The Figure of the Widow in the Hebrew Bible

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Gilfeather, Christie 

Widows appear in every genre of biblical text, and yet there has been little research into the way in which they are characterised. This thesis seeks to undertake a thoroughgoing exploration of the presentation of the widow in the Hebrew Bible, paying particular attention to her relationship to family structures, economic issues and sexuality. A literary historical-critical methodological approach that is informed by anthropological work on widows from a range of contemporary global contexts underpins this study. Ethnographic accounts of the lives of widows in contemporary Japan, India and Apartheid South Africa simulate questions of Biblical texts that focus on widows which have not been asked before.

Part 1 of the thesis begins with a chapter that focuses on the book of Deuteronomy. Our exploration focuses on what Deuteronomy tells us about the widow in relation to social justice and poverty. The second chapter examines the presentation of the widow in the book of Job, where she is primarily used as a prop for individuals who are concerned with their own reputation for just and pious behaviour. Subsequently, the third chapter explores widow inheritance through the lens of 1 Kings 17 and Ruth 4. Here, the picture of the widow develops beyond the poverty and helplessness that characterises her both in the law and in the book of Job. Part 2 of the thesis shifts focus to the association in the Hebrew Bible between widowhood, sexuality and death. We begin with an exploration of the presentation of widowhood in Genesis 38 and the book of Ruth, arguing that both texts associate widowhood with sexuality and death. Subsequently, the final chapter of the thesis contends that these themes are also present in the description of Daughter Zion as ‘like a widow’ in Lamentations 1. As a whole, this thesis seeks to undertake a detailed study of the widow which goes beyond what has been achieved in scholarship so far, thereby making a unique contribution to the field. It shows that the texts in which the widow appears are rich and brought into sharper focus, the application of an interdisciplinary approach.

MacDonald, Nathan
Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, Widows
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Selwyn College Frost Scholarship St Matthias Trust St Luke's Trust St Etheldreda's Trust Church of England Research Degree Panel funding