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date: 11 April 2021

Women in Ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible (or Women in Ancient Israel and the Old Testament) free

  • Susan AckermanSusan AckermanPreston H. Kelsey Professorship in Religion, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College


The Hebrew Bible is a book that was primarily written by men, for men, and about men, and thus the biblical text is not particularly forthcoming when it comes to the lives and experiences of women. Other evidence from ancient Israel—the society in which the Hebrew Bible was generated—is also often of little use. Nevertheless, scholars have been able to combine a careful reading of the biblical text with anthropological and archaeological data, and with comparative evidence from the larger biblical world, to reconstruct certain features of ancient Israelite women’s culture. These features include fairly comprehensive pictures of women’s lives as wives and childbearers within Israel’s patrilineal and patrilocal kinship system and of women’s work within the economy of a typical Israelite household. Because the Bible is deeply concerned with religious matters, many aspects of women’s religious culture can also be delineated, even though the Bible’s overwhelmingly male focus means that specific details concerning women’s religious practice must be painstakingly teased out of the biblical text. The Bible’s tendency to focus on the elite classes of ancient Israelite society likewise means that it is possible to sketch a reasonable portrait of the experiences of elite women, especially the women of the royal court, although, again, this information must often be teased out of accounts whose primary interest is elite men.

The Hebrew Bible is, in many respects, a man’s book. Its authors are arguably all male, and even scholars who point to a few biblical texts that might have been authored by women must admit that these compositions have been transmitted through male scribal communities.1 The Hebrew Bible’s worldview is likewise overwhelmingly male: while Exodus 19:15 is ostensibly addressed to “all the people,” for example, men must in fact be the exclusive audience of the command given there to “not go near a woman.” The Bible’s main actors are in addition predominantly male: the patriarchs of Genesis, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the redeemer Moses, who is the principal figure of Exodus-Deuteronomy; the all-male priesthood that is part of Moses’ levitical line; the war leaders of Joshua and Judges; the kings of 1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, and 1–2 Chronicles, along with the prophets of these same books and of the Hebrew Bible’s prophetic corpus; the leaders of the postexilic community described in Ezra and Nehemiah; and, according to tradition, poets such as King David (to whom many of the psalms are ascribed) and King Solomon (if one interprets Cant. 1:1 as identifying Solomon as the author of the Song of Songs). Indeed, over 90 percent of the 1400 or so individuals who are given names in the Hebrew Bible are men.2

Still, almost 10 percent of named characters in the Hebrew Bible are women, and there is also a significant corpus of texts that concern women not identified by name: the daughter of Jephthah in Judges 11:29–40, for example, or the women weavers of 2 Kings 23:7. Many of these women, moreover—whether named or unnamed—are among the most memorable characters in biblical tradition: Eve, whose creation is described in Genesis 2:21–23 and who is designated the “mother of all the living” in Genesis 3:20; the Genesis matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah; Moses’ sister Miriam, identified as a prophet and as a musician in Exodus 15:20–21; Deborah, likewise identified as a prophet and also a judge in Judges 4:4; and royal women, including King David’s wife Bathsheba, Esther, the wife of the Persian King Ahasuerus, and the many wives and concubines of King Solomon. Also, among Solomon’s wives are said to be foreign women, which calls to mind other notable foreign women of biblical lore, for example, King Ahab’s wife Jezebel, who is from the Phoenician city of Sidon, Rahab, who is a Canaanite, and Ruth, who comes from Moab.

These various women represent the many different roles women played and responsibilities women assumed within the Hebrew Bible and within the society of first-millennium bce Israel from which the Hebrew Bible emerged. In what follows, we will consider women’s position within ancient Israelite family structure; women’s place within their households’ economies; women’s religious lives and the opportunities available to women to serve as religious functionaries; and the women of ancient Israel’s royal families, as well as other women who served in leadership positions.

Women’s Position within the Ancient Israelite Family


Ancient Israel was a kinship-based society, with kinship defined through the patriline, so that both genealogies and rights of inheritance were, with only a very few exceptions (e.g., Num. 27:1–11; 36:1–12), traced through patrilineal lines of descent. It follows that while polygyny is admitted as a possibility for men, or at least for elite men in the Hebrew Bible (Solomon, as noted above, is said to have had many wives, and Jacob had two wives, Rachel and Leah, and also fathered children by these two wives’ maidservants, Zilpah and Bilhah), a woman must marry monogamously so that the identity of her children’s father is always clear and the integrity of the father’s lineage is guaranteed. Concerns regarding the integrity of the father’s lineage—and especially its ethnic integrity—also lie behind the Bible’s preference for endogamous marriage. This is most clearly seen in texts such as Deuteronomy 7:3 and Ezra 9:12 and 19:2, where marriage to foreign wives is condemned, and even in the book of Ruth, where Boaz’s marriage to the Moabite Ruth is put forward as exceptional. Likewise, in the book of Genesis, it is indicated that even though Abraham’s family had left their homeland to dwell in the land of Canaan, wives for Abraham’s son Isaac and for Isaac’s younger son Jacob, from whom the Israelites are to descend, must come from Abraham’s native Haran (also called Aram-naharaim). These wives, moreover, turn out to be not only of Abraham’s ethnos but members of his natal family: Isaac and his wife Rebekah are patrilateral parallel cousins, and Rachel and Leah are their husband Jacob’s matrilateral cross-cousins. Similarly, in Genesis 20:12, Sarah is said to be Abraham’s half-sister.

Elsewhere in the Bible, this preference for marriage within one’s family group is seen in Judges 12:9, where it is marked as unusual that the judge Ibzan “gave his thirty daughters in marriage outside his clan and brought in thirty young women from outside for his sons” (emphasis mine). What is not unusual here, however, is that Ibzan selected his children’s marital partners, as typically in Israelite tradition (although there are exceptions), the families of prospective grooms and brides took responsibility for arranging their sons’ and daughters’ marriages. It is Abraham, for example, who is said to secure Rebekah as a wife for his son Isaac (Gen. 24:1–67). Indeed, Abraham so takes on the responsibility for arranging Isaac’s marriage that Isaac himself does not even go to Rebekah’s family’s homestead in the land of Aram-naharaim to meet his prospective bride. Instead, a servant is sent from Abraham’s Canaanite abode to bring a wife home for Isaac (Gen. 24:1–9). What’s more, it is Rebekah’s brother Laban and her father Bethuel with whom this servant makes the marital arrangements (Gen 24:34–51), and although Rebekah is at some point consulted about these dispositions (Gen. 24:58), it appears she is asked only whether she is willing to relocate to Abraham’s and Isaac’s home, not whether she is willing to marry Isaac. Genesis 24:5, at least, seems to presume that if Rebekah will not consent to leave Aram-naharaim, the marriage could still go forward if Isaac were to come to her instead.

The expectation, to be sure, is that Rebekah, like any man’s daughter, will leave her father’s home in order to marry. A typical marriage in ancient Israel, that is, is not only endogamous but also patrilocal, as women routinely were required to go forth from their natal households to join the households of their husbands. Even Jacob, although he sojourned in the house of his father-in-law Laban for twenty years (Gen. 31:38, 41), ultimately took his two wives Rachel and Leah, and the maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah, and brought them to his natal home in Canaan.

Marriage, it is to be noted, is the norm, for both men and women: there is no notion of, say, celibate religious functionaries in ancient Israel (although such traditions can be found among other cultures of the biblical world). Women from subservient classes, however, are not necessarily married: for example, Hagar, identified in Genesis 16:1–3, 5–6, 8 and 21:10, 12–13 as Sarah’s “maidservant” or “handmaid,” does not seem to have a husband until the barren Sarah, hoping to have children through her, gives Hagar to Abraham as a wife. Similarly, while legal materials from Exodus 21:7–11 stipulate some provisions due a female slave who marries, the slave woman’s marriage does not seem to be presumed. Biblical tradition also acknowledges that prostitution—and so unmarried prostitutes—were found within ancient Israelite society, and the Hebrew Bible in addition includes at least one narrative, 2 Samuel 13:1–22, where a woman who has been sexually violated, David’s daughter Tamar, remained afterwards—for the rest of her life?—“a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house.”

Legal materials concerning a woman who has been sexually violated, however, generally require the perpetrator to marry his victim (Deut. 22:28–29; see also Exod. 22:16–17), and while this dictum surely sounds horrifying to modern readers, what is indicated here is how highly prized virgin brides were in biblical Israel.3 Consequently, women who had been sexually violated, because they were deemed unmarriageable, could be left without the economic support provided for women by their fathers (before they reached marriageable age) and then by their husbands (upon the age of marriage). Likewise vulnerable, according to several biblical texts, are widows, because they are deprived of the economic support that their husbands had previously provided. It is not surprising, then, that only servant women, who are provided for out of the resources of their masters’ and mistresses’ homes; prostitutes, who assumed responsibility for their own financial well-being; and a king’s daughter like Tamar, who presumably could draw on the resources of the royal palace, are identified in the Hebrew Bible as being able to live independent of a husband.


