Em, Ima, Imi: Mothers and Trickery in the Hebrew Bible (Abstract)

When thinking of Biblical Israel, most people conjure up an image of a hyper-masculine, patriarchal society. This is an well-founded analysis, but does this undeniably present male dominance mean that women were utterly powerless, merely pawns in the grand scheme of Israelite society and life? Hardly. The Hebrew Bible (which Christian tradition calls the Old Testament) in fact contains many female figures who exercise a great deal of power. The contrast between male and female roles in this ancient society lies in how the power manifests itself; by necessity, women often used subtler and less direct means to achieve their ends.

In History and Religion of Ancient Israel, with Professor Donald Polaski, we discussed the many roles played by women in the Hebrew Bible. This study will focus on mothers and their influence on their families and the Israelite people as a whole. As members of a dominated gender in a patriarchal society, many mothers in the Hebrew Bible resort to deception and manipulation. Rebekah, Tamar, and Bathsheba all employ what are now seen as questionable methods to ensure the security and prosperity of their family–or certain members of their family. In order to put these actions into the proper context, this study will also explore in a broad sense how trickery is viewed in the Hebrew Bible; contrary to the negative connotations deception has today, ancient Israelites saw it as a necessary survival method for a subjugated people. The patriarchs, Jacob in particular, were well-known and respected tricksters. As such, I plan to explore the mothers’ manipulations from a positive light, in that they gain some measure of influence through the time-honored traditions of deception and wiles.