Today we introduce two more contributors to the project – both based in Scotland: Emily Allsopp and Alastair Hunter.
Emily Allsopp is PhD Candidate in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests include feminist literary criticism, female bodies, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, gendered and sexual violence, and the prophetic texts. Emily’s current research considers the rhetorical use of female bodies and pregnancy imagery in the Book of Isaiah; her previous research has focussed on female bodies and sexual imagery across the prophetic books. Emily is writing one of two chapters on Violence and Ezekiel, with focus on physical and gendered violence.
As an undergraduate, the trajectory of my academic life was changed when I read Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror. In preparation for a Hebrew language class, I had read and translated Judges 19, and found myself – as many of us are – deeply moved and even more deeply disturbed by the account of the ‘concubine’ being raped, abused, killed, and dismembered. When considering violent and distressing biblical texts, I find the space occupied by feminist biblical scholars profoundly satisfying and profoundly painful.
Ever since, I have been researching women in the Hebrew Bible, in particular the role of female bodies in The Prophets. It’s a joy to study these books, in all their literary variety, depth, and richness, and it is also at times incredibly difficult; female pain and suffering is all over.
Ezekiel is particularly notorious within feminist study of The Prophets, and for very good reason. Ezekiel 16 and 23 are infamous for being the most sustained, violent, furious, and gruesome depictions of violence directed at women in the entire biblical canon, and they do not stand in isolation in the text of Ezekiel. The whole book is marked by its propensity towards physical violence and bodily expressions of pain and suffering, large parts of which are specifically about women (whether literally or metaphorically).
Reading Ezekiel can be extraordinarily difficult, especially for those of us who consider it not only an ancient text, but scripture. Physical and gendered violence are real threats to modern readers, as they were to ancient ones, and it is not easy to engage with the text of Ezekiel as a woman, a feminist, and a Christian. I suspect it is not easy for anyone for that matter. I’m also acutely aware that Ezekiel’s accounts of (often divine) violence towards women have almost certainly been used to justify or inspire real-world acts of violence. And yet, Ezekiel’s presence in the biblical canon is unavoidable, and as such demands our consideration, whether that’s given easily or not.
My chapter will look at physical violence in the book of Ezekiel, with a particular focus on gendered violence. Reading the text of Ezekiel carefully, thoughtfully, and compassionately is an immense challenge and responsibility. I hope that through research of the physical and gendered violence that characterise large parts of the book, I can contribute to wider discussions on the role of violence in biblical texts and its consequences.
Alastair Hunter taught for thirty years at the University of Glasgow. His publications include studies of Psalms and Wisdom, and most recently a reading of Jonah: The Judgement of Jonah: Yahweh, Jerusalem and Nineveh (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2022). A core part of his research is a focus on the way that biblical texts are read by contemporaries, reflecting the need to balance the inherent character of ancient documents with the concerns of modern readers for justice, the rejection of all forms of discrimination, and openness.
Essential to these concerns is a willingness to confront uncomfortable aspects of the Hebrew scriptures, which are often sexist, racist, intolerant, and complicit in various forms of violence. While these cannot be defended, it is important to see them not as ultimate defining qualities but rather, as aspects of a flawed humanity which we ourselves are part of. Looking at them honestly sheds light on ourselves as much as on our distant ancestors, and how we respond to them can form part of a renewal in the quest for a better human society. One example from his publications on such themes is ‘(De)nominating Amalek: Racist stereotyping in the Bible and the justification of discrimination’ in Sanctified Aggression: Legacies of Biblical and Post-Biblical Vocabularies of Violence, edited by Jonneke Bekkenkamp & Yvonne Sherwood (T&T Clark, 2003), pp.92-108. Alastair is writing one of the chapters on Violence in the Minor Prophets, focusing on Joel and Jonah.
While neither Joel nor Jonah is at first glance an obvious offender of violence, the attitudes attributed to the deity, and the relationship between Israel and its competitors (enemies?) are at least implicitly violent in both books. Studying them together within the wider compass of the Minor Prophets makes sense when we note that both, possibly, emerged from a shared milieu, and are likely to be interdependent.
Here are more publications by Alastair (PDF format).