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Sex and Slaughter in the Tent of Jael: A Cultural History of a Biblical Story

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Home » Books » Religion » Bible » Criticism, Interpretation » Old Testament

Sex and Slaughter in the Tent of Jael

A Cultural History of a Biblical Story

By Colleen M. Conway

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Format: Hardcover, 232 pages
Published In: United States, 03 November 2016
In the Hebrew Bible, Judges 4-5 tells the lurid story of the heroic figure of Jael, a woman who seduces the Canaanite general Sisera and then nails his head to the ground with a tent-peg, thus saving Israel from the troops of King Sabin. This gruesome tale has long intrigued scholars and artists alike. The many versions of the story that have appeared in art and literature have repeatedly and creatively built on the gendered themes of the tradition, often seeing in the encounter between Jael and Sisera some fundamental truth about the relationship between women and men. In Sex and Slaughter in the Tent of Jael, Colleen Conway offers the first sustained look at how this biblical tradition has been used artistically to articulate and inform cultural debates about gender. She traces the cultural retellings of this story in poems, prints, paintings, plays, and narratives across many centuries, beginning with its appearance in Judges 4-5 and continuing up to the present day. Once separated from its original theological context, the Jael/Sisera tradition becomes largely about gender identity, particularly the conflict between the sexes. Conway examines the ways in which Jael has been reimagined by turns as a wily seductress, passionate lover, frustrated and bored mother, peace-bringing earth goddess, and deadly cyborg assassin. Meanwhile, Sisera variously plays the enemy general, the seduced lover, the noble but tragically duped victim, and the violent male chauvinist. Ultimately, Conway demonstrates that the ways in which Jael's actions are explained and assessed all depend on when, by whom, and for whom the Jael and Sisera story is being told. In examining the varying artistic renditions of the story, this book also provides a case study of the Bible's role as a common cultural resource in secular western culture.

About the Author

Colleen M. Conway is Professor of Religion at Seton Hall University.

Reviews

"Conway does much to demonstrate the cultural vitality of people s efforts to rework a biblical story over the last two thousand years, but perhaps the most significant contribution of Sex and Slaughter in the Tent is to alert us to a potential identity crisis in Biblical studies. Conway s hope is that her cultural history will slow the loss of memory that would provoke said identity crisis. Whether her hopes are well-placed remains to be seen, but in the course of telling her story, she uncovers a very wide range of fascinating sources that I, for one, look forward to engaging directly."--Reading Religion"A woman kills a man in a gruesome act that suggests a symbolic rape-the plot of a sensational crime novel? No! It's a biblical story! In this riveting and wide-ranging study of the story of Jael, Conway deftly and perceptively shows how this disturbing story has been interpreted and reinterpreted throughout the centuries to explore the subtleties of gender, violence, and ethnicity in changing cultural contexts. A fascinating journey into a much-contested text." --Carol A. Newsom, Editor of Women's Bible Commentary "A brilliant, erudite, and entertaining cultural history of Jael, the sometimes celebrated, sometimes sublimated biblical heroine and foreign femme-fatale who seduces a retreating general into her tent, nurses him to sleep, and nails his head to the ground with a tent peg. Conway treats the biblical material about Jael as a kind of 'fakebook' whose general features come to life in fascinating and disturbing ways within particular works of visual art and performance. In the process, she drives biblical studies beyond well-established patterns of biblical reception history, modeling deeper, more complex analyses of the ways biblical media both incarnate and sublimate cultural negotiations of gender, sexuality, and national identity. A gift to scholars and students alike." --Timothy Beal, Florence Harkness Professor of Religion, Case Western Reserve University "Combining reception history with cultural criticism, Colleen Conway's cultural history of the encounter between Jael and Sisera as told over centuries in literature and art makes for fascinating and illuminating reading. The range of material examined compellingly illustrates how the biblical tale of violence perpetrated by a woman against a man functions in its myriad permutations as a site for addressing cultural attitudes and anxieties about sex, gender roles, violence and power. In demonstrating how the biblical story becomes a pretext for stories of gender relationships, Conway makes an important contribution not only to the growing body of scholarly literature on the reception of biblical books but to gender studies as well." --J. Cheryl Exum, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield "A woman kills a man in a gruesome act that suggests a symbolic rape-the plot of a sensational crime novel? No! It's a biblical story! In this riveting and wide-ranging study of the story of Jael, Conway deftly and perceptively shows how this disturbing story has been interpreted and reinterpreted throughout the centuries to explore the subtleties of gender, violence, and ethnicity in changing cultural contexts. A fascinating journey into a much-contested text." --Carol A. Newsom, Editor of Women's Bible Commentary "A brilliant, erudite, and entertaining cultural history of Jael, the sometimes celebrated, sometimes sublimated biblical heroine and foreign femme-fatale who seduces a retreating general into her tent, nurses him to sleep, and nails his head to the ground with a tent peg. Conway treats the biblical material about Jael as a kind of 'fakebook' whose general features come to life in fascinating and disturbing ways within particular works of visual art and performance. In the process, she drives biblical studies beyond well-established patterns of biblical reception history, modeling deeper, more complex analyses of the ways biblical media both incarnate and sublimate cultural negotiations of gender, sexuality, and national identity. A gift to scholars and students alike." --Timothy Beal, Florence Harkness Professor of Religion, Case Western Reserve University "Combining reception history with cultural criticism, Colleen Conway's cultural history of the encounter between Jael and Sisera as told over centuries in literature and art makes for fascinating and illuminating reading. The range of material examined compellingly illustrates how the biblical tale of violence perpetrated by a woman against a man functions in its myriad permutations as a site for addressing cultural attitudes and anxieties about sex, gender roles, violence and power. In demonstrating how the biblical story becomes a pretext for stories of gender relationships, Conway makes an important contribution not only to the growing body of scholarly literature on the reception of biblical books but to gender studies as well." --J. Cheryl Exum, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield

EAN: 9780190626877
ISBN: 0190626879
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Dimensions: 23.62 x 15.49 x 2.54 centimetres (0.48 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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