Had someone told me a decade ago that I would be teaching a course on “Women and the Bible,” I would have laughed. My academic training in Bible was quite traditional. The word “gender” never entered the classroom. Yet I have just completed teaching my department’s first-ever Women’s Studies course. I serve on the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Program Committee, I helped to devise a joint masters degree program in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and Women’s Studies, and I am now part of a committee expanding the Brandeis Women’s Studies program into a full-fledged major.
I don’t quite know how this happened to me. Perhaps it began more than ten years ago when I took a comprehensive examination at Brandeis University on the biblical Book of Judges, which contains a disproportionate number of women. At that point, there was no synthetic discussion of the women of Judges, yet even I could see, in some rudimentary fashion, that they were there, were important, were interesting and played a wide variety of roles: Jael, the clever warrior; Deborah, the prophetess and judge; Jephthah’s daughter and her friends, the cult leaders; and the nameless concubine of Gibeah, a victim. There were then no articles discussing these women, and I must admit that I did not spend much time looking for that kind of literature.
The women of Judges retreated to the back of my mind. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on God is King, without ever considering that such an androcentric metaphor might have raised a problem for ancient Israelite women, or wondering if they might have had an alternate metaphor for God.