Em, Ima, Imi: the long-awaited (certainly long, maybe not awaited) beginning

At the close of my first week of research (memorably characterized by blazing heat, no wireless internet, and fire alarms in the library of a Massachusetts-University-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named) I am finally ready to beginning communicating and synthesizing the information I have gathered. First, I will give a more specific overview of the concepts and terms that will be discussed in future posts; this is essentially a continuation of my abstract, but it is a necessary step to prevent needless and repetitive clarification later on.

To recap my abstract, posted what seems like forever ago, this project will examine mothers in the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. the Old Testament, in Christian tradition) and the methods by which they achieve their goals. Specifically, I am investigating how various mothers protect or promote their children and the relative success of each tactic. These methods include surrogacy, political manipulation, adhering to the faith, and clever deceptions.

Before we look closely at this topic, it is important to understand the context of the stories and to define some terms that may be unfamiliar, as well as to be conscious of the goals and limitations of my project. First we must define the difference between Biblical Israel and Ancient Israel. Despite a common tendency to view the two as interchangeable, they are in fact two very distinct concepts. Biblical Israel refers to Israel as imagined and described in the Hebrew Bible. Ancient Israel refers to the knowledge we have as given by a historical understanding of the evidence, usually corroborated by extrabiblical ancient sources and archeological evidence. Sometimes these two accounts are compatible: certain aspects of family life and structure, for example. In other instances, such as the Exodus and conquests in Canaan, the Biblical account and historical evidence are in opposition. My project will be dealing almost exclusively with Biblical Israel, although some information on the role of mothers in Ancient Israel will help to underscore the biblical account.

Since I do not yet read biblical Hebrew, I must work from translations, which is inherently limiting. As such, there will little to no analysis of grammar/diction/syntax in this project. My main Bible source will be the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), a widely acknowledged and contemporary translation, although I will consult other translations for verses that are called into question.

A note about names: the names of Biblical characters occasionally change, particularly in the book of Genesis, which can lead to confusion when writing about them. For the purposes of simplicity, in these posts Abraham and Sarah will be referred to as such, and not as their original names of Abram and Sarai. Their grandson, the son of Isaac, will be called Jacob rather than his later name of Israel. Israel will refer to the nation and society as a whole; members of that ancient nation are called Israelites. The Anglicized name of the Israelite deity is YHWH; English translations of the Hebrew Bible frequently render it as LORD, but I will be using the approximation of the Hebrew term.

Most of the general information about Ancient or Biblical Israel comes from Professor Polaski’s class, “History and Religion of Ancient Israel” (which I highly recommend).  All other sources will be cited. Any quoted translations other than the NRSV will also be cited.

My next post (coming soon) will be a discussion of the matriarchs Sarah, Rachel, and Leah and their use of surrogacy in establishing and protecting a bloodline.