Not only was marriage the norm in ancient Israel, for both men and women, the norm within marriage was for women to bear children. Sons in particular were important for maintaining a father’s lineage within ancient Israel’s system of patrilineal descent and for transmitting through the generations the landholdings that every Israelite family claimed perpetually to hold as its inalienable patrimony. In addition, both sons and daughters were an important source of labor on the self-sufficient farms that typically comprised a family’s patrimony and that were the means of livelihood for most ancient Israelites. Modern population studies in fact show that even in locales that might seem to nonagriculturalists to be vastly overpeopled, farm families seek to bear and raise as many children as possible, to the extent that they will eschew an increased standard of living in favor of an increased family size.4 For the ancient Israelites, fulfilling the first commandment given by God in the Bible—“Be fruitful and multiply”—was thus a need urgently felt. Yet as many as one out of two Israelite children may have died before reaching adulthood, or even before reaching the age of five.5

In the Hebrew Bible, the imperative placed on ancient Israelite women to bear children, along with the challenges this imperative imposes, are illustrated most vividly in six different stories about barren women. The first was noted above: the story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham (Gen. 16:1–6, 18:1–15, 21:1–7). The others are the stories of Rebecca, wife of Isaac (Gen. 25:19–25); Rachel, wife of Jacob (Gen. 30:1–8, 22–24); the unnamed wife of Manoah (Judg. 13:1–24); Hannah, wife of Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:1–28); and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8–17). Within these stories, the theme of the barren woman’s desperation repeatedly manifests itself: the barren Rachel cries out to her husband Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” (Gen. 30:1), and Hannah is described as embittered and vexed (1 Sam. 1:10, 16) due to her childless state. In the case of both of these women, as in the story of Sarah, polygyny is presented as a “solution”: just as Sarah gives her maid Hagar to Abraham, so that Hagar might bear Abraham a son, so does Rachel give her maid Bilhah to Jacob. Jacob also has sons through his other wife Leah and her maid Zilpah, and Hannah’s husband Elkanah likewise has sons by his other wife, Peninnah. Yet polygyny does not address the problem of reduced worth and status that seems to attend to a barren wife. Indeed, in the Sarah story, Hagar’s ability to bear a son while Sarah cannot is said to lower Sarah’s status even beyond the reduced status position already accorded to Sarah because of her barrenness (Gen. 16:4). Similarly in the Hannah story, Elkanah’s fertile wife, Peninnah, is described as a “rival” who “irritated” Hannah and provoked her to anger on account of Hannah’s barrenness (1 Sam. 1:6).

Hannah seeks recourse by engaging in a complex set of ritual actions: she prays to Yahweh, the God of Israel, according to 1 Samuel 1:10, 12, and 26–27 (the only woman in the Hebrew Bible explicitly said to do so), and she utters a vow in 1 Samuel 1:11 (one of only three times in the Hebrew Bible that a specific woman is identified as making such a pledge; the other instances are Prov. 7:14 and 31:2). She also, arguably, weeps and fasts as part of a ritual process designed to evoke some sort of divine oracle—which indeed results, as the priest Eli, who has been witness to Hannah’s petitionary performance, declares to her, “The God of Israel will grant the request you have asked of him” (1 Sam. 1:17).6 Rachel, too, seeks recourse from her barrenness by securing from her sister Leah “love plants” that Leah’s son Reuben has found in a field,7 in the hope that she might benefit from the love plants’ powers as an aphrodisiac and their ability to bestow fertility (Gen. 30:14–15).

According to some commentators, Rachel engages here in behavior analogous to the modern “medicinal” use of tea, or lemon juice, or chicken soup to treat various ailments, an act of “self-medication” in which the “love plants” serve as a “natural remedy” that “cure[s] infertility.”8 But Carol Meyers more persuasively argues that Rachel engages in a “magical act performed to promote fertility” (emphasis mine).9 While it has been a commonplace in the past, moreover, to separate emphatically the categories of magic, on the one hand, and religion, on the other, and to judge the former quite negatively in relation to the latter, scholars increasingly have argued—from the perspectives of both the study of religion as a whole and the study of the biblical world in particular—that “there is … little point in attempting sharply to distinguish magic from religion.”10 After all, magic, as well as religion, can be defined as “a form of communication involving the supernatural world in which an attempt is made to affect the course of present and/or future events by means of ritual actions … and/or … formulaic recitations.”11 Just as Hannah, that is, engages in ritual actions such as prayer, the uttering of a vow, fasting, and weeping, all in the hopes of reversing her barrenness and bearing a son, so too can we take Rachel to deploy magical ritual—the use of “love plants”—in order that she might conceive and give birth.

Another practitioner of reproductive magic may appear in Genesis 38:28, where the midwife who attends Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar ties a red thread around the hand of Tamar’s son Zerah as his arm emerges during parturition. To be sure, the purpose that is intimated in Genesis 38:28 for the red thread is not magical but pragmatic (it marks Zerah as the first of Tamar’s twin sons to have breached the womb). But Meyers again proposes that the thread has a magical significance, as it “may reflect a set of practices involving the apotropaic character of strands of dyed yarn, with both their red color and the fact that they are bound on the infant’s hand having magical protective powers.”12 Similar (although not identical) rituals of “knot magic” are found in Mesopotamian and Hittite birth rituals.

Yet however we interpret the red thread of Genesis 38:28, we should note that this midwife’s story demonstrates that women in the Hebrew Bible participated in the reproductive process not only as childbearers but as medical (or perhaps medico-magical) specialists who cared for parturient women. In addition to Tamar’s midwife, we can cite the midwife who cared for Rachel according to Genesis 35:17 and the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, who serve the women of the Hebrew community at the time of these Hebrews’ bondage in Egypt (Exod. 1:15). While not explicitly designated as midwives, the women who attend Phinehas’s wife as she gives birth (1 Sam. 4:20), and the women who are seemingly present when Ruth delivers, along with Ruth’s mother-in-law (Ruth 4:14), likewise seem to perform midwifery tasks.

In certain cases, the midwife’s tasks presented few difficulties (according to the deceit of Exod. 1:15–21, the Hebrew women in bondage in Egypt are so vigorous that they deliver before a midwife even arrives). In other instances, though (most notably, the delivering of Rachel’s son Benjamin and of Ichabod, the son of Phinehas’s wife), the midwife must have had to draw on considerable skill, as both the mothers died giving birth. It appears, moreover, that midwives would have had recourse only to their own skills during parturition and not those of any other specialist, or at least any other male specialist, given what seems to be the Israelite tendency to separate men from a woman who is giving birth. Certainly, it seems clear that Israelite women were separated from their husbands during childbirth, given that word must be brought after delivery to the fathers of Jeremiah (Jer. 20:15) and Job (Job 3:3) that a son had been born to them. Furthermore, only women could have assumed responsibility for the other professionalized role associated with reproduction: that of the wet nurse. That said, wet nurses are mentioned only rarely in the Bible—in Genesis 24:59; 35:8 (Deborah, the wet nurse of Rebekah); in Exodus 2:7–9 (where the pharaoh’s daughter unknowingly ends up hiring Moses’ mother to nurse the baby Moses); and in 2 Kings 11:2 (where we read of the wet nurse of the royal heir Joash). Wet nurses are thus best understood as serving as child-care specialists only in aristocratic homes.

Women’s Place within Their Households’ Economy

As intimated just above, as well as elsewhere in the preceding comments, the majority of ancient Israelite households were not aristocratic, or even what we might think of as middle-class. Rather, at least during the pre-exilic period of Israelite history (c. 1200–586 bce), it is estimated that 80–90 percent of the population lived in the villages of the ancient Israelite countryside,13 in relatively small homes that seemed to function as self-sufficient farmhouses. These homes’ layout, for example—a central courtyard that served as the entry portal, flanked by three or so rooms that were arranged in a U-shape around it—provided space (in the central courtyard and in the broadroom that was located to the rear of the courtyard) for food-processing activities and for the significant amount of food storage that would be necessary within a self-sufficient agricultural household. Facilities for small-scale craft production (tool, textile, and pottery making, for example) may also have been present.

Many scholars—most notably Carol Meyers—have attempted to describe what gender roles may have been like within this agriculturally based, self-sufficient household economy. We can imagine, for example, that men undertook the physically demanding task of developing farm land for cultivation, both by clearing previously forested tracts of trees and stones to create fields for growing grain and by building the stone retaining walls that transformed the slopes of the southern Levant’s central hill country—the heartland of ancient Israelite settlement—into artificially flat terraces that were used for cultivating olive trees and grape vines. Men probably did the work as well of plowing and otherwise tending the fields and terraced gardens that they had created (see, e.g., 1 Sam. 8:12). Men also took primary responsibility for reaping, threshing, and winnowing their fields’ grain when harvest time arrived—but note Ruth 2:3, 8–9, 15–16, 22–23, where women, including Ruth, glean grain left behind by male reapers.14

In one verse in Proverbs, moreover, a woman is said to plant a vineyard (Prov. 31:16, although there is some ambiguity about the subject of the verb “to plant” in the text as it has come down to us). More important, though, are the tasks women most likely undertook in processing harvested grain and other foodstuffs, as is suggested by a 1973 ethnographic survey that determined that women do the work of food processing in all but three or four of the 185 societies world-wide from which data on human labor patterns were collected.15 Women’s role in food processing is in addition indicated by texts such as Leviticus 26:26; 1 Samuel 8:13; 28:24; 2 Samuel 13:8; and 1 Kings 17:12–13. The processes that pertained to the making of bread were especially labor-intensive. Meyers estimates, for example, that the task of grinding grain to make flour—identified as women’s work in Exodus 11:5; Isaiah 47:2; Job 31:10; and Ecclesiastes 12:3—would have occupied two or more hours of an ancient Israelite woman’s time every day.16 Meyers has furthermore argued that women, having undertaken this labor-intensive responsibility for grinding grain into flour and then using it to prepare dough and bake bread, along with preparing other foodstuffs for their families’ consumption, would have also undertaken the responsibility for distributing food, especially bread, within their households.17 This is indicated as well in biblical texts such as Leviticus 26:26, which speaks of women distributing bread by weight to those on whose behalf they had baked it.18

The same ethnographic survey that determined that women do the work of food processing in all but three or four of 185 societies world-wide further determined that women do the work of weaving and spinning in 84 and 87 percent, respectively, of the cultures surveyed,19 which corresponds to the many biblical texts—e.g., Joshua 2:6; Judges 16:13–14; 2 Kings 23:7; Ezekiel 13:17–18; and Proverbs 31:10–31—that associate women with textile production. Domestic pottery production, if ethnographic data (especially those from Cyprus and other Mediterranean and Levantine locations)20 are any guide, was another task assumed by women.21

Meyers has commented at length on the significance of these data, arguing that “women’s productive activities, carried out in … households, were dynamic elements in the social and political fabric of their communities,” so much so that “power accrued to women … because of their control of certain productive tasks.”22 Women, that is, because they played key roles in sustaining their households, made integral contributions to their households’—and so their communities’—economic well-being. Simultaneously, as already discussed, women, through their work as childbearers (and also through their kindred work in childrearing) made integral contributions to their households’—and so their communities’—demographic well-being. Nevertheless, because the Hebrew Bible, as noted above, is in many respects a man’s book, and because it is even more so a book of “great men”—warlords, kings, prophets, priests—the contributions women made to benefit the households of “ordinary” Israelites are only rarely visible within the Bible’s pages.

