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The Writings and Later Wisdom Books

The Writings and Later Wisdom Books

Christl M. Maier
Nuria Calduch-Benages
  • Book Info
    The Writings and Later Wisdom Books
    Book Description:

    An international collection of ecumenical, gender-sensitive interpretations

    The latest volume in the Bible and Women series seeks to provide an ecumenical, gender-sensitive interpretation and reception history of the Writings and later wisdom traditions including Ben Sira and the Wisdom of Solomon. Articles trace the living conditions of women, examine the presentation of female figures in the Israelite wisdom tradition, discuss women and gender relations in single books, and explore narratives about great female protagonists, such as Ruth, Esther, and Susanna, who prove their wit and strength in situations of conflict.


    Essays by scholars from five European countries, Israel, and the United StatesAn introduction and fourteen essays focused on women and gender relationsCoverage of power relations and ideologies within the texts and in current interpretations.

    eISBN: 978-1-62837-058-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Christl M. Maier and Nuria Calduch-Benages

    This volume belongs to the ambitious international project of an encyclopaedia of exegesis and cultural history named “The Bible and Women.” The project seeks to provide an ecumenical, gender-sensitive interpretation and reception history of the Bible, with a focus on European theological research and Western religious history.¹

    When we undertook the task of editing one volume on the Hebrew Bible in the framework of this encyclopaedia, we embraced the idea as promising and trendsetting. Within the course of the work, however, we gradually became aware of the challenge of collecting texts of authors from four linguistic domains that simultaneously reflect...

  3. Part 1: Tracing the Living Conditions of Women

    • The Lives of Women in the Postexilic Era
      (pp. 11-32)
      Tamara Cohn Eskenazi

      A major interpreter of life in the fourth century BCE describes the household as primarily a productive economic unit, with the woman in charge of turning raw material into foodstuff and textile into other goods. The wife’s successful management determines the well-being of the household.

      A wife who is a good partner in the estate carries as much weight as her husband in attaining prosperity. Property generally comes into the house through the exertions of the husband but it is mostly dispensed through the housekeeping of the wife. If these activities are performed well, estates increase, but if they are...

    • Female Names and Gender Perspectives in Chronicles
      (pp. 33-54)
      Sara Japhet

      The book of Chronicles abounds with women. It mentions by name over sixty women—more than any other single biblical book—refers to quite a few anonymous women, usually in relation to others, such as “the wife ofx,” “the daughter ofy,” “the mother ofz,” and several times mentions women as a group.¹ some of the names and their bearers are also mentioned in other biblical works, and were most probably taken over from these sources, while others are peculiar to Chronicles. Chronicles’ testimony on the topics of women and gender is quite complex, so a few words...

  4. Part 2: “Good” and “Bad” Women?: Images of Women in Israel’s Wisdom Tradition

    • Personified Wisdom: Contexts, Meanings, Theology
      (pp. 57-76)
      Gerlinde Baumann and Christl M. Maier

      Wisdom appears in three Old Testament writings in a personified manner: in Prov 1–9, in Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and in the book of Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon).¹ In these texts, Wisdom is portrayed as a person who can speak and act. The word “wisdom” is feminine in Hebrew (Proverbs) and in Greek (Sirach; Wisdom). The personification of Wisdom is also feminine; she is therefore often called “Lady Wisdom.” The expansion of an earlier image of god, dominated by masculine aspects, to include the missing feminine side may help account for this feminine portrayal of Wisdom.² Personified Wisdom appears in different...

    • Good and Evil Women in Proverbs and Job: The Emergence of Cultural Stereotypes
      (pp. 77-92)
      Christl M. Maier

      In the last decades, the numerous female figures in Proverbs, Job, and other wisdom books of the Hebrew and Greek Bible have been widely interpreted. The present volume also offers many insights into this discussion. In particular, feminist scholars have analyzed these female characters with regard to their social status in ancient Israel as well as their symbolic role in a patriarchal society. In this article, I deal with the tendency in Wisdom literature to generate types of human characters. I name them “cultural stereotypes” and will first demonstrate their dangerous potential in consolidating a bias toward women (and men)....

    • Between Misogyny and Valorization: Perspectives on Women in Qoheleth
      (pp. 93-108)
      Vittoria D’Alario

      In the book of Qoheleth, the subject of women has to be framed in the context of a more general reflection about humans (אדם), in connection to their condition of frailty (הבל). The book of Qoheleth is primarily concerned with an anthropological question, as can be inferred from the opening of the text itself: What do people gain from all their toil under the sun? (1:3).¹ In his search, Qoheleth² questions human experience, presenting it in its many facets. His observations range from social phenomena of injustice and oppression (3:16; 4:1–3; 8:9; 9:3) to everyday issues, such as the...

    • Good and Bad Wives in the Book of Ben Sira: A Harmless Classification?
      (pp. 109-126)
      Nuria Calduch-Benages

      The book of Ben Sira (also known as Sirach or Ecclesiasticus) was written between 200 and 180 BCE in Jerusalem, where its author, a professional scribe, ruled some sort of school or academy of wisdom.

