For Day 14 of the 16 Days of Activism, we profile Alison Joseph, researcher in the Hebrew Bible.
Tell us about yourself…who are you and what do you do?
I am Alison Joseph. I received my PhD in Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. I am currently the assistant managing editor of The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization. I write about the Hebrew Bible, specifically about the contextual factors that contributed to the ways in which biblical text was written.
What’s your involvement with The Shiloh Project?
When the blog took off last the summer, I knew I wanted to be involved somehow. I wrote an early post about Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and its interpretation of Genesis. Besides the access to a wide audience (more than 3000 views in 48 hours), it was retweeted by author @MargaretAtwood herself. AMAZING!
How does The Shiloh Project relate to your work?
I didn’t set out for activism to be a part of my scholarly life; I actually tried to avoid it. I was trained in a somewhat conventional, historical-critical model, and I intentionally tried to stay away from contemporary meanings of the biblical text because I often found them to be parochial. I spent many years living in the world of the Deuteronomistic History and writing about the composition of the book of Kings. After spending two years teaching courses in Religion and Ethics, I think some of the course prep reading starting sinking in, making me consider the ways in which we regard and teach the biblical text, and in particular the stories about women and those involving sexual assault. The ethical issues I was dealing with in class made it impossible to continue to exclusively read these stories in the context of ancient Israelite society. The biblical narrative, for the most part, is not sufficiently reactive to episodes of sexual violence. It is somewhat commonplace and not a focus of the goals of the text. I found, it’s not enough to say, “That’s the way it was back then!” The Shiloh Project highlights the absence of recognition in the text, taking our preconceived notions and blowing them apart.
How do you think The Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to discussion about gender activism today?
The Bible is filled with misogyny, sexual exploitation, and violence against women (I’m not saying that’s all there is—there’s a lot of good stuff too). Its prevalence and authoritative role in many religions and Western civilization give credence to these beliefs. The Shiloh Project is trying to defamiliarize these unfortunately commonplace behaviors by highlighting the pervasiveness of prejudices and violence against women in the text that has contributed to normalizing them in our society and throughout history. Recognizing some of the bases for our beliefs, even the subconscious ones, allows us to start moving forward and dismantle those elements of society
What’s next for your work with The Shiloh Project?
My research currently is focused on a large project about Dinah in Genesis 34. It is the story of a young woman who is clearly a victim, but the text and most of the history of interpretation are not concerned with what happens to her. I want to explore the ways theories of contemporary rape and purity cultures can help to understand this text. Stay tuned!