Women’s Religious Lives

Ancient Israel’s State-Sponsored Temples

Not only is the Hebrew Bible, in many respects, a book of “great men,” it is a book about these great men’s institutions: preeminently the royal palace, in the case of kings, and the great temple of Jerusalem, in the case of priests. This great temple was, however, so much the domain of priests that it seems not to have been particularly conducive to the exercise of women’s religious agency—or to the exercise of religious agency of most nonpriestly men. This is also the case regarding other temples that, like the Jerusalem temple, should be described as ancient Israel’s “state” or “state-sponsored” temples: for example, the two Northern Kingdom temples of Dan and Bethel that were the Jerusalem temple’s counterpart during the time of ancient Israel’s divided monarchy.

To be sure, women seem to find more of a place within the ritual life of the Jerusalem temple in the late exilic period (c. 625–586 bce) than they had in prior centuries, as well as in the so-called Second Temple of the postexilic period (this rebuilt temple was dedicated in 515 bce and destroyed by the Romans in 70 ce). This is because religious movements that sought to centralize worship in Jerusalem took hold beginning in c. 625 bce, and this centralized cult had more need than did its predecessors to find ways of incorporating all Israelites, including women. In Ezra 10:1 and Nehemiah 8:2; 10:28; and 12:43, for example, which are all texts from the postexilic period, women are counted among the “assembly” of Israelites who gather for religious purposes at the Jerusalem temple. Likewise, in several texts from Deuteronomy—a pre-exilic text that lays down the mandate for cult centralization—women are included in lists of those who are to participate in ritual celebrations at “the place that Yahweh your God will choose,” the common locution used in Deuteronomy for the temple in Jerusalem.23

Notably, however, in Deuteronomy 12:12, 18; 16:11, 14, where extended lists of individuals required to participate in ritual observances at the Jerusalem temple are found, those designated include “you” (masculine singular), plus “your [masculine singular] son,” “your [masculine singular] daughter,” “your [masculine singular] male slave,” “your [masculine singular] female slave,” and Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows resident in “your [masculine singular] gates.” These lists obviously include multiple members of a household’s immediate family, plus some nonbiological affiliates who would have been resident in a household compound. It does not, however, specifically mention the household’s wife. According to some scholars, it is “hardly conceivable” that the wife is not among those who are commanded to join in these otherwise quite compendious gatherings,24 and they thus argue the wife must be subsumed within the masculine singular “you” with which Deuteronomy 12:12, 18; 16:11, and 14 each begins. Yet there are verses elsewhere in Deuteronomy that make clear that masculine singular “you” need not include a man’s wife: most famously Deuteronomy’s rendition of the tenth commandment that decrees that “you” (masculine singular) should not covet your neighbor’s wife (Deut. 5:21). Moreover, there may be good reasons for Deuteronomy not to count a man’s wife as part of a collective “you” in verses such as 12:12, 18 and 16:11, 14 and thereby compel her presence on occasions of Jerusalem temple ritual. Perhaps, for example, a recently delivered mother might prefer—and be better off—staying home with her newborn child. Indeed, this is precisely the scenario described in 1 Samuel 1:21–23, where the previously barren Hannah, recently delivered of her miracle child Samuel, refrains from joining her family in their yearly pilgrimage to the Israelite shrine at Shiloh until her son is weaned (a period that may have lasted as long as three years; see 2 Macc. 7:27).

Other factors that may have constrained women’s ability to participate in the ritual life of ancient Israel’s state and state-sponsored temples, such as the temple in Jerusalem, include these temples’ highly institutionalized and bureaucratized nature, and especially the institutionalized and bureaucratized nature of their priesthoods. After all, studies of social and political organizations have shown that increases in organizations’ structural complexity compromise women’s ability to act as significant agents within those establishments.25 Also of concern are the laws of purity articulated by the priestly authorities of the Jerusalem temple that are found in Leviticus 12:1–8 and 15:19–30. Leviticus 15:19–30 deems a woman to be impure, or ritually (albeit not morally) unclean, for seven days during the time of her menses and, in addition, during times other than her menstrual period when a vaginal discharge of blood takes place or at times when a menstrual discharge extends beyond the term of the woman’s normal menstruation. According to Leviticus 12:1–8, postpartum discharges also rendered women who had recently given birth impure, for forty days if the newborn child was male and eighty days if the child was female. What it means, at root, to define someone as impure is to denote that individual as ritually unfit to enter into a space understood to be a dwelling place of Yahweh, as Yahweh, the Israelites believed, must not be exposed to the sort of cultic uncleanliness that characterizes the impure state. According to biblical tradition, moreover, Yahweh’s dwelling place is preeminently the temple in Jerusalem. The Leviticus purity laws would thus have significantly limited women’s access to the Jerusalem temple during their reproductive years (assuming here that that the purity dictates articulated in Leviticus were actually operative at some point in Israelite history and within some circles of Israelite society, as is in fact suggested by texts such as Gen. 31:19–35; 2 Sam. 11:2–5; Isa. 30:22; Ezek. 18:6; 22:10; 36:17; Lam. 1:8–9, 13, and 17).

Multiple circumstances, in short, may have inhibited women’s ability to participate in—or even gain access to—rituals that took place in the Jerusalem temple and in other of ancient Israel’s state-sponsored sanctuary complexes. Indeed, even texts that do admit to women’s presence within the Jerusalem temple compound can simultaneously suggest that women’s place within temple ritual must be carefully regulated. Psalm 68:24–25 (Heb. 68:25–26), for example, even though it describes women playing frame drums at Yahweh’s sanctuary, may suggest that Yahweh must be safeguarded from these women’s potential impurities by identifying the women as ălāmôt, “young maids,” a term that can indicate that the women are unmarried (as in Gen. 24:43) and so immune from the impurities that childbirth entails. Somewhat similarly, women who are described in Ezekiel 8:14 as performing ritual mourning within the Jerusalem temple compound sit at the temple precinct’s northern gate, a site significantly removed from Yahweh’s temple proper.26 Patrick D. Miller tellingly contrasts the male religious practitioners who are described in a succeeding verse (Ezek. 8:16), who stand in the temple’s inner court and, indeed, right next to its entrance, between the temple’s front porch, or dĕbîr, and its courtyard altar.27

Still, state-sponsored sanctuaries were not the only religious venues extant in ancient Israel, especially in the period prior to cult centralization in Jerusalem. The biblical tradition, as well as some archaeological evidence, points instead to several other types of sanctuary space. Of these, shrines located within households and household compounds and regional sanctuaries are of greatest interest for our purposes, first, because household shrines and regional sanctuaries would have been more readily and regularly available to most ancient Israelite women (and men) than were the state-sponsored temples of Jerusalem, Dan, and Bethel, which, at least for many, would have required a long journey from their homes. Also, some of the instruments that could constrain women’s religious agency at ancient Israel’s state-sponsored temples (such as purity concerns and institutional and bureaucratic complexity) were typically less a factor in household shrines and at regional sanctuaries.

Regional Sanctuaries

Regional sanctuaries, as their name suggests, can be defined as sanctuaries that were located around Israel, especially during the period before the cult was centralized in Jerusalem. Presumably, they were used by the inhabitants of a particular region—those who lived, say, within a radius of about 25–35 kilometers (15.5–21.75 miles), or about one day’s walk away.28 First Samuel 1:1–2:26 suggests that, during Israel’s premonarchic period (c. 1200–1000 bce), the preeminent Israelite regional sanctuary was Shiloh. Regional sanctuaries of the monarchic era might have included Gilgal (Hos. 4:15; 12:11 [Heb. 12:12]; Amos 5:5), Lachish,29 Carmel,30 Nebo,31 Dor,32 and Tel Reḥov,33 as well as the various sanctuaries that are described in the Bible using the term bāmâ (commonly, although surely mistakenly, translated as “high place”), which are referred to in 1 Samuel 9:11–14, 19, 22–25; 1 Kings 13:32; 22:43 (Heb. 12:44); 2 Kings 12:3 (Heb. 12:4); 14:4; 15:4; 15:35; 17:9; 23:5, 8, 19; Amos 7:9; Hosea 10:8; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; and Ezekiel 6:3, 6; 20:28–29.

