The Women of Jerusalem: Capital City Life in Israel’s Iron Age


Universitat de Barcelona


Wed, 02/01/2017 - 12:00am to Sat, 11/26/2022 - 5:00am


CMES Faculty Travel Award 

Beth Nakhai, Judaic Studies Associate Professor, Anthropology

Program of the Second Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East


While men’s contributions to ancient Israelite and Judaean society are increasingly well understood, less is known about the ways in which women engaged in that world. It has long been clear that gender-based differentiation was a societal norm throughout the monarchic Iron Age (1000-587 BCE), but the ramifications of this norm have yet to be fully explicated. Fortunately, recent scholarship that considers women, non-elites, and daily life responsibilities and tasks, now serves as a platform for further research. So, too, does growing familiarity with the range, location, and scale of Israelite settlements, and knowledge about housing size, layout, and functionality.

With these myriad tools, the reconstruction of Israelite society is within reach, as is the reconstruction of individual communities within society at-large. To date, studies of women in Iron Age Israel and Judah have focused on a few aspects of life: the subsistence economy; the domestic unit; and, ritual and religious roles. This presentation approaches the study of women from a different vantage point, that is, from Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem. While women’s responsibilities in the Jerusalem Temple have been examined, Jerusalem’s female population has never been studied in toto. That some women served as religious functionaries seems clear, but of course few women would have been thus engaged. What else did women do in Jerusalem, a city that, more than anyplace else in Iron Age Israel and Judah, incorporated people from a wide range of social classes and professions?
This examination takes a stance that differs from most recent scholarship. Rather than looking into the relatively homogeneous lives of women in the rural hinterland, it examines the range of women in Jerusalem, women among the elite as well as among the workers, women among the privileged as well as among those who facilitated those privileged lives. Although the archaeological record from Iron Age Jerusalem lacks the broad expanse of residential quarters that typify rural sites, still much has been revealed. In additional, the Hebrew Bible places Jerusalemite women in a variety of life settings. In tandem, these resources should facilitate a robust discussion of women in Israel’s ancient capital city.