Unsung heroines of the Hebrew bible : a contextual theological reading from the perspective of woman wisdom

Olojede, Funlola Oluseyi (2011-03)

Thesis (DTh)--University of Stellenbosch, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY: This study is based primarily on the presupposition that the conventional definition or description of a biblical heroine does not take into account certain ‘hidden’ women in the Old Testament who could be distinguished due to their wisdom. By using the Yoruba woman as a contextual interpretive lens, the study investigates two female characters in the Old Testament each of whom is named in only one verse of Scriptures – “the First Deborah” in Genesis 35:8 and Sheerah in 1 Chronicles 7:24. The investigation takes its point of departure from the figure of Woman Wisdom of the book of Proverbs, which commentators have characterized as a metaphor for the Israelite heroine – a consummate image of the true Israelite female icon. It is indeed remarkable that Woman Wisdom has been associated with various female figures in the Old Testament such as Ruth, Abigail, the Wise Woman of Tekoa and the Wise Woman of Abel, etc. However, this study calls for a broader definition of wisdom based on the investigation of certain women in Old Testament narratives (e.g. Deborah and Sheerah) who have received only fleeting mention and recognition but whose lives reflect a possible connection to wisdom on a deeper level. It is shown that classical (arguably masculine) ways of reading the text tend to sideline or altogether overlook certain female characters, which are regarded as marginal such as Deborah and Sheerah. However, there are narrative gaps in the units where such women are found that could be filled by a reading of the text that is sensitive to details. It is argued that a more careful examination of the minute details in the texts could break down the metanarratives in a way that shows that they have hermeneutical significance. Therefore, attention to the narrative details unveils new dimensions of meaning and implications between the two texts (women) under investigation that have not been related in previous studies. Of significance is the fact that classical readings of the two verses that mention “the First Deborah” and Sheerah (Gen 35:8 and 1 Chron 7:24) regard them as intrusive in their respective contexts. However, a multiplex reading of each of the two verses in this study has shown that, rather than being intrusive, both have been strategically constructed to underscore the importance of the two women, and that the verses actually fit into their present pericope. The references to both Deborah and Sheerah are rooted in strong Old Testament traditions namely Bethel and Ephraimite, respectively, both of which play visible roles within the pericopes. What’s more, both verses are found within significant contexts – one in the middle of a section that closes the Jacob Cycle and introduces the Joseph Cycle, the other in the midst of a theologically driven genealogy that begins with Adam. Again, based on the multifaceted character of Woman Wisdom, in particular, as a teacher, a nourisher and a builder, it is argued that this metaphor of an Israelite heroine is embodied in both “the First Deborah” and Sheerah. Whereas Deborah was a wet nurse who must have nourished and nurtured the offspring of Rebekah, her mistress, Sheerah has been identified as the only female builder throughout Scriptures. The identification of the role of a wet nurse as a nurturer and nourisher as well as the role of a daughter as a builder with Woman Wisdom points to two silent heroines, one in the private domain and the other in the public sphere, who have remained unrecognized and uncelebrated in Old Testament scholarship. Furthermore, the roles of Deborah and Sheerah, respectively as wet nurse and builder, indicate that women participated in various spectrums of societal life especially in the Second Temple period when it is assumed that the texts reached their final forms. Not only did they perform roles that were associated with women, they equally participated in roles that were regarded as traditionally masculine. In this regard, a study of the women in the book of Chronicles offers a fresh glimpse into the roles and positions of women in the Second Temple period as well as into the Chronicler’s purpose and emphasis, in particular, regarding his concept of laer"f.yI-lk'. On a theological level, the achievements of the two women demonstrate God’s penchant for supporting the weak and the marginalized and for affirming those who are regarded as less likely to succeed. The mention of the First Deborah in the Old Testament proves that in God’s script, there are no little people. In the case of Sheerah, the point that there is a lare f" y. -I lk ' that includes outstanding female achievers indicates that, theologically speaking, there is no barrier against what women can do.