Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 16 (2016) - Review
Anyone familiar with Carol Meyers's extensive bibliography will surely appreciate the volume Celebrate Her for the Fruit of Her Hands: Studies in Honor of Carol L. Meyers, edited by Susan Ackerman, Charles E. Carter, and Beth Alpert Nakhai. Carol Meyers is a pillar within the fields of biblical scholarship (Hebrew Bible) and archaeology of ancient Israel. More specifically, Meyers is considered by many to be a pioneer in studies on ancient Israelite women, the use of social-scientific approaches to the Hebrew Bible, and her employment of ethnoarchaeology. The Fruit of Her Hands includes two introductions, a select bibliography of the works of Carol Meyers, and nineteen essays on a variety of topics that Meyers has significantly contributed to throughout her illustrious career.
The volume introduction includes two essays of appreciation: one from a former student's perspective by Charles E. Carter and the other from a colleague's perspective by Susan Ackerman. Both essays highlight Meyers's pioneering career and the impact her work had on them and the academy. The contributors to The Fruit of Her Hands include some of the leading scholars in the fields of biblical studies and archaeology. Their essays cover a considerable expanse of time (mostly from the Late Bronze Age to the Rabbinical Period) and include a broad assortment of topics.
Following the introduction, the first contribution in the volume consists of an essay entitled Hannah's Tears by Susan Ackerman. In this chapter Ackerman views Hannah's role in 1 Sam 1:918 as a woman who engages in specific religious rituals as a means to obtain God's favor. In Women, Law, and Legal Procedure in Ancient Israel by James Ashmore, Ashmore utilizes social-scientific data on laws and legal systems to show how ancient Israelite women probably faced significant discrimination in their legal system. Nationalist Narratives and Biblical Memory by Cynthia M. Baker applies the strategies of selective remembering, mapping, and embodying to analyze how the rabbis, Zionists, and Palestinians viewed the land according to their particular ideologies. Karla G. Bohmbach's approach in When it Both Is and Is Not Rape: Gender Constructions in 2 Samuel 13:122 attempts to place the word rape in the context of how the word was defined by the author/audience and how this definition is intertwined with that society's construction of gender. In her essay, Speaking as Any Foolish Woman: Ms. Job in the History of Reception, Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch provides a useful illustration of how reception history can be employed to uncover hidden interpretative traditions within the text. By focusing on the often demonized Ms. Job, Burnette-Bletsch identified patterns within literature, art, and film that define Ms. Job only in relation to her husband. Numbers 5:1131: Women in Second Temple Judah and the Law of the Controlling Priest by Claudia V. Camp makes use of anthropological studies and ideological criticism to analyze the law of the adulterous woman (Num 5:1131) and how these laws may in fact have been used by priests to control women's cultic practices and reproduction.
Sidnie White Crawford's essay on There is Much Wisdom in Her: The Matriarchs in the Qumran Library questions (and answers) why the matriarchs, including their female servants, play such a prominent role in the texts at Qumran. Poor but Wise (Qoheleth 9:1316) by James L. Crenshaw examines the social causes for how the sages, in particular Quoheleth, came to view God as remote and unfathomable. Reading the Bible as Agrarian Literature by Ellen F. Davis provides one of the few essays that deal with Meyers's emphasis on how the Hebrew Bible was rooted in social conditions and systems vastly different than our own. Davis's essay uses Prov 31:1031 as an example of how to view the Hebrew Bible as agrarian literature that is also theologically determined. In his essay, Israelite Women as Ritual Experts: Orthodoxy or Orthopraxis?, William G. Dever discusses the impact Carol Meyers's analysis of Judean pillar figurines had on the study of ancient Israelite women. Norman K. Gottwald's essay Structure and Origin of the Early Israelite and Iroquois Confederacies uses comparative material from the Iroquois Confederacy in upstate New York as a means to better understand the tribal nature of early Israel. The Place of Biblical Studies in the University Curriculum: Beyond the Religious/Secular Divide by Sandie Gravett is a nice change of pace in the volume. Considering Meyers's extensive history of teaching alongside her research, this chapter is the only one that addresses the teaching partspecifically the teaching of biblical studies in so-called secular institutions.
Bargaining with Patriarchy in the Book of Ruth by F. V. Greifenhagen uses the ethnographic concept of the patriarchal bargain to consider the idea of female agency in biblical Israel as it is seen through the book of Ruth. A feminist-critical approach is used by Maxine L. Grossman to focus on the androcentrism of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Gendered Sectarians: Envisioning Women (and Men) at Qumran. Translating Women: The Perils of Gender-Inclusive Translation of the New Testament by Ross S. Kraemer and Jennifer Eyl offers a critical analysis of gender-inclusive translations of the New Testament. In his essay, Ethnicity, Culture, and Religion in Artifact and Text: The Emergence of Complex Common Judaism, Eric M. Meyers examines the intersection of Jewish ethnicity and culture by focusing on Jewish burials in both pre and post-destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 c.e. Beth Alpert-Nakhai employs a feminist approach to the iconography of female plaque figurines from LBII Canaan and New Kingdom Egypt in Plaque Figurines and the Relationship between Canaanite and Egyptian Women in the Late Bronze Age II. Meyers's use of comparative evidence is once again acknowledged in The Story of David and Goliath from the Perspective of the Study of Oral Traditions by Raymond F. Person, Jr. In this essay Person considers the multiple versions of a Serbo-Croatian epic and ethnographic work in Kenya. His ultimate aim is to grasp the fluid nature of the writing down of oral traditions in the Hebrew Bible, in particular the narrative of David and Goliath (1 Sam 1618). The volume closes with the essay, I Sing the Body Politic: Stillborn Desire and the Birth of Israel in Judges 5 by Anathea Portier-Young. This contribution interprets the song of Deborah the Judge and mother of Israel as giving birth to the construction of Israelite identity.
The strengths of the volume far outweigh its weaknesses. With that said, shortcomings include the length of time from the submission of the contributions in 2008 to the publication of the volume in 2015. As a result, some may say that the contributions are partly out of date, but I would counter that argument with the fact that the contributions are quality, and quality never goes out of date. Furthermore, one of the volume's editors, Charles E. Carter, is quick to acknowledge this flaw in the preface (p. vii) and situates it in context. Second, while the introductions of appreciation to Meyers are heart-warming, including a breakdown of the contributions would be helpful in any edited volume. Finally, even though all of the articles utilized an approach or topic that Professor Meyers contributed greatly to, there was no essay on households or food preparation and consumption. Anyone who is familiar with Professor Meyers's work knows that she has contributed greatly to many topics but in particular to the roles of women in ancient Israel. This includes Meyers's emphasis on the household of ancient Israel and women's rolesand not just any roles in the household, but roles of power and authority. Meyers argues that these roles can be seen through the matriarch's position as household manager especially over food preparation and consumption. Many contributions honored Meyers by adopting her emphasis on women and feminist scholarship; however, none focused particularly on adopting Meyers's emphasis on households or food.
Notwithstanding its shortcomings, this volume has many strengths, including that the essays cover a considerable expanse of time and a broad assortment of topics. It must be pointed out that one leading strength is that the contributors to The Fruit of Her Hands include some of the leading scholars in the fields of biblical studies and archaeology. The select bibliography of Carol Meyers's work is a plus, and one I would recommend any Festschrift to include. Finally, the introductions of appreciation and the footnoted author's note in each contribution were a lovely touch. Each author's personal note on how this one professor and colleague touched their lives is a true acknowledgement to the life and work of Professor Meyers.
This volume is recommended for students and scholars, particularly those interested in feminist scholarship, archaeology, and social-scientific approaches to biblical and ancient Israel.