Join the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, and CMES for the Fall 2015 Colloquium Series
How To – and How Not To – Reconstruct Women’s Lives in Iron Age Israel (1200-587 BCE)
Beth Alpert Nakhai is an Associate Professor, Arizona Center for Judaic Studies
Extensive archaeological fieldwork and a robust textual corpus ought to be a boon to gender studies in antiquity, but when it comes to women’s lives in Iron Age Israel (1200-587 BCE), this is not always the case. The land of Israel is the world’s most thoroughly excavated, and the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is the lengthiest and best-preserved text from Near Eastern antiquity. Even so, synthesizing these two disparate bodies of evidence to reconstruct the lives of Israelite women is fraught with problems. Some of these problems are typical within the field of ancient Near Eastern studies, while other are unique.
The Hebrew Bible is exceptionally complex, containing materials in multiple genres that were written, compiled and redacted over the course of close to a millennium. Its text is unapologetically androcentric and elitist, crafted to express the relationship between Yahweh and his people Israel and not to serve as a work of sociological or historical significance. It is sacred canon for three world religions, a factor that can complicate scholarly engagement with the text as a witness to antiquity. Additional challenges to reconstructing women’s lives in Iron Age Israel include methodological problems relating to the use of ethnographic studies of “pre-modern” societies as comparanda for biblical narratives and archaeological data, and the paucity of contemporaneous extra-biblical texts. This presentation considers the impact these factors have for the study of gender in Iron Age Israel and presents some thoughts about fruitful modes of future inquiry.
Beth Alpert Nakhai teaches courses on archaeology, Hebrew Bible, Near Eastern history and women in ancient Israel. She received her M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Arizona. Her publications focus on the lives of women in antiquity, and on Canaanite and Israelite religion and culture. Her books include Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel, and several edited volumes. She is the author of numerous articles, and lectures nationally and internationally. She served on the Board of Directors of the American Schools of Oriental Research and chairs its Initiative on the Status of Women. She introduced a session on gender for ASOR’s annual meeting, and is on the editorial board of several journals. Her current projects include the publication of the Tell el-Wawiyat (Israel) Excavation Project, and the Survey on Field Safety: Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean Basin.
Co-sponsored by The School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies and The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and in collaboration with the Archaeological Institute of America's International Archaeology Day 2015