As intimated above, a regional sanctuary like the one at Shiloh might have served as an extremely productive venue for women’s ritual activity, and it is at Shiloh that the barren Hannah engages in the complex set of ritual actions—offering up a prayer, uttering a vow, and petitionary fasting and weeping—in an effort to persuade God to open her womb and give her a son. First Samuel 1:1–2:26, where the Hannah story is recounted, further indicates that the women of Hannah’s household—Hannah, and also Hannah’s husband’s other wife Peninnah, and possibly Peninnah’s daughters34—typically (although not always) accompanied Elkanah, their household’s head, when the family went annually to Shiloh to celebrate what is arguably the fall harvest festival of Sukkot.35 As part of this celebration, according to 1 Samuel 1:4–5, the women of Elkanah’s household were invited to join in consuming the sacrificial meal that is the highlight of Sukkot observance, and 1 Samuel 1:24–25 further implies that Hannah is involved in some way in the rituals preceding the meal that give to God the deity’s assigned portion of the sacrificial offerings. Hannah, for example, is said to have assembled the offerings that her family brings to Shiloh (a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine), just as one might expect, given the conclusions that were reached above about women’s responsibilities for allocating foodstuffs from their households’ stores. Likewise, given what was noted earlier regarding women’s role in grinding grain, we can assume that Hannah played a major role in producing the ephah of flour that was then transported to Shiloh.

According, moreover, to the Hebrew text of 1 Samuel 1:25, Hannah joined with her husband Elkanah in slaughtering the three-year-old sacrificial bull, although other ancient versions of the Hebrew Bible (the ancient Greek translation and the text of Samuel found among the Dead Sea Scrolls) describe only Elkanah as performing this task. These latter witnesses probably provide the more accurate depiction, as they parallel the description of Elkanah alone sacrificing in 1 Samuel 1:4, as well as biblical traditions elsewhere that depict only men as killing sacrificial animals (Gen. 31:54; 46:1; Judg. 6:19; 1 Sam. 2:13; 9:23–24). Still, the ancient versions of the Hebrew Bible agree with the Hebrew text as it has come down to us that Hannah was present alongside Elkanah when the sacrificial slaughter took place. It also seems possible that Hannah should be envisioned as joining together with Elkanah in approaching God’s altar to dedicate the deity’s assigned portion of the offering. Note in this regard Judges 13:23, where Manoah’s wife says to her husband regarding the sacrifice of a kid and grain that was offered to the divine messenger who had appeared to them, “Yahweh … took a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands” (emphasis mine)—and this even though Judges 13:19 clearly states that only Manoah performed the actual dedicatory rites at a near-to-hand rock-cum-altar. So too Hannah might be said to have joined with Elkanah to give God “our” offering at Shiloh’s altar, even as only Elkanah enacted, first, the slaughter and, then, the rituals of altar service.

Indeed, important to note here is that although the sanctuary at Shiloh is served by a resident priestly family (Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas), no priest is said to be present in the 1 Samuel 1:24–25 account of sacrificial ritual. That is, Shiloh seems not to have a highly bureaucratized and institutionalized priesthood that takes responsibility for, especially, the altar-related aspects of sacrificial ritual. Hannah’s ability to participate as a significant actor within Shiloh’s sacrificial cult may result from this fact, given, as suggested above, that an institutionalized priesthood can constrain women’s potential to exercise religious agency. Other regional sanctuaries also seem to operate independent of an institutionalized priesthood and so independent of the constraints on nonpriestly religious agents (including women) that an institutionalized priesthood can impose. For example, 2 Kings 17:9–11 describes only the people of Israel as those worshipping and making offerings at the regional bāmâ sanctuaries of Israel’s Northern Kingdom. This point is likewise and repeatedly made in texts that purport to describe the religious practices of the regional bāmâ sanctuaries of the Southern Kingdom in the 9th and 8th centuries bce (see 1 Kgs. 22:43 [Heb. 22:44]; 2 Kgs. 12:3 [Heb. 12:4]; 2 Kgs. 14:4; 15:4; and 15:35). Even in the 7th and early 6th centuries bce, this situation may have persisted. According to Ezekiel 20:28–29, for example—a text that dates from c. 591 bce—it was the people of Israel, throughout their history, who had offered sacrifice at a sanctuary that “is called Bamah to this day.”

In short: at the regional bāmâ sanctuaries, just as at the regional sanctuary of Shiloh, the lack of an institutionalized priesthood seems to have made it possible for the worshipping community’s nonelites (including, perhaps, women) to take on significant responsibilities as ritual agents. Miller, moreover, has described the “symbols of … purity” as only “tangentially” operative in story of Hannah’s religious activities at Shiloh,36 and if this were the case at other regional sanctuaries, then this want of purity concerns could also have facilitated opportunities for the worshipping community’s non-elites (including, perhaps, women) to exercise a broadened degree of ritual agency.

Household Shrines

Household shrines can be defined as small-scale worship spaces that stood within individual Israelite homes or within multi-building household compounds. In Judges 17:5, for example, a man named Micah is said to have a shrine that appears to be a distinct structure within a larger residential complex that is called the “house of Micah.”37 This shrine presumably housed the ephod and teraphim—which seem to be objects used in divination rituals—that Micah, in the same verse, is said to have made.38

The ephod and teraphim, however, are not the only religious objects whose manufacture is described in the Micah story. In Judges 17:4, Micah’s mother is said to take two hundred pieces of silver and commission a metallurgist to cast a religious figurine. According to many commentators, we are to interpret this as an idolatrous act. After all, to make a religious figurine is something generally prohibited by biblical law. The figurine, moreover, is often regarded by commentators as tainted because it was cast from silver Micah had stolen from his mother and had only returned when threatened by her curse of the unknown thief. Many interpreters also indict the mother as stingy because she consecrates only two hundred pieces of her silver cache for the figurine’s manufacture, although there were said to be eleven hundred pieces in her original hoard.

However, as C. A. Faraone, B. Garnand, and C. López-Ruiz have shown, the two hundred pieces of silver that Micah’s mother consecrates for the making of her figurine is a perfectly appropriate and even expected amount within the context of ancient Mediterranean religious traditions.39 It is further of note that Micah’s mother is presented as able to make this decision—that a woman, that is, is presented as having control of what was surely a significant holding (the most significant holding?) within her household’s material resources. Despite the prohibitions that biblical law seeks to impose, moreover, we are arguably to understand the mother’s figurine as somehow representing the Israelite god Yahweh. Yahweh is, after all, the only deity mentioned in both the Judges 17:1–4 account that describes the cast-metal figurine’s production and the larger Judges 17:1–18:31 narrative of which 17:1–4 is a part. Also, the mother is explicitly depicted as a Yahweh worshipper. She utters a blessing in the name of Yahweh in Judges 17:2 and then declares she is consecrating her silver to Yahweh in Judges 17:3. In addition, the mother’s son Micah carries the divine name Yahweh in his name (this is especially evident in the long form of Micah’s name used in 17:1 and 4, Micaiah, which means “Who is like Yahweh?”). This is significant because in the Hebrew Bible, mothers are more often said to name their children than fathers.40 Therefore, an Israelite audience would likely have understood that the mother had bestowed upon her son a name that celebrates Yahweh as the object of her religious devotion.

Like the ephod and teraphim that Micah is said to have made, the mother’s religious figurine is most likely to be envisioned as having stood in Micah’s household shrine. Yet while the ephod and teraphim—presuming that, as previously suggested, they were used in rituals of divination—were surely objects of great significance within the ritual life of Micah’s household, they were seemingly of less monetary value than the mother’s cast-metal figurine (after all, no silver is said to have been used in their manufacture, and texts such as Jer. 2:27 and Hos. 4:13 may imply that teraphim were made of wood).41 More significantly, the ephod and teraphim—or at least the teraphim, about which we know more—were arguably of less religious value than was the mother’s figurine. Teraphim, many scholars have argued, are figurines of a family’s ancestors that were used to solicit supernatural knowledge that came from the world beyond the grave.42 Yet while this cult of the ancestors was extremely important within Israelite household religion, the mother’s cast-metal figurine went further in representing Yahweh as her household’s patron god. Indeed, teraphim texts elsewhere in the Bible—especially Genesis 31:19–35—suggest that a household such as Micah’s would have had multiple teraphim (representing a household’s multiple deceased ancestors), whereas Micah’s mother’s cast-metal figurine appears to have been the only representation of Yahweh found in Micah’s household shrine.

In short, Micah’s mother should be seen as having contributed to her household’s shrine the object that was its most valuable furnishing. Moreover, Micah’s mother’s figurine—given that it signified Yahweh—could well have served in Micah’s household shrine as a focal point for household members’ devotion and worship. Micah’s mother thus could—and should—be understood as her household’s shrine’s primary patron. Within their households’ shrines, moreover, Israelite women seem to have played a primary role in performing the offering rituals that were the core rites of ancient Israelite household religion: the making of grain and foodstuff offerings, libation offerings, and incense offerings (although not offerings that result from animal sacrifice, a rite that seems only to have been practiced at larger sanctuaries and temples). This is particularly indicated in Jeremiah 7:16–20 and 44:15–19, 25, where the prophet Jeremiah denounces Israelites of the late 7th and early 6th century bce for, among other things, worshipping a goddess known only as the Queen of Heaven. In 7:18, for example, we are told that “the sons gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the Queen of Heaven.”

Three points are noteworthy here. First, the location where these worshippers’ cake-making activities must have taken place is within these individuals’ households or within their extended household compounds, for, as seen in the discussion of the ancient Israelite household economy above, it was within individual households that the grain and other foodstuffs that would have been needed to make the Queen of Heaven’s bread cakes would have been stored, and it was within these houses’ central courtyards that this grain would have been ground into flour and the bread dough subsequently prepared. It was within these houses’ courtyards as well, or within their adjacent open-air yards, that the bread cakes would have been baked.