      The crisis provoked by the attempted hellenization of the Jewish people under the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–163 BCE) was already latent in the time of Ben Sira. In the first decades of the second century BCE, the confrontation between the new Hellenistic ideas and the traditional religious values of the Jews had already begun. Nevertheless, Ben Sira wrote his book not to...

  5. Part 3: Women’s Voices and Female Metaphors in Poetic Texts

    • Ancient Near Eastern Pictures as Keys to Biblical Metaphors
      (pp. 129-164)
      Silvia Schroer

      Relations between ancient Near Eastern art and biblical texts are not only of interest for gender research. It is generally illuminative to analyze such interrelations in order to precisely locate a literary motif or theme with regard to the history of religion or theology and to better understand the proposition of the biblical text. Gender research in theology and exegesis particularly requires extrabiblical sources that provide information about women’s history or the development of religious ideas and help to identify androcentric perspectives of biblical texts. This essay does not aim at illustrating the reality behind biblical texts, so-calledRealienkunde, although...

    • Feminine Symbols and Metaphors in the Psalter
      (pp. 165-178)
      Donatella Scaiola

      There are many feminine metaphors and symbols throughout the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalter. Important symbols—for example, the bride (Pss 45; 128:3) and childbirth—are not considered in this essay, but they could be studied at some future date. The working hypothesis of this essay is as follows: In the Psalter, feminine symbolism is, generally speaking, positive; we do not find equivocal or problematic figures as in other wisdom books—for example, Proverbs, which features the adulteress, the idolatress, the foreigner, the seductress—or any other misogynist descriptions such as those found in Job 2:9–10 and Qoh...

    • On Gendering Laments: A Gender-Oriented Reading of the Old Testament Psalms of Lament
      (pp. 179-196)
      Ulrike Bail

      This psalm comes from a collection of psalm prayers written by a survivor of sexual abuse. By updating her reading of the Old Testament Psalms, she found her experience reflected in them and wrote new psalms of her own to express and process her trauma. The supplicant has found a speech pattern in the tradition of the Old Testament psalms of lament that sustains her words and allows her to break out of her silence.

      Throughout the ages, women have read the Psalms and “have translated them for themselves, so that the thoughts and images fit their lives.”²Living the...

    • Lamentations and Gender in Biblical Cultural Context
      (pp. 197-214)
      Nancy C. Lee

      The book of Lamentations is one of the Megilloth (five scrolls) in the Hebrew Bible/Tanak read at annual Jewish festivals, in this case to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem several times in history. it shares with the books of Ruth, Esther, and the Song of Songs (books also in the Megilloth) the inclusion of women’s stories, voices, and perspectives. Lamentations is often regarded as composed by one or more eyewitnesses of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians around 587 BCE and the exile of most of the Judean population. Christian Bibles place Lamentations just after the book...

    • Shulammite: The Woman “at Peace” in the Song of Songs
      (pp. 215-234)
      Gianni Barbiero

      The woman is surely the protagonist of the song of songs.¹ This is the simple fact that meets the eye even on a superficial reading of the poem. Not only does her voice characterize the prologue and the epilogue of the book, but she is also the speaker in most of the verses of the song.² These two details convey the unusual nature of this work within the broad sweep of the Old Testament. If there is a book in which the “depatriarchalization” of the word of God, so desired by feminist exegesis, has a place,³ it is precisely the...

  6. Part 4: Ambivalent Role Models:: Women in Narrative Texts

    • Ruth and Naomi Reclaim Their Lives and Memories
      (pp. 237-254)
      Miren Junkal Guevara Llaguno

      Augustine of Hippo, considering the value of time, says inConfessions:“The present considering the past is the memory” (11.20.26).¹ memory, then, evokes what has been lived, loved, suffered, and enjoyed and brings these things to enrich, illuminate, and direct the present.

      The book of Ruth is, for many reasons, a book about memory. Most likely written during the postexilic period, this short story of only four chapters evokes a distant time in Israelite history—the conflictive and convulsive time of the judges; it relates a story both about women shaken by strokes of fate that they must survive and...

    • Interpreting Esther: Categories, Contexts, and Creative Ambiguities
      (pp. 255-274)
      Susan Niditch

      The book of Esther might be regarded as a kind of Cinderella tale. The Persian monarch Ahasuerus (Xerxes) has eliminated his queen Vashti for refusing to appear at his behest in front of him and his drunken entourage. A beautiful orphan girl raised by Mordecai, her cousin, a member of the Jewish community living in exile, Esther is selected among all the maidens of the kingdom to become the new queen of Persia. This traditional theme concerning the rise of Esther is joined by others including the rivalry between the courtiers Haman and Mordecai, the plot against the king’s life...

    • Susanna, Example of Virtue and Daniel’s Female Counterpart
      (pp. 275-288)
      Isabel Gómez-Acebo

      The book of Daniel underwent a process of stringing together its stories due to the memory of Babylonian captivity, an experience that remained vivid in israel.¹ These events were transmitted without proper names, which facilitated their attribution to specific characters in other parts of the story. The original text was written in Hebrew and, when it was translated to Greek, posterior additions were made, as with the story of Susanna and the Elders, which gives the text a female protagonist and a more novelistic character.

      We have two versions of Susanna’s story—the one known as Theodotion, long and well...

  7. Index of Ancient Sources
    (pp. 323-334)