Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

Gale A. Yee, Poor Banished Children of Eve: Woman as Evil in the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).  Pp. xii + 298.  Paper, US$24.00.  ISBN 0800634578

In this volume the author investigates the problem of the symbolization of woman as the incarnation of moral evil in the Hebrew Bible and how this symbolization interconnects with issues of race/ethnicity, class, and colonialism during the times of its production. The author achieves that and more because of her firm grounding in social theory and thorough knowledge of the biblical text.  The author begins with two chapters presenting the theories she uses and why they are appropriate for application to the biblical text.  The following four chapters apply her theories to specific examples in the biblical text including: Eve in Genesis; Faithless Israel in Hosea; the Two Sisters in Ezekiel; and the Other Woman in Proverbs.

“Ideological Criticism and Woman as Evil” is the first chapter devoted to theory.  Here she focuses on the method, “ideological criticism,” which she later uses to analyze the texts (p.9).  She begins by defining ideology and outlines strategies of ideologies in its complex representations of the reality of gender relationships.  She unpacks the complexity of ideology and how it functions, clarifying, even before her application to the biblical text, how ideology impacts the production of the biblical text; that is her next topic: the literary text as a production of ideology.  She then focuses on the presuppositions of ideological criticism of texts, namely that, “the text constitutes an ideological production of an already established ideology that universalizes, legitimates, and naturalizes the world that produces it” (p. 23-24).   Finally she defines the tasks of ideological criticism for her purposes using the terms extrinsic and intrinsic analysis.  She defines “extrinsic” analysis as recovering the concrete social and historical conditions of the text’s production and “intrinsic” as determining how the text reworks the ideologies of the text that produce it.  Despite the complicated theory used and material unfamiliar to some of us in the field, her clear prose provides a thorough, well footnoted discussion and she ably reveals how fundamental these ideas are to understanding the biblical text.

Since, as she argues, an extrinsic analysis of literary texts demands an understanding of the social world, particularly of gender relationships, in the next chapter (“The Social Sciences and the Biblical Woman as Evil”), the author tries to reconstruct, to some extent, the social world that created the text.  Since the nature of the literary sources is such that they cannot be used to reconstruct gender relationships to understand women’s lives in ancient Israel, she draws upon interdisciplinary resources to help interpret the data available, especially anthropological ethnographic studies on gender in non-Western pre-industrial societies.  She examines: the general modes of production in ancient Israel during the course of its history; the ramifications of the familial mode of production for the social structure of pre-state Israel; the ideological value system of honor and shame; and the power relations between the genders as expressed in the domestic and jural-political spheres.  The author continues to ground her comments in theory, and in this chapter, archaeology and the biblical text. 

The following chapter begins her critique of specific examples from the biblical text.  In each chapter she begins with a short introduction to the book and/or chapters under discussion and then turns to her extrinsic analysis followed by her intrinsic analysis.  The biblical examples are not random but reflect the history and evolution of Israel from the pre-monarchic through the post-exilic period.   

She begins with, “Eve in Genesis: The Mother of All Living and We Her Children.”  This chapter is the weakest in an otherwise outstanding work not because of her analysis but because of assumptions about Eve that are somewhat ironic in a volume where the author is careful to dispel unfounded notions about the biblical text.  Her discussion of the shift from tributary to a familial mode of production in pre-monarchic Israel establishes the timing of the production of the text and raises intriguing points about the ramifications that shift has on society in general and women in particular.  My critique is the base notion that there is a “fall” which is the source of evil and caused by women, something heavily stressed in Christian understandings of the verses under discussion but less so in other circles.  Thus some of the discussion seems to be fighting issues in Christianity not necessarily rooted in the biblical text. 

The following chapter (“Faithless Israel in Hosea: She Is Not My Wife and I Am Not Her Husband”) is outstanding.  She tackles the scholarly assumption that what is at issue in Hosea is the cult of Asherah and dispels the notion that there was such a thing as “cultic prostitution.”  She argues persuasively that Hosea does not condemn Asherah, the cult, or the women involved, which allows her to highlight other issues so important to the book of Hosea.

In, “The Two Sisters in Ezekiel: They Played the Whore in Egypt,” the author situates the historical production of these metaphors in a system of colonial relations that lead to the eventual conquest and exile of the Judean elite.  She explores the use of pornography in the text as coming from the author’s personal and collective experience of conquest and exile that manifests itself as humiliation and emasculation.  As is the case throughout this work, by unpacking the situations where the mode of production took place and what the authors of the text were experiencing clarifies the message of the text and the means they used to articulate it.

Finally the author examines, “The Other Woman in Proverbs: My Man’s Not Home-He Took His Moneybag with Him.”  Issues raised here include: Yehud under Persian Colonization, Class Conflict in Yehud, Economics, Endogamy, and Ideology. 

This important volume examines the biblical text from perspectives rarely applied to it.  My one criticism is that the title of the book is somewhat misleading.  The author is careful in her use of words and their meanings and yet nowhere does she define the term “evil.”  Her analysis provides solid ideas concerning how and why women were portrayed as they are in the biblical text and her critique lifts up what issues brought that to the fore that often reveal more about the issues facing the male elite than anything about the women.  Furthermore many of her analyses reveal that women are functioning as a metaphor for bigger problems that does not necessarily translate into their designation as evil.  This criticism aside, the volume breaks new ground in analysis of the biblical text.  Her copious notes (there are 102 pages of footnotes), clear prose, and insightful analysis make this text something that all biblical scholars and students should read.

Tammi Schneider
Claremont Graduate University