A second point of note is that despite Jeremiah’s focus on the worship of the Queen of Heaven in the late 7th and early 6th century bce, archaeological evidence from ancient Israel suggests that regardless of the deity or deities to whom they were directed, the modes of cultic practice that characterize the worship of the Queen of Heaven were typical of Israelite household religion throughout the pre-exilic period and perhaps in the postexilic period as well. In a space that archaeologists have identified as a dedicated shrine room from early 12th- through mid-11th-century bce Ai, for example, there was found a tall, cylindrically shaped clay stand with fenestrated sides, which seems designed for burning aromatic plant materials (these materials would have been burned within the cylinder, with smoke issuing forth from the fenestrations). Grain and similar foodstuff offerings would have been set in a bowl placed atop the stand. A channel in the floor in front of the bench on which the cylindrically shaped stand stood was presumably for draining away libation offerings. This evidence indicates that an Israelite household—or at least a pre-exilic household—would have expressed its dedication to Yahweh (or any other god) by making the same sort of grain, libation, and incense offerings as did the Queen of Heaven’s devotees.

This brings us to a third crucial point: that Jeremiah singles out women in his critiques of the worship of the Queen of Heaven. In Jeremiah 7:18, for example, the prophet specifically identifies women as kneading the dough for the Queen of Heaven’s offering cakes and, presumably, also baking them. These acts were surely more integral to a family’s fulfilling of this ritual obligation than were a household’s sons’ gathering of wood and/or a household’s father’s kindling of fire. Moreover, it is women alone who speak of making libation and incense offerings and cakes for the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah 44:19, and, somewhat similarly, in Jeremiah 44:15, while it is “husbands” who are the subject of the verse, it is their wives who are specifically identified as having burned incense to other gods. Also, in Jeremiah 44:25, although there are some grammatical problems, it seems most likely that when Jeremiah, speaking for God, condemns his audience for making offerings and pouring out libations to the Queen of Heaven, his subject is specifically the assembly’s women.

Why would Israelite women have special responsibility for making offerings within their households’ religious cult? The reason probably stems from women’s role, described above, in processing their households’ food, meaning both the roles women assumed in processing raw foodstuffs (such as grain) into edibles (such as bread) and their role in allocating the foods they had prepared to their family members (as in Lev. 26:26). These obligations regarding grain and bread distribution, as Carol Meyers has argued, might reasonably be expected to carry beyond the familial sphere and into the supernatural43—as indeed was the case in the story of Hannah discussed earlier, where Hannah, in 1 Samuel 1:24, takes responsibility for assembling the offerings her family brought to Shiloh for the sacrificial feast. We can imagine women doing much the same within their own households, so that alongside their obligation to prepare food in general and bread in particular for their households and to allocate these foodstuffs to their households’ members, they assumed the tasks of preparing food (and drink) offerings in general and grain and/or bread offerings in particular for their households’ god or gods and then apportioning these offerings to their households’ deities. Alternatively, they could apportion these offerings to other household members for these household residents to use in their own devotions.

Women Religious Functionaries: Magicians

In addition to being able to act as ritual agents in regional sanctuaries and, especially, household shrines, Israelite women could sometimes assume more official roles as religious functionaries. We have already seen, for example, that midwives served as medico-magical specialists, and biblical tradition elsewhere identifies other women as magical experts. Three biblical texts, for example—Leviticus 20:27; 1 Samuel 28:3–25; and Isaiah 57:3—speak of women necromancers, specialists who magically conjure up the dead to seek from them information to which their otherworld existence supposedly made them privy.

In Leviticus 20:27 and Isaiah 57:3, the female necromancers, whether real (Lev. 20:27) or metaphorical (Isa. 57:3), are castigated, even to the point, in Leviticus 20:27, of being subject to execution, and necromancy itself is also denounced in at least two and arguably three other verses in the Leviticus text of which Leviticus 20:27 is a part (Lev. 19:26, 31; 20:6). Curiously however, even though the author(s) and/or redactor(s) responsible for 1 Samuel 28:3–25 express qualms about the legitimacy of necromantic rites (in 28:3, 9), the woman necromancer in this text is represented sympathetically. The difference is probably attributable, at least in part, to date: Leviticus 20:27 and the kindred Leviticus 19:26, 31; and 20:6 all come from a textual corpus that biblical scholars call the Holiness Code, which many consider to come from the exilic or postexilic period. Isaiah 57:3 likewise comes from the early postexilic period. Leviticus 19:26, 31; 20:6, 27; and Isaiah 57:3 thus all arguably reflect the program of cult centralization that was enacted beginning in the late exilic period and that had as a major target, among other things, the ancient Israelite ancestor cult and the practice of necromancy that was one of this cult’s central rites. This is because the ancestor cult, which is so constitutive of family-based identities and loyalties, stands fundamentally in opposition to the goal of centralizing worship at the royally sponsored temple in Jerusalem. Note, however, that the necromancer in 1 Samuel 28:3–25 does not act, as a typical necromancer would, in the service of a family’s ancestor cult: the woman is related neither to King Saul, who asks her to perform a necromantic ritual on his behalf, nor to Samuel, whose deceased spirit the necromancer summons. Nor are Saul and Samuel related to one another. Thus, the necromancer of 1 Samuel 28:3–25 does not act in support of family interests; in fact, she acts in support of a king. This may be why she can be treated sympathetically by her story’s author(s) and/or redactor(s), even as necromancy is more generally condemned.

Women Religious Functionaries: Prophets

An analysis similar to that just advanced regarding women magicians might be offered regarding the various women who are identified as prophets in biblical tradition: Miriam (Exod. 15:20–21; Num. 12:1–15); Deborah (Judg. 4:4); Hulda (2 Kgs. 22:14–20; 2 Chr. 34:22–28); Noadiah (Neh. 6:14); the unnamed prophetess of Isaiah 8:3; and “the daughters … who prophesy” (Ezek. 13:17–23). Among these, Deborah and Hulda are depicted by the Bible’s author(s) and/or redactor(s) in generally positive ways, probably because they are understood to have acted in conjunction with and in support of the male authorities of their day. In Judges 4, for example, Deborah enacts the typical prophetic function of delivering a divinely decreed message on Yahweh’s behalf; the oracle Deborah delivers, moreover—a pronouncement that gives Yahweh’s sanction for an Israelite military engagement and guarantees its success—is a type of decree that prophets elsewhere in the Bible often articulate. Deborah’s commission of a man named Barak to take charge of this military engagement is also well paralleled in other prophetic accounts, as in 1 Kings 20:1–22, where an unnamed (male) prophet commissions King Ahab to undertake military action on Israel’s and Yahweh’s behalf. Hulda similarly speaks on Yahweh’s behalf, although in her case, the decree concerns religious rather than military matters. More specifically, it is Hulda who affirms for the political and religious leadership in Jerusalem that the religious reformations of cult centralization and related issues that begin to be enacted in the last quarter of the 7th century bce are in accord with Yahweh’s will for Israel.

Conversely, Miriam, Noadiah, and “the daughters … who prophesy” of Ezekiel 13:17–23 are all depicted as coming into conflict with male authorities and all are characterized negatively because of this. Indeed, virtually all we know about Noadiah is that she somehow stood in opposition to the project of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls that was championed by Nehemiah and that she is denigrated in Nehemiah 6:14 for this stance. “The daughters … who prophesy” of Ezekiel 13:17–23 are similarly—yet even more scathingly—castigated by Ezekiel, although the reason for Ezekiel’s denunciation is not necessarily clear. Perhaps if the “daughters,” as has been suggested by some, “serv[ed] in a health-care capacity … as ‘prophets’ [who] could be consulted as ‘medical professionals’ during pregnancy and delivery,”44 Ezekiel’s excoriation stems from resentment, for while all prophets seem to have the potential to mediate between the divine and human world by ministering to those who were ill and effecting their healing (see, e.g., 1 Kgs. 14:1–18; 17:17–24; 2 Kgs. 4:8–37; 5:1–14; and 20:1–11 [= Isa. 38:1–8]), only women prophets would have been able to perform this health-care role at the time of a childbearing woman’s actual delivery (this is due the Israelite tendency noted earlier to separate men from a woman who is giving birth). Does Ezekiel thus take exception to the fact that there are prophetic responsibilities undertaken at the time of childbirth that his women rivals are able to fulfill, even as he is not?

Rivalries, and rivalries that may have a gender dimension, also come into play in Numbers 12:1–15. There, according to Numbers 12:2, Moses’ two siblings, Miriam and Aaron, speak out to question Moses’ right to serve as Yahweh’s sole spokesperson within the Israelite community: “has not,” they ask, “he [Yahweh] also spoken through us?” The question seems a reasonable one. After all, both Miriam and Aaron are designated in the book of Exodus as prophets (Exod. 7:1; 15:20) and so, presumably, as Moses-like mediators between the divine and human worlds. Furthermore, the deity seems to agree—at least at some level—that Aaron and Miriam are correct to claim that supernatural messages are delivered “to” (if not necessarily “through”) them; thus Yahweh speaks to Aaron and Miriam in Numbers 12:4 and again in 12:6–8. Yet counter to Miriam’s and Aaron’s presumption, Yahweh indicates that there is a difference between “prophets” such as the two of them and Moses. Then, according to Numbers 12:9, “the anger of Yahweh was kindled against them [Miriam and Aaron]” (emphasis mine) because of their affront. But as God’s anger manifests itself, only Miriam is punished. A possible reason is that Miriam’s claims about her prophetic stature are perceived as more presumptuous than are Aaron’s, for while Aaron has only misconstrued the nature of his relationship to God as compared to that of Moses, Miriam both has been guilty of this misconstrual and, in challenging Moses’ authority, has overstepped the bounds of gender.

