Searching for Dignity: Human Dignity in the Old Testament and Beyond

Gunther Wittenberg Lecture
Department of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, UKZN, 23 April 2012

It is a great honor to have been invited to give this year Wittenberg’s lecture. I have been asked to speak on my work regarding human dignity and the Old Testament that, as the invitation reads, may provide lessons for your newly formed School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics.

Now I am not sure how much wisdom I have to offer for the complex, and conceivably stressful endeavour of bringing departments and scholars together. The best I can do is to share some of the insights that have marked my thinking over the past years regarding the theme of human dignity in the biblical traditions that in my mind open up some exciting avenues of scholarly pursuit which also are vital for what we do in the classroom and how we interact with our communities.

The exciting new focus of The Promotion of Human Dignity that forms an integral part of the Faculty of Theology of Stellenbosch University’s research, teaching and community involvement is one of the initiatives that has grown out the University’s Hope Project, inspired by the Millennium goals set by the United Nations such as the Eradication of Poverty and the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights.

