Social Death as Gendered Genocide: The Fate of Women and Children

In: Biblical Interpretation
Naomi Steinberg DePaul University, Chicago, IL 60614, USA

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This paper uses two contemporary ethnic genocides to underscore the impacts of war on women described in biblical texts, particularly Num. 31:17-18, Judges 21, and Deuteronomy 21. The analysis uncovers gendered patterns of warfare aimed at group annihilation. Rape and other forms of gender-targeted violence are intentional means of diluting the purity of the victims’ group that result in the social death of women, an erasure of their past identities. The identities of children born from intermarriages of victims and conquerors are contested in light of connections among patrilineal descent, virginity, and purity. The concept of contested identity is important also for interpreting the stories of Hagar, Ruth, and Esther. Comparative study of these texts makes apparent how women in the biblical world suffer particular consequences during warfare that otherwise would seem to be only ethnic or tribal in nature.

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