Women Religious Functionaries: Musicians

One final note should be made about Miriam: that in Exodus 15:20–21, where she is identified as a prophet, she is also described as taking up a frame drum and leading the women of Israel in drumming, dancing, and singing as they celebrate the Israelites’ miraculous deliverance from the forces of the Egyptians at the Reed [more traditionally, “Red”] Sea. Nor is Miriam the only woman to perform this role of celebrating Yahweh’s and the Israelites’ triumph in a holy war. Other instances of this “victory song” performance can be found in Judges 5:1–31 (Deborah’s song celebrating the Israelite victory over Sisera and his Canaanite army); Judges 11:34 (where the daughter of Jephthah goes forth to greet her father playing frame drums and dancing after he returns home victorious from battle against the Ammonites); 1 Samuel 18:6–7 (where the women of the towns of Israel serenade King Saul as he marches back from battle by playing frame drums, dancing, and singing of his triumph); and Psalms 68:11–12 (Heb. 68:11–12), where female heralds are commissioned to sing out the news of Yahweh’s victory in holy war. This tradition of women’s “victory song” performance is also evoked metaphorically in Jeremiah 31:4.

Other occasions when Israelite women assume responsibilities as ritual musicians may include women’s music-making during the autumn harvest festival of Ingathering, or Sukkot. This tradition is intimated in Judges 21:19–21, where, during the celebration of a festival commentators almost unanimously identify as Sukkot, the young women of Shiloh—the site of this particular Sukkot celebration—are said to come out “to dance in the dances.” The same tradition of women’s music-making at Sukkot, at the same site (Shiloh), may be alluded to in 1 Samuel 2:1–10, where Hannah is said to sing a hymn of praise and thanksgiving on the occasion of the Sukkot festival associated with the dedication of her newly weaned son Samuel to Yahweh’s cultic service. Another text that speaks to the special role for women as singers and dancers in conjunction with the celebration of Sukkot is found in Jeremiah 31:10–14, where young women are described as dancing at the time of the harvest of the grapes and olives—that is, the harvest preeminently associated with the Sukkot festival. The special place of women as musicians in conjunction with the grape harvest celebration is also suggested by Isaiah 5:1–7, a text that draws on an actual song of the Sukkot festival that originally must have been sung by a woman (as indicated by the reference to a male beloved in v. 1).

A third and final arena in which Israelite women assumed responsibilities as ritual musicians is in making music in conjunction with various life-cycle rituals. Particularly well attested is women’s role as singers of lamentation in conjunction with funerary rites and on the occasion of funeral-like events. A oft-quoted passage in Jeremiah 31:15, for example, speaks of how, at the time of the Babylonian invasions of the late 7th and early 6th centuries bce, the voice of the long-dead Rachel is heard performing a dirge over her devastated descendants. Second Samuel 1:24; Jeremiah 7:29; 9:17–21 (Hebrew 9:16–20); Ezekiel 8:14; and possibly Amos 5:16 also speak to the Israelite tradition of women as singers of lamentations. Indeed, in Jeremiah 9:17–21 (Hebrew 9:16–20), the dictum that the lamenting women should be summoned suggests a group of women specializing in lamentation, and this is also implied in the text’s reference to these women as being “expert” or “learned” in their craft (meaning, probably, specially trained). In v. 20 (Hebrew v. 19), moreover, these female lament singers are commanded to teach their daughters a dirge, possibly suggesting that the profession of the lament singer was handed down by women from one generation to the next.45

Coming-of-age rituals and weddings, too, may have been life-cycle events during which the women of ancient Israel were called upon to make music, although our evidence is sparse.

Royal Women and Other Women Who Served in Leadership Positions

As noted above, some of the Bible’s most famous women are its queens: for example, King David’s wife, Bathsheba, and King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. It might come as something of a surprise to learn, then, that the title “queen” is never assigned to a wife of an Israelite king. Instead, the biblical records, especially those from the Southern Kingdom, tend to focus upon the role of the “queen mother.” Indeed, the archival records of all but two of the nineteen kings of the Southern Kingdom record the name of the king’s queen mother. These queen mothers, moreover, seem to have served as official functionaries within their sons’ courts. This can be seen especially in 1 Kings 15:13, where King Asa, angered by one of the undertakings of his queen mother, Ma‘acah, deposed her from her post (1 Kgs. 15:13).

Responsibilities assumed by Israel’s queen mothers include playing a role in naming their husbands’ heir. For example, in 1 Kings 1, the story of how Solomon succeeds to the throne of his father David, we are told that David is on his deathbed and that his throne is about to be inherited by his oldest living son, Adonijah. There is, however, dissent, expressed particularly by the prophet Nathan. Nathan thus approaches Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, and urges her to go to her ailing husband, whereupon she persuades him to appoint Solomon as the next king. Bathsheba thus plays a crucial role in determining the royal succession. This role is also indicated in a text from the Song of Songs (Cant. 3:11).

As the story of Solomon’s monarchy continues, the text describes another important role Bathsheba plays as queen mother: she acts as a counselor within her son’s court. In fact, Solomon accords so much respect to Bathsheba in her advisory capacity that he is said to rise and bow down to her when she enters his throne room to consult and then has a seat placed for her at his right hand (1 Kgs. 2:19). A comparison with Psalms 80:17 (Hebrew 80:18) and 110:1, where the king is described as sitting at the right hand of God, suggests that after the throne of the monarch himself, Bathsheba’s seat is the place of highest honor on the royal dais.46

There are several reasons for the superior position of queen mothers in Israel. The first concerns the biblical tradition of royal polygyny, for the fact that a king has many wives means it is not immediately obvious which of his royal consorts should be his “queen.” Only one royal women, conversely, can be the king’s mother. Queen mothers in the Southern Kingdom, moreover, assume power based on an understanding that they have a special relationship with the divine, since the southern ideology of kingship holds that God is the king’s metaphorical father (2 Sam. 7:14; Pss. 2:7; 89:19–37 [Heb. 89:20–38]; 110:1–7; and Isa. 9:6 [Heb. 9:5]). It follows that the king can be envisioned as having a metaphorical divine mother as well, and the actual queen mother seems to represent this heavenly being on earth. This would explain why the queen mother Ma‘acah is described in 1 Kings 15:13 as making an image in honor of Asherah, who was the mother goddess of the larger Levantine world of which Israel was a part.47

Goddess traditions of the larger Levantine world may have somewhat similarly influenced the portrayals of other biblical women who are said to serve in leadership positions. The depictions of the judge and prophet Deborah found in Judges 5:1–23, for example, and of Jael found in Judges 5:24–27 are very reminiscent of depictions of the warrior goddess Anat found in Canaanite mythology.48

Women in Ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible: Concluding Reflections

Despite the fact that the Hebrew Bible is, in many respects, a man’s book, it—when combined with anthropological and archaeological data, as well as comparative evidence from the larger biblical world—can reveal a considerable amount of information about ancient Israelite women. Particularly striking is the amount of information we can discern about women’s roles in family and household contexts, the venues where they—along with most men—spent most of their time. Because the Bible is predominantly concerned with religion, we can also glean from its pages certain information about women’s roles in the religious sphere, including roles women assumed as specialized religious functionaries (prophets, magicians, ritual musicians). Overall, women’s contributions within ancient Israel’s male-dominated society are more varied and often more important than some might expect. Still, women’s ability to access positions of significant authority in ancient Israel, especially positions outside the home, was limited.

Review of the Literature

Interest in women in ancient Israel and in the Hebrew Bible has, in many respects, manifested itself in conjunction with political movements concerned with issues of women’s equality and women’s rights. For example, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the primary architects of the so-called “first wave” of feminist political activism in the United States, coupled the work she undertook in the second half of the 19th century regarding women’s suffrage and other legal issues pertaining to women (e.g., custody rights, property rights, and divorce) with the publication in the 1890s of The Woman’s Bible. In it, Stanton and her co-authors sought (in Stanton’s words) “to revise … those texts and chapters [of the Bible] directly referring to women, and those also in which women are made prominent by exclusion.”49 Stanton and her co-authors, however, were not biblical scholars. But in 1898, the same year in which the second volume of Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible was published, an article by Ismar J. Peritz entitled “Women in the Ancient Hebrew Cult” appeared in a leading scholarly journal, the Journal of Biblical Literature.50

As the first-wave feminist movement faded away in the United States, especially after women received the right to vote in 1920, so too did the study of women in ancient Israel and in the Hebrew Bible. From the mid-20th century, for example, we can cite only the 1955 book All the Women of the Bible (New York: Harper & Row, 1955), whose author Edith Deen was, like Stanton and her associates, not a biblical scholar. Not surprisingly, however, the emergence of second-wave feminism in the 1960s inspired a resurgent interest in feminist biblical scholarship. Two landmark articles were published in the early 1970s: Phyllis Trible’s “Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation,” which appeared in 1973 in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion,51 and Phyllis A. Bird’s “Images of Women in the Old Testament,” which appeared in Rosemary Radford Ruether’s 1974 edited volume Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions.52 In the years that followed, publications in the field of feminist Hebrew Bible scholarship increased exponentially. Notable feminist biblical scholars whose work began to appear in the 1970s and 1980s include Alice Bach, Mieke Bal, Adele Berlin, Athalya Brenner, Claudia Camp, Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, J. Cheryl Exum, Esther Fuchs, Jo Ann Hackett, Carol Meyers, Carol Newsom, Susan Niditch, and Katharine Doob Sakenfeld.