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die vertrekpunt van hierdie studie is die veronderstelling dat konvensionele beskrywende definisies van Bybelse heldinne sekere 'versteekte' vroue in die Ou Testament, wat uitstaan danksy hulle wysheid, verontagsaam. Met die Yoruba-vrou as kontekstuele interpretatiewe lens word twee vroulike karakters in die Ou Testament bestudeer wat elk in slegs een vers genoem word – “die Eerste Debora” in Genesis 35:8 en Seëra in 1 Kronieke 7:24. Die vertrekpunt is die figuur van Vrou Wysheid uit die boek Spreuke, wat deur kommentators gekenmerk is as 'n metafoor vir die Israelitiese heldin – 'n volkome beeld van die ware Israelitiese vroulike ikoon. Dit is merkwaardig dat Vrou Wysheid met verskeie vroulike figure in die Ou Testament vereenselwig word, soos Rut, Abigail, die Wyse Vrou van Tekoa en die Wyse Vrou van Abel, ens. Hierdie studie betrek egter 'n breër definisie van wysheid, gebaseer op 'n ondersoek na sekere vroue in Ou Testament-narratiewe (byvoorbeeld Debora en Seëra) wat slegs kursoriese erkenning geniet maar wie se lewens dui op 'n moontlike konneksie met wysheid op 'n dieper vlak. Daar word aangedui dat klassieke (aanvegbaar manlike) wyses om die teks te lees, neig om sekere vroulike karakters soos Debora en Seëra, oor die hoof te sien, en hulle sodoende te relegeer tot marginale figure. Die narratiewe gapings in die eenhede waar hierdie vroue figureer, kan oorbrug word deur 'n lees van die teks wat sensitief is ten opsigte van detail. Die argument word gestel dat nader ondersoek na die fyn besonderhede in die tekste die metanarratiewe kan dekonstrueer op 'n wyse wat hulle hermeneutiese betekenis belig. Sulke aandag aan die narratiewe detail ontbloot nuwe dimensies van betekenis en implikasies tussen die twee relevante tekste (vroue) wat nog nie in vorige navorsing weergegee is nie. Dit is betekenisvol dat huidige navorsing van die twee verse wat na “die Eerste Debora” en Seëra verwys (Gen 35:8 en 1 Kron 7:24) beide as toevoegings beskryf in hulle verskeie kontekste. 'n Meerdimensionele lees van elk van die twee verse in hierdie studie toon egter dat veel anders as toevoegings, beide verse die vroue as strategiese konstrukte stel om hulle belangrikheid aan te dui binne die perikope. Die verwysings na beide Debora en Seëra is geanker in vaste Ou-Testamentiese tradisies, naamlik die Bet-El en Efraimitiese tradisies respektiewelik, wat beide figureer binne die perikope. Wat meer is, beide verse word aangetref binne beduidende kontekste – een in die middel van 'n gedeelte wat die Jakob-siklus afsluit en die Josef-siklus inlei, die ander midde in 'n teologies-gedrewe genealogie wat vertrek vanaf Adam. Weer eens, ooreenkomstig die veelsydige karakter van Vrou Wysheid, spesifiek in die rolle van onderrigter, voeder en bouer; word geargumenteer dat hierdie metafoor vir 'n Israelitiese heldin beliggaam word in “die Eerste Debora” en Seëra. Debora was 'n soogmoeder wat die nageslag van haar meesteres, Rebekah, gevoed en opgevoed het; daarenteen word Sheerah geïdentifiseer as die enigste vroulike bouer in die Bybel. Die identifikasie van Vrou Wysheid deur die rol van 'n soogmoeder as voeder en opvoeder, sowel as dié van 'n dogter as 'n bouer, wys op twee stille heldinne, een in die private domein en die ander in die openbare sfeer, wat geen erkenning of verering in Ou- Testamentiese besinning geniet nie. Verder dui die rolle van Debora en Seëra, respektiewelik as soogmoeder en as bouer, daarop dat vroue aktief was in verskeie sektore van die sosiale lewe, veral tydens die Tweede Tempel-periode waartydens aanvaar word die tekste in hul finale weergawes geformuleer is. Vroue was dus aktief nie alleen in rolle wat met hulle geassosieer is nie, maar ook in rolle wat tradisioneel aan mans toegeskryf is. 'n Studie van die vroue in die Kronieke-boek bied vars insae in die rolle en posisies van vroue tydens die Tweede Tempel-periode, asook in die Kronis se doel en beklemtoning, veral betreffende die konsep van laer"f.yI-lk'. Op teologiese vlak illustreer die prestasies van die twee vroue God se voorliefde vir ondersteuning aan die swakkes en gemarginaliseerdes, en vir bemagtiging van dié wat beskou word as minder waarskynlike presteerders. Die verwysing na “die Eerste Debora” in die Ou Testament bewys dat in God se teks, daar geen klein mensies bestaan nie. In die geval van Seëra, bewys die feit dat daar 'n lare f" y. -I lk ' is wat besondere vroue insluit, dat daar teologies-gesproke, nie perke is aan die potensiaal van vroue nie.

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