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The Female Ruse: Women’s Deception and Divine Sanction in the Hebrew Bible


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SKU: 978-1-909697-94-2

From Eve to Esther, the Hebrew Bible is replete with gendered tales of trickery. A lie is uttered, a mask donned, a seduction staged, while redemption is propelled forward, guided by the divine hand. From the first ‘female ruse’ — Eve presenting the fruit of the tree of knowledge to Adam — humanity becomes embodied, engaged in history, moving from the Garden to exile, from wandering to homeland and redemption (and back again). Consider Rebekah dressing her beloved son in goatskins to steal the blessing from his blind father; Lot’s daughters lying with their drunken father, and then conceiving the founding fathers of Ammon and Moab; Leah and Rachel, the mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel, duping Jacob on their wedding night; Tamar’s seduction of Judah, her father-in-law, who then bears the progenitor of the Davidic line; Naomi sending Ruth to the threshing floor to seduce Boaz by night; Bathsheba invoking an oath that King David had supposedly made in order to forward Solomon, her son, as successor to the monarchy; and Queen Esther concealing her Jewish identity in the Persian imperial court. Over the course of nine chapters, the author traces these narratives of deception; in each case, God is in cahoots with these feminine agents in advancing the providential plan. A tension holds between the ‘best laid plans’ of men and the divine will as forwarded by women. Drawing on classic rabbinic sources and modern literary exegesis, the author exposes the conflict between the simple progression of genealogies and the process of selection through alliances of family and kin. Women are at the crux of that conflict, seemingly compelled to choose the indirect route while the deity appears to endorse their lie.

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Introduction: The Female Ruse 1. Reading Rebekah Unveiled 2. The Collusion of Sisters: A Study in the Leah–Rachel–Jacob Triangle 3. Of Veils, Goats, and Sealing Rings, of Guarantors and Kings: The Story of Judah and Tamar 4. Weaving the Messianic Light: Law and Narrative in the Making of the Davidic Dynasty 5. David’s Wives as Women of Oath 6. Michal: The King’s Daughter or the King’s Wife 7. Abigail: Woman of Valor or Woman of Wile? 8. Bathsheba: Woman of Oath 9.‘Passing Strange’: Gender Crossing in the Story of Joseph and Esther


  1. Diana Abernethy, Review of Biblical Literature.

    In The Female Ruse: Women’s Deception and Divine Sanction in the Hebrew Bible, Rachel E. Adelman provides a generative way forward from the debates about women and deception in the Hebrew Bible during the 1980s and 1990s. These deliberations focused on two central questions: Is deception particularly associated with women? If so, is that association positive or negative?
    Although these debates produced multiple insightful lines of inquiry, no consensus emerged to resolve its central questions… While engaging these debates, Adelman focuses on a different question: In the Hebrew Bible, what do women’s deceptions achieve?
    As she examines a series of female deceivers, Adelman traces how ‘God works through the feminine ruse to redeem people, political power, even the law over the course of biblical history‘ (8). She eloquently integrates ‘insights of classic midrash, medieval exegesis, and modern literary readings‘ (4) to illuminate the function of each deception in light of wider theological themes. As she prioritizes the final form of the text with sensitivity to a ‘revelatory role [of] the redactor‘(9), her attention to the literary particularity of each episode allows her to see its unique contribution to the theological themes in its context as well as patterns that emerge intertextually across the Hebrew Bible.

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Book information

Rachel Adelman
List Price
£60 / $95 / €80
Hebrew Bible Monographs, 74
Scholars' Price
£30 / $47.50 / €40
ISBN 13 hardback
Paperback price
£25 / $28 / €26
ISBN 13 Paperback
Hardback / Paperback
Page Extent
xvii + 256
Publication Date
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