Further to the announcement of the publication of Helen Paynter’s book Telling Terror in Judges 19: Rape and Reparation for the Levite’s Wife, the second in the Routledge Focus series ‘Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible’, here is a Q&A with the author herself!
Tell us about yourself, Helen. How does your book relate to your work as a whole and how did this book come about?
I am a Baptist minister, serving in Bristol; and a tutor in biblical languages and Old Testament at Bristol Baptist College. The main areas of my research are into the interpretation of biblical violence and the ways in which the Bible is weaponised against people. I have been troubled by the dreadful story of Judges 19 for a long while, but felt dissatisfied with both the traditional commentators, which tend to write the woman’s suffering out of the text; and with many of the modern feminist interpretations, which view the text as irredeemably misogynistic. I then came across the reparative hermeneutic of Eve Sedgwick, and thought that it might provide a helpful hermeneutical lens to apply to the text. I hope my readers will agree with me that it does.
What are the key arguments of your book?
I’ve begun to outline them above. I use the work of Sedgwick, and also use affect theory and Judith Butler’s concept of grievability to try to discover the levels of communication within the narrative. I argue that the raped and murdered woman has surprising subjectivity in the narrative, and ‘speaks’ powerfully at a number of levels – in many ways she is not obliterated at all.
What do you hope your readers will take from this book?
I hope they will be disturbed by the appalling sexual violence it portrays, and the many modern situations that parallel it. And I hope that they will gain a fresh appreciation for the way that the biblical story is quite powerfully critiquing such actions. If my work should prove persuasive enough to inspire other scholars to approach other texts with the same methodology, I’ll be delighted.
Give us one quotation from the book that you think will make a reader go and read the rest.
‘Beli-Fachad is given voice in moral critique of the nation. She is, perhaps, the book of Judges’ other female prophet, or one of its only true judges.’