discovering eve: ancient israelite women in contextby carol meyers

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  • Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context by Carol MeyersReview by: David Jonathan GilnerJournal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 110, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1990), p. 158Published by: American Oriental SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 17/06/2014 22:58

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  • 158 Journal of the American Oriental Society 110.1 (1990)

    Several central avenues of research might have been pursued in this book that would have added immeasurably to its value. No serious attempt is made to set the 4QFlori- legium within the context of Qumran literature. Little atten- tion is paid to the halakhic aspects of the text, dealing with the denial of admission to the eschatological community. It is surprising, especially in light of the title of the book, that no attempt is made to compare or contrast other Jewish exegesis of the same biblical passages. (An index of subjects would also have been most helpful.)

    The assumption seems to be made that the Florilegium and similar texts represent a form of midrash. This approach blurs the uniqueness of the midrashic method in Rabbinic Judaism and fails to take note of the important differences between the methodology of midrashic exegesis and of the biblical exegesis followed in the Qumran pesher and related texts. I would argue for rigorous and formal definitions of the genre and historical context of midrash to prevent our obscuring the differences between the various systems of Jewish exegesis that flourished in late antiquity.

    The detailed study of the 4QFlorilegium has now been set on a firm basis. We are truly indebted to Brooke for producing the definitive commentary on this important text, the meaning of which will be long debated.


    Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. By CAROL MEYERS. Oxford: OXFORD UNIV. PRESS, 1988. Pp. xiii + 238. $24.95.

    Like many Bible commentators and critics who have come before her, C. Meyers attaches great importance to the testimony of the Eden narratives of Genesis 2 and 3 for the study of the status of women in ancient Israel. It is her thesis that "[n]ot only does Eve represent Israelite women, she is also a product of the way of life of women in that world" (p. 4). The Eden narratives have a basis in actual events that transpired in the highlands of Judea and Samaria in the early Iron Age; the story and character of Eve in Genesis 2-3 reflect certain historical changes in the lifestyle of rural, agrarian Israelite women during this era. While the Bible is mostly an historically late literary product of a small cadre of urban, male, priestly elites whose biases precluded their giving an accurate picture of the lives of women in this rural and agrarian environment, the Eden narratives, presently incorporated in the J narrative of the tenth century and likely still older, are free from this male-urban-priestly bias and reflect "the formative period of Israel's existence" (p. 92).

    To arrive at a correct understanding of the role of Eve in the Eden narratives and, concomitantly, the status of women in ancient Israelite society, it is necessary to supplant the deleterious effects of two thousand years of Jewish and Christian exegesis of the Eden narratives with an interpreta- tion grounded in modern feminist and social scientific scholarship.

    A crux of this reconstruction lies in the philological and historical analysis of Gen. 3:16, God's "curse"-rendered here as "oracle" (p. 95)-addressed to Eve. The traditional interpretation of this curse, that it punishes women with pain in childbirth and condemns them to be socially subservient to their husbands, is rejected here. Gen. 3:16 needs to be understood as a reflection of the historical upheaval in Israelite society that occurred in the early Iron Age: sig- nificant population decline required women to increase both their domestic labor and their childbearing (Gen. 3:16a); female reluctance to undergo undesired pregnancies and their accompanying risks "is overcome by the passion they feel toward their men" (p. 117), and the social control this passion gives to men (3:16b). However, the philological and historical arguments offered in support of this interpretation seem both forced and weak. Indeed, Meyers herself seems aware of the shallowness of her arguments. After devoting twenty-five pages to her exposition of Gen. 3:16, she informs her readers:

    The evidence that Genesis 3:16 is addressed to Israelite women in the premonarchic period would be pre- cariously circumstantial [italics mine] were it not for some additional chronological data. (p. 120)

    This "additional chronological data" consists of a meager half-paragraph of assertions about the early composition and the thematic content of I Samuel 2:1-10 and Psalms 127 and 128, "data" that adds nothing to her previous argument.

    In Meyers' analyses of the status and role of women in ancient Israel one finds a real paucity of citations to and discussion of relevant biblical texts, a defect much in keeping with this work's stated distrust of the testimony of the Bible's authors; her fund of ethnological data, while global in scope, includes little that is drawn from ancient Near Eastern cultures. The work as a whole conveys the sense that Meyers' conclusions were based more on preconceptions about the Edenic basis for understanding "Everywoman Eve" than on the testimony of the textual and ethnological data from which she has argued her case.



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