Dangerous Sisters in the Hebrew Bible

Yet even though the Bible needs dangerous sisters and invests in them, these characters defy patriarchal authority and come to unhappy ends. Their narratives function as cautionary tales that support patriarchal ideology, warning young women to curb their desires and serve the needs of their patriarchs. In this way, dangerous sisters are rhetorically powerful figures.

See Also: Dangerous Sisters of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress, 2014).

By Amy Kalmanofsky
Associate Professor of Bible
The Jewish Theological Seminary
August 2014

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Comments (1)

Very interesting remarks on a very important subject.
Should we think of the Biblical sisterhood stories as reflective of patriarchal societies, their problems and predicaments, in general or as theological essays from a distinctive religious viewpoint? The former idea would make parallels from other similar societies likely.
Are some stories commentaries on others? If Genesis, with Tamar 1, is a later text than Samuel-Kings with Tamar 2, then presumably the story of Tamar 1 is a kind of commentary on that of Tamar 2.
Family stories always offer the possibility of telling the same story with different emphases and judgements in relation to two family members, in a way the same person. Europa has an honourable outcome from her seduction by a bull, Pasiphae a disgraceful one. Cain is shunned after a murder, Lamech is not (I think).
Dinah and Tamar 1 seem to be a closely linked pair, sisters across a generation, perhaps. Much to depend on whether Dinah, who sought sisterhood with Canaanite women, was performing religious rites with them and whether she thus became deracinated, qualifying as herself a Canaanite woman - is the Saul (another parallel name?) of ch.46 her son?
If Dinah was a member of a religious sisterhood and religious sisterhood threatens patriarchy we might have an interesting instance of the often-claimed parallels Dinah/Danae//Danites/Danaans. Danae's son Perseus seems not to care much for sisterhoods, ie the Graeae and the Gorgons, whom he mocks or attacks.
Tamar 2 is wholly deferential to patriarchal authority, much good it does her. Tamar 1 'comments' on her by being determined and manipulative: the unruly woman is sort-of in the right by insisting on her role as providing heirs for the tribe even beyond the wishes of the patriarch. One element that seems very important in these stories is the instability of patriarchy, the weakness and indecisiveness of the older male, which leads the more radical and sometimes violent younger generation to take matters into their own hands - Jacob's sons with ambivalent results, David's son with disastrous results. Moses too is in the end not the man he was, perhaps because he has lost Miriam's protection.
Which perhaps indicates factually how difficult it was to stabilise authority in patriarchal societies, theologically how difficult it was or is to portray God satisfactorily as ancient of days, wise and kindly. If we actually need the idea of a religious sisterhood, like Naomi and Ruth, to be our image of the relationship between heaven and earth - well, that is a really subversive idea.

#1 - Martin Hughes - 08/10/2014 - 13:58

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