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The Role and Status of the Biblical Matriarchs in Genesis Rabbah

WOOLSTENHULME, KATIE,JAYNE (2017) The Role and Status of the Biblical Matriarchs in Genesis Rabbah. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis explores the role and status of the biblical matriarchs in Genesis Rabbah, the fifth century CE rabbinic commentary on Genesis. Whilst scholarship on the role of women in the Bible and rabbinic Judaism has greatly increased, the authoritative group of women known as "the matriarchs" (האימהות) have been neglected.
The Introduction outlines the research context of this work; the thesis then proceeds in three parts.
Part One explores definitions. The first chapter considers the nature of midrash; the rabbinic worldview; and rabbinic exegetical techniques. Genesis Rabbah is then introduced. The second chapter explores the title "the matriarchs." Modern scholars use, but often fail to define, the term, so I turn to ancient texts from Bible to midrash to explore the category's origins. The use of the title "the matriarchs" in Genesis Rabbah is then considered. Two main definitions emerge: first, the matriarchs are the legitimate wives of the patriarchs; secondly, the title sometimes refers to Jacob's four wives, who bore Israel's tribal ancestors.
Part Two explores the "matriarchal cycle" in Genesis Rabbah. This cycle has three stages: barrenness, motherhood, and succession. Each matriarch undergoes a transformation from barren woman to the mother of covenant sons. After a brief Preface, each stage is explored. The "matriarchal cycle" is central to rabbinic characterisation of these women.
Finally, Part Three considers Genesis Rabbah's portrayal of the matriarchs as representatives of the female sex. This chapter explores positive and negative rabbinic attitudes towards women, focusing on piety, prayer, praise, beauty and sexuality, and the matriarchs exemplifying stereotypical, negative female traits. When portrayed as women, the matriarchs are sometimes portrayed negatively; yet positive traditions dominate.
This thesis concludes that for the ancient rabbis, the matriarchs were the historical mothers of Israel, bearing covenant sons, but also the present mothers of Israel, continuing to influence Jewish identity.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:06 Jun 2017 14:59

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