These scholars, moreover, tended to follow the two basic methodologies that had been laid down by Trible and Bird in their 1973 and 1974 articles. In the case of Trible, the methodology was a literary one, which focused primarily on the Hebrew Bible’s narrative texts and sought to describe, through an analysis of literary structure, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and the like, the means and techniques by which biblical stories are told and the impact of these means and techniques upon the stories’ depictions of women. Bird, conversely, put forward a more historically oriented analysis, asking what we can ascertain from Hebrew Bible texts regarding the actual lives and experiences of ancient Israelite women. This sort of historically based approach tends also to incorporate a significant amount of extra-biblical data: archaeological data, for example, or information derived from comparing biblical traditions to traditions from the other cultures of the biblical world. Comparisons are also sometimes made with cultures outside the biblical world, whose political, social, and religious structures might seem analogous to those of the Israelites.

As the study of women in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israel continued into the 1990s and the 21st century, several important anthologies that provide synthetic overviews of the entire Hebrew Bible began to appear: for example, the Women’s Bible Commentary (first published in 1992 and now in its third edition), edited by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2012); Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament, edited by Carol Meyers, with Toni Craven and Ross S. Kraemer (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000); Feminist Biblical Interpretation: A Compendium of Critical Commentary on the Books of the Bible and Related Literature, edited by Luise Schottroff and Marie-Theres Wacker with the cooperation of Claudia Janssen and Beate Wehn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012); Feminist Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Retrospect, edited by Susanne Scholz (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013); and The Bible and Women: An Encyclopaedia of Exegesis and Cultural History. The latter’s projected twenty-one volumes “aim to present a reception history and cultural history of the Bible, focusing on gender-relevant biblical themes, women in the text, and the women who throughout history have read, appropriated, and interpreted the Bible in text and image.”53 Also, between 1993 and 2001, the remarkable Feminist Companion to the Bible, Series 1 and Series 2, appeared (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press), edited by Athalya Brenner and comprised of sixteen volumes of feminist scholarship on various biblical books.

In these volumes, and elsewhere, commentators have added new foci to the field of feminist biblical scholarship: the study of women in the Bible and ancient Israel in the light of ancient Near Eastern goddess traditions;54 the place of women in Israel’s legal traditions;55 and the representations of biblical women in postbiblical Jewish and Christian interpretation.56 Some of the concerns of contemporary feminism—for example, its careful attention to the lives and experiences of women of color and of women from the developing world—have also informed the work of biblical scholars: for example, Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Nyasha Junior, Renita J. Weems, and the authors whose essays are collected in Reading the Bible as Women: Perspectives from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.57 Issues concerning violence against women—especially the violent language that is used in prophetic texts to describe God’s response to the perceived wrongs that have been committed by Israel, metaphorically characterized as God’s wife (Hosea 1–3; Ezek. 16 and 23)—have also been the subject of considerable interest among feminist biblical scholars, especially in the face of the problems of sexual assault that plague contemporary societies.

Primary Sources

While the Bible remains the primary source for any study of women in ancient Israel, the Bible’s heavily androcentric focus makes it necessary to draw on supplemental resources in order to illuminate Israelite women’s lives. Especially important are data derived from archaeological excavations of ancient Israelite sites and comparative data that come from the many peoples of the ancient Near Eastern and eastern Mediterranean worlds with whom the Israelites interacted and with whom, in many cases, the Israelites shared certain cultural conventions. Unfortunately, archaeological data are not often compiled with questions about women in mind, although some useful studies exist: Jennie R. Ebeling, Women’s Lives in Biblical Times (London: T&T Clark, 2010); Carol Meyers, “Archaeology—A Window to the Lives of Israelite Women,” in Torah, volume 1.1 of The Bible and Women: An Encyclopaedia of Exegesis and Cultural History (ed. Irmtraud Fischer and Mercedes Navarro Puerto, with Andrea Taschl-Erber; Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011), 61–108; and Carol Meyers, “Recovering Objects, Re-Visioning Subjects: Archaeology and Feminist Biblical Study,” in A Feminist Companion to Reading the Bible: Approaches, Methods and Strategies (ed. Athalya Brenner and Carole Fontaine; Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 270–284.

Primary sources regarding women within the larger biblical world are also somewhat hard to find. A recently published collection of historical and literary texts, focusing primarily on women in Mesopotamia, is Mark Chavalas, ed., Women in the Ancient Near East: A Sourcebook (London: Routledge, 2014). Similar collections for Greek tradition include Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant, eds., Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook in Translation (3d ed.; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005); and Bonnie MacLachlan, ed., Women in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook (London and New York: Continuum, 2012). A fair number of primary sources about women are also cited in the essays collected in Barbara S. Lesko, ed., Women’s Earliest Records from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia (BJS 166; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), and in the following essays from Jack M. Sasson, ed., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (4 vols.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000); Geraldine Pinch, “Private Life in Ancient Egypt” (pp. 363–381); Marten Stol, “Private Life in Ancient Mesopotamia” (pp. 485–501); Fiorella Imparati, “Private Life Among the Hittites” (pp. 571–586); and Mayer I. Gruber, “Private Life in Canaan and Ancient Israel” (pp. 633–648). Iconographic materials have been collected by Urs Winter, Frau und Göttin: Exegetische und ikonographische Studien zum weiblichen Gottesbild im Alten Israel und in dessen Umwelt (OBO 53; Freiburg: Universitätsverlag; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983); and Silvia Schroer, “Ancient Near Eastern Pictures as Keys to Biblical Texts,” in Torah, vol. 1.1 of The Bible and Women: An Encyclopaedia of Exegesis and Cultural History (ed. Irmtraud Fischer and Mercedes Navarro Puerto, with Andrea Taschl-Erber; Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011), 31–60.

A standard source for Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Canaanite, and Hittite texts and images remains James B. Pritchard’s The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press). The latest edition was published in 2011. Equally of note is William W. Hallo’s three-volume compilation, The Context of Scripture (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997–2002). In neither work, however, is there a specific focus on gender.

Further Reading

  • Ackerman, Susan. Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel. ABRL 17. New York: Doubleday, 1998.
  • Bird, Phyllis. Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities: Women and Gender in Ancient Israel. OBT. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997.
  • Ebeling, Jennie. Women’s Lives in Biblical Times. London: T&T Clark, 2010.
  • Exum, J. Cheryl. Fragmented Women: Feminist (Sub)versions of Biblical Narratives. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993.
  • Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth. New York: Fawcett, Columbine, 1992.
  • Hackett, Jo Ann. “In the Days of Jael: Reclaiming the History of Women in Ancient Israel.” In Immaculate and Powerful: The Female in Sacred Image and Social Reality, edited by Clarissa W. Atkinson, Constance H. Buchanan, and Margaret R. Miles, 15–38. Boston: Beacon, 1985.
  • Marsman, Hennie J. Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East. OtSt/OTS 49. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.
  • Meyers, Carol. Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Meyers, Carol, ed., with Toni Craven and Ross S. Kraemer. Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
  • Meyers, Carol. Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.
  • Meyers, Carol. Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Newsom, Carol A., Sharon H., Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, eds. Women’s Bible Commentary. Revised and updated. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2012.
  • Trible, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. OBT 2. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978.
  • Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. OBT 13. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.
  • Vos, Clarence J. Woman in Old Testament Worship. Delft, The Netherlands: Judels and Brinkman, 1968.


  • 1. Scholarly attempts to identify women authors of certain biblical texts are catalogued in Susan Ackerman, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel (ABRL 17; New York: Doubleday, 1998), 23, n. 34. On the transmission of biblical texts through male scribal guilds, see Phyllis Bird, “Women’s Religion in Ancient Israel,” in Women’s Earliest Records from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia (ed. Barbara S. Lesko; BJS 166; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 285–286, n. 8.

  • 2. Karla G. Bohmbach, “Names and Naming in the Biblical World,” in Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament (ed. Carol Meyers, with Toni Craven and Ross S. Kraemer; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), 33–34.

  • 3. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, “Virginity in the Bible,” in Gender and Law in the Hebrew Bible and in the Ancient Near East (ed. Victor H. Matthews, Bernard M. Levinson, and Tikva Frymer-Kensky; JSOTSup 262; Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 79–96.

  • 4. David C. Hopkins, “Life on the Land: The Subsistence Struggles of Early Israel,” The Biblical Archaeologist 50 (1987): 189.

  • 5. J. Lawrence Angel, “Ecology and Population in the Eastern Mediterranean,” World Archaeology 4 (1972): 94–95, 97, estimates, based on Greek data, that in the early Iron Age (c. 1200–1000 bce), there were an average of 4.1 births per female, with 1.9 survivors.

  • 6. Susan Ackerman, “Hannah’s Tears,” in Celebrate Her for the Fruit of Her Hands: Essays in Honor of Carol L. Meyers (ed. Susan Ackerman, Charles E. Carter, and Beth Alpert Nakhai, with Karla G. Bohmbach and Franz Volker Greifenhagen; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2015), 13–25.

  • 7. The translation “love plants” is from Hector Avalos, Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995), 255.

  • 8. Avalos, Illness and Health Care, 254–255.

  • 9. Carol Meyers, Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 38.

  • 10. Frederick H. Cryer, Divination in Ancient Israel and Its Near Eastern Environment: A Socio-Historical Investigation (JSOTSup 142; Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 91.

  • 11. This definition comes from Jo Ann Scurlock, “Magic (ANE),” in ABD 4 (ed. David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday, 1992), 464b.

  • 12. Meyers, Households and Holiness, 38–39.

  • 13. For these population estimates, see William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 18; and Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Library of Ancient Israel; Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2001), 21.

  • 14. Carol Meyers, Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 128.

