Wrestling with Textual Violence : A Case Study of the Jephthah Narrative in Antiquity and Modernity with Special Regard to Gender

University dissertation from Uppsala : Bibelvetenskap

Abstract: How may readers handle the encounter with violence in a “classical text”? The purpose of this thesis is to contribute to the debate on the ethics of biblical interpretation with special regard to feminism. To fulfil that aim, a case study of the narrative of Jephthah is made and its implications are discussed at a more general level. Featuring a judge, who sacrifices his virginal daughter to the deity, this narrative raises crucial issues of ethics and gender. The case study consists of a comparative analysis of six different versions of the Jephthah narrative: the biblical text of Judges 10:6–12:7, two Jewish 1st century rewritings thereof (Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 39–40 and Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities 5.255–5.270), a musical oratorio of the late Baroque period (Handel’s Jephtha, 1751) and two examples of 20th century fiction (E. L. Grant Watson’s novel A Mighty Man of Valour, 1939, and Amos Oz’ short story “Upon This Evil Earth” from the collection Where the Jackals Howl, 1981). Using narratology as the methodological tool for comparison, five main interpretative strategies are detected and synthesised: condemnation, identification, glorification, alienation and censure. These strategies are then assessed according to their consequences for the reader’s understanding of the power relations in the narrative and according to how they serve the reader as an impetus for change. They are also used as a point of departure for a critical discussion of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s and Daniel Patte’s programmes for an ethics of biblical interpretation. Finally, an argument is brought forward in favour of interpretative pluralism and of the notion that biblical studies should stand in the service of the general public.

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