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Death and Dissymmetry

The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges

Combining literary criticism and feminist analysis, Death and Dissymmetry radically reinterprets not only the Book of Judges but also the tradition of its reception and understanding in the West. In Mieke Bal’s account, Judges documents the Israelite culture learning to articulate itself in a decisive period of transition.

Counter to standard readings of Judges, Bal’s interpretation demonstrates that the book has a political and ideological coherence in which the treatment of women plays a pivotal role. Bal concentrates here not on the assassinations and battles that rage through Judges but on the violence in the domestic lives of individual characters, particularly sexual violence directed at women. Her skillful reading reveals that murder, in this text, relates to gender and reflects a social structure that is inherently contradictory. By foregrounding the stories of women and subjecting them to subtle narrative analysis, she is able to expose a set of preoccupations that are essential to the sense of these stories but are not articulated in them. Bal thereby develops a "countercoherence" in conflict with the apparent emphases of Judges—the politics, wars, and historiography that have been the constant focus of commentators on the book.

Death and Dissymmetry makes an important contribution to the development of a feminist method of interpreting ancient texts, with consequences for religious studies, ancient history, literary theory, and gender studies.

319 pages | 6.00 x 9.00 | © 1988

Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism

Religion: Judaism

Women's Studies

Table of Contents

1. The Coherence of Politics and the Politics of Coherence
Two Views of the Book of Judges
How History Constructs Itself
The Construction of a Different History
The Coherence of Dissymmetry
Heroes of Might and Women of Death
Lethal Ladies
Gender, Sex, and Dissymmetry
Other Female Characters
The Language of Power
2. Virginity and Entanglement
Bath-Jephthah: The Daughter’s Gift
Negation and Denial of Womanhood
Freud Entangled
Love at First Sight
Bath’s Survival
3. Virginity Scattered
Paradoxes of Virginity
Nonvirginal Virgins, Virginal Spouses
Between Virgin and Wife: Caught Between Men
4. Violence and the Sacred: Contribution to the Ethnography of Fatherhood
The Raw and the Cooked
In the Name of the Law: Proper Sacrifice
Manoah’s Failed Fatherhood
In the Name of the Vow: Improper Sacrifice
Bath-Jephthah versus Ben-Abraham: A Case for Separation
Dreaming Fire: Violence without the Sacred
The Body Became Voice, or the Reinforcement of Culture
5. The Scandal of the Speaking Body: From Speech-act to Body Language
Speech-acts: The Word Become Flesh
Samson’s Riddle: The Word Became Woman
The Riddle as Vow and the Vow as Riddle
The Daughter’s Body Language as a Challenge to Fatherhood
The Mouth of the S/Word
6. The Architecture of Unhomeliness
Unhomeliness Revisited
The Empty House Is Haunted
7. The Displacement of the Mother
Explicit Mothers: Jephthah’s and Abimelech’s, Samson’s and Micah’s
Explicit Mothers: Sisera’s and Israel’s
Displaced Mothers: Yael
Displaced Mothers: The Woman-with-the-Millstone
Displaced Mothers: Delilah
Mothering, Murdering, Making Love: Yael
Clytemnestra’s Absence
The I, the Eye, and Objectification
The Incoherence of Coherence
Once Upon a Time
Once More: Body Language
Appendix 1: A Model for Narratological Analysis
Appendix 2: Notes on Language


Biblical Archaeology Society: BAS Publication Awards/Relating to the Old Testament

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