We continue with our profiles of some of the 100+ contributors of the Bible and Violence project (under contract with Bloomsbury). (For our earlier introduction to the Bible and Violence Project, see here.) Today we are thrilled to introduce Megan Warner and Laura Quick. Both are writing on Hebrew Bible texts that may not, on first view, appear particularly violent…
Megan Warner is Tutor in Old Testament and Biblical Hebrew at Northern College/Luther King Centre for Theology and Ministry (Manchester, UK). She specializes in Pentateuchal Studies, with special foci on Genesis and trauma-informed approaches. She is the author of three monographs: Re-Imagining Abraham: A Re-Assessment of the Influence of Deuteronomism on Genesis (Brill, 2018), Reading Genesis Through the Lens of Resilience (Sheffield Phoenix, forthcoming 2023), and Genesis: A Past for a People in Need of a Future (T&T Clark, forthcoming 2023). Additionally, Megan is lead editor of Tragedies and Christian Congregations: The Practical Theology of Trauma (Routledge, 2020), and co-editor, with Richard A. Burridge and Jonathan Sacks, of Confronting Religious Violence: A Counternarrative (Baylor, 2019). Megan is writing the chapter on Violence in Genesis 12–50.
On the surface, Genesis 12–50 isn’t a particularly violent text when compared with many other narrative accounts in the Old Testament. Often this portion of the Pentateuch, or Torah, is described as peaceful, even eirenic. Genesis is different from the other books of the Pentateuch in that it depicts Israelite characters living alongside people of other nations, doing their best to get along with their neighbours (if not always entirely successfully). There is far less antagonism in Genesis towards “foreigners” and their gods than in other parts of the Pentateuch, and little evidence of a divine directive to Israelites to clear the land of other peoples in order that they, as YHWH’s chosen people, might have exclusive possession of it. There are certainly violent texts in Genesis 12–50, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule: the abduction of Lot (Genesis 14), the divine destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and the sexual assault, or rape, of Dinah (and the murder and looting of the Shechemites) (Genesis 34) are some examples.
In my chapter I will be looking under the surface to find patterns in the treatment of violence in Genesis 12–50. I will argue that the authors of Genesis were acutely aware of the dangers of violence, particularly of violence between peoples of different ethnic identities living together in close contact, and that they wrote stories that addressed these dangers. The chapter will identify a pattern of tensions and potential violence arising in the wake of sexual contact between people of different ethnicities, and I will argue that Genesis 12–50 explores those tensions and the potential for eruptions of violence through stories that present different possible approaches and outcomes, and that invite the reader to choose between them.
Laura Quick is Associate Professor at the University of Oxford, Worcester College. She specialises in Hebrew Bible and the study of gender, sex, and the body in antiquity. Laura has published monographs on Deuteronomy and the Aramaic Curse Tradition (2017) and on Dress, Adornment and the Body in the Hebrew Bible (2021). She has published articles and chapters in edited volumes on issues such as cursing and ritual, dress and adornment, and gender and sexuality; she also enjoys teaching on these subjects. Laura is writing the chapter on Violence and the Song of Songs.
My first monograph, Deuteronomy and the Aramaic Curse Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2017) was focussed on a very obviously violent topic: cursing and ritual violence in the book of Deuteronomy and in ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. Since then, I have continued to be interested in ritual and constructions of the body in the ancient world, and my current research looks at how beauty was understood by ancient authors and audiences of biblical literature. In order to explore this, the Song of Songs is particularly important; the Song provides an extensive description of the bodies of two lovers, male and female, both of whom are explicitly evaluated as being beautiful. This does not seem like an obviously violent topic – and indeed, the Song has often been evaluated positively, in comparison to the wider Hebrew Bible, for its treatment and presentation of women.
Nevertheless, while both the male and female lovers are deemed to be beautiful, the significations of male and female beauty are construed rather differently throughout the Song. The male-focused body description poem describes the male lover in terms akin to a statue made from precious metals and gemstones, an aesthetic evaluation that privileges male bodies over female and undercuts the erotic potential of the poem. On the other hand, the description of the woman’s body aligns her with the topography of landscapes and the city, often in highly erotic terms, and features explicit instances of violence against and male control of the female body. In ancient Near Eastern literature, connections between women, cities, and violence coalesce in the city-lament genre. Contextualising the Song of Songs within this ancient context complicates uncritical assessments of the Song as a non-violent text, revealing the inherent violence against female bodies that underlies ancient Near Eastern and biblical poetry.