeologists have altered our understanding of women’s religious beliefs and ritual practice in Iron Age Israel. Laura Quick will look at items of bodily adornment to access a little recognized element of women’s religious experience in ancient Judaism. Karen Stern will argue that overlooked features of non-monumental archaeological evidence offer new insights into the diversity of women’s devotional practices in antiquity. Steve Weitzman will reflect on what it might look like to inject gender into the study of Israelite origins. Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg asks what we can learn from early rabbinic vignettes of domestic scenes. Charlotte Fonrobert will act as respondent for both sessions to help frame an overall agenda.

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