  • 15. Carol Meyers, “Material Remains and Social Relations: Women’s Culture in Agrarian Households of the Iron Age,” in Symbiosis, Symbolism, and the Power of the Past: Canaan, Ancient Israel, and Their Neighbors from the Late Bronze Age through Roman Palaestina (ed. William G. Dever and Seymour Gitin; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003), 431, citing George P. Murdock and Caterina Provost, “Factors in the Division of Labor by Sex: A Cross-Cultural Analysis,” Ethnology 12 (1973), Tables 1 and 5.

  • 16. Meyers, Rediscovering Eve, 130.

  • 17. Carol Meyers, Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 146–147; Carol Meyers, “From Field Crops to Food: Attributing Gender and Meaning to Bread Production in Iron Age Israel,” in The Archaeology of Difference: Gender, Ethnicity, Class and the “Other” in Antiquity. Studies in Honor of Eric M. Meyers (AASOR 60/61; ed. Douglas R. Edwards and C. Thomas McCullough; Boston, MA: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2007), 74.

  • 18. Carol Meyers, “Women as Bread Bakers (Lev 26:26),” in Women in Scripture, 213–214; Carol Meyers, “Having Their Space and Eating There Too: Bread Production and Female Power in Ancient Israelite Households,” Nashim 5 (2002): 26.

  • 19. Meyers, “Material Remains and Social Relations,” 433, citing Murdock and Provost, “Factors in the Division of Labor by Sex,” Table 1; and Cathy L. Costin, “Exploring the Relationship Between Gender and Craft in Complex Societies: Methodological and Theoretical Issues of Gender Attribution,” in Gender and Archaeology (ed. Rita P. Wright; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), Table 4.1.

  • 20. Crete, the southwestern Peloponnese, the Magreb, and early 20th-century Ramallah.

  • 21. Janine Bourriau, Paul Nicholson, and Pamela Rose, “Pottery” in Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology (ed. Paul T. Nicholson and Ian Shaw; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 141, citing Prudence M. Rice, Pottery Analysis: A Sourcebook (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 183–191; see also Douglas L. Esse, “The Collared Pithos at Megiddo: Ceramic Distribution and Ethnicity,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 51 (1992): 97 (also pp. 98, 100), with further citations. Regarding Cyprus, see preeminently Gloria A. London, “Cypriot Potters: Past and Present,” in Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 1987 (Nicosia, Cyprus: Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 1987), 320–321; and Gloria A. London, Frosso Egoumenidou, and Vassos Karageorghis, Traditional Pottery in Cyprus/Töpferei auf Zypern, damals-heute (Mainz am Rhein, Germany: von Zabern, 1990), 22–25.

  • 22. Meyers, “Material Remains and Social Relations,” 435; see similarly Meyers, Rediscovering Eve, 185–186.

  • 23. Although Deuteronomy never explicitly identifies this “place that Yahweh will choose” as Jerusalem, a vast majority of scholars agrees that this formula refers to Jerusalem. For discussion, with references, see Bernard M. Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 4, n. 4, and 23, n. 1.

  • 24. Georg Braulik, “Were Women, Too, Allowed to Offer Sacrifices in Israel? Observations on the Meaning and Festive Form of Sacrifice in Deuteronomy,” Hervormde teologiese studies 55 (1999): 936.

  • 25. Jo Ann Hackett, “In the Days of Jael: Reclaiming the History of Women in Ancient Israel,” in Immaculate and Powerful: The Female in Sacred Image and Social Reality (ed. Clarissa W. Atkinson, Constance H. Buchanan, and Margaret R. Miles; Boston: Beacon, 1985), 17; Jo Ann Hackett, “Women’s Studies and the Hebrew Bible,” in The Future of Biblical Studies: The Hebrew Scriptures (ed. Richard Elliott Friedman and H. G. M. Williamson; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987), 147; and Meyers, Discovering Eve, 190–191.

  • 26. For a discussion of the women’s location, see Susan Ackerman, Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah (HSM 46; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992), 53–55.

  • 27. Patrick D. Miller, The Religion of Ancient Israel (Library of Ancient Israel; London: SPCK; Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2000), 39 and 234, n. 179.

  • 28. According to King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, 186, “a day’s journey in biblical times averaged between twenty-seven and thirty-seven kilometers,” i.e., 16.75–23 miles.

  • 29. Matthias Köckert, “YHWH in the Northern and Southern Kingdom,” in One God—One Cult—One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives (ed. Reinhard G. Kratz and Hermann Spieckermann; BZAW 405; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2010), 378, 396–397.

  • 30. Yohanan Aharoni, “Mount Carmel as Border,” in Archäologie und Altes Testament: Festschrift für Kurt Galling (ed. Arnaulf Kuschke and Ernst Kutsch; Tübingen, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr, 1970), 1–7; John A. Beck, “Geography as Irony: The Narrative-Geographical Shaping of Elijah’s Duel with the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18),” in Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 17 (2003): 298–299; Don C. Benjamin, “The Elijah Stories,” in The Land of Carmel: Essays in Honor of Joachim Smet, O. Carm. (ed. Paul Chandler and Keith J. Egan; Rome: Institutum Carmelitanum, 1991), 32, 37–39; and Tal Rusak, “The Clash of Cults on Mount Carmel: Do Archeological Records and Historical Documents Support the Biblical Episode of Elijah and the Ba‘al Priests?” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 22 (2008): 45–46.

  • 31. Köckert, “YHWH in the Northern and Southern Kingdom,” 365, 397.

  • 32. Nahman Avigad, “The Priest of Dor,” Israel Exploration Journal 25 (1975): 103–104.

  • 33. Diana Edelman, “Cultic Sites and Complexes beyond the Jerusalem Temple,” in Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah (ed. Francesca Stavrakopoulou and John Barton; London: T&T Clark, 2010), 91–92.

  • 34. The daughters are a part of Elkanah’s family’s party according to 1 Samuel 1:4 of the Hebrew text as it has come down to us, but they are not mentioned in the ancient Greek rendering of 1 Samuel.

  • 35. Ackerman, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen, 257–258.

  • 36. Miller, Religion, 123.

  • 37. Benjamin D. Cox and Susan Ackerman, “Micah’s Teraphim,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 12 (2012), Article 11, 16–22. Published online at The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures.

  • 38. Cox and Ackerman, “Micah’s Teraphim,” 16.

  • 39. C. A. Faraone, B. Garnand, and C. López-Ruiz, “Micah’s Mother (Judg 17:1 4) and a Curse from Carthage (KAI 89): Canaanite Precedents for Greek and Latin Curses against Thieves?” JNES 64 (2005): 161–186.

  • 40. Women name their children in about 60 percent of the naming episodes recounted in the Hebrew Bible.

  • 41. Silvia Schroer, “Ancient Near Eastern Pictures as Keys to Biblical Texts,” in Torah, vol. 1.1 of The Bible and Women: An Encyclopaedia of Exegesis and Cultural History (ed. Irmtraud Fischer and Mercedes Navarro Puerto, with Andrea Taschl-Erber; Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011), 43; and Karel van der Toorn, “Nine Months Among the Peasants in the Palestinian Highlands: An Anthropological Perspective on Local Religion in the Early Iron Age,” in Symbiosis, Symbolism, and the Power of the Past, 396.

  • 42. Karel van der Toorn, “The Nature of the Biblical Teraphim in the Light of the Cuneiform Evidence,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990): 203–222; Karel van der Toorn and Theodore J. Lewis, “terāpîm,” in TDOT 15 (ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 777–789; and Theodore J. Lewis, “Teraphim,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2d ed.; ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 844–850.

  • 43. Meyers, Discovering Eve, 163.

  • 44. Nancy R. Bowen, “The Daughters of Your People: Female Prophets in Ezekiel 13:17–23,” Journal of Biblical Literature 118 (1999): 426.

  • 45. Bird, “Women’s Religion in Ancient Israel,” 295–296.

  • 46. J. Gray, I and II Kings: A Commentary (OTL; London: SCM, 1964), 104.

  • 47. Susan Ackerman, “The Queen Mother and the Cult in Ancient Israel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 112 (1993): 385–401.

  • 48. Stephen G. Dempster, “Mythology and History in the Song of Deborah,” Westminster Theological Journal 41 (1978): 46–48; and Peter C. Craigie, “Deborah and Anat: A Study of Poetic Imagery,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 90 (1978): 374–381.

  • 49. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Preface,” in The Original Feminist Attack on the Bible (The Woman’s Bible) (New York: Arno, 1974), 5.

  • 50. Ismar J. Peritz, “Women in the Ancient Hebrew Cult,” Journal of Biblical Literature 17 (1898): 111–148.

  • 51. Phyllis Trible, “Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 41 (1973): 30–48.

  • 52. Phyllis A. Bird, “Images of Women in the Old Testament,” in Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions (ed. Rosemary Radford Ruether; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974), 41–88.

  • 53. The Bible and Women, the Society of Biblical Literature.

  • 54. E.g., Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth (New York: Fawcett, Columbine, 1992).

  • 55. E.g., Carolyn Pressler, The View of Women Found in the Deuteronomic Family Laws (New York: de Gruyter, 1993); and Cheryl B. Anderson, Women, Ideology, and Violence: Critical Theory and the Construction of Gender in the Book of the Covenant and the Deuteronomic Law (London: T&T Clark, 2005).

  • 56. E.g., Leila Leah Bronner’s From Eve to Esther: Rabbinic Reconstructions of Biblical Women (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1994); Phyllis Trible and Letty M. Russell, eds., Hagar, Sarah, and Their Children: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006); and Bob Becking and Susanne Hennecke, eds., Out of Paradise: Eve and Adam and their Interpreters (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2010).

  • 57. Ed. Phyllis A. Bird, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and Sharon H. Ringe; Semeia 78, 1997.