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

ISBN : 9780190626877

Colleen M. Conway
232 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Nov 2016
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In the Hebrew Bible, Judges 4-5 tells the lurid story of the heroic figure of Jael, a woman who seduces the Canaanite general Sisera and then nails his head to the ground with a tent-peg, thus saving Israel from the troops of King Sabin. This gruesome tale has long intrigued scholars and artists alike. The many versions of the story that have appeared in art and literature have repeatedly and creatively built on the gendered themes of the tradition, often seeing in the encounter between Jael and Sisera some fundamental truth about the relationship between women and men. In Sex and Slaughter in the Tent of Jael, Colleen Conway offers the first sustained look at how this biblical tradition has been used artistically to articulate and inform cultural debates about gender. She traces the cultural retellings of this story in poems, prints, paintings, plays, and narratives across many centuries, beginning with its appearance in Judges 4-5 and continuing up to the present day. Once separated from its original theological context, the Jael/Sisera tradition becomes largely about gender identity, particularly the conflict between the sexes. Conway examines the ways in which Jael has been reimagined by turns as a wily seductress, passionate lover, frustrated and bored mother, peace-bringing earth goddess, and deadly cyborg assassin. Meanwhile, Sisera variously plays the enemy general, the seduced lover, the noble but tragically duped victim, and the violent male chauvinist. Ultimately, Conway demonstrates that the ways in which Jael's actions are explained and assessed all depend on when, by whom, and for whom the Jael and Sisera story is being told. In examining the varying artistic renditions of the story, this book also provides a case study of the Bible's role as a common cultural resource in secular western culture.


List of Figures
1. Introduction: A Cultural History of Jael and Sisera
2. Ancient Stories of Jael and Sisera: The Biblical Versions
3. Problem Solving in Ancient Retellings of Jael and Sisera
4. From Allegory to Morality: Jael and Sisera Go Public
5. Painting Jael and Sisera in the Renaissance
6. Motives for Murder in 19th- and Early 20th-Century Cultural Performances of Jael and Sisera
7. Jael Rides the Second Wave of Feminism
8. Gender, and Cultural Memory in A.S. Byatt's Jael
9. Old Tales in New Forms: Reflections on a Cultural History of a Biblical Tradition

About the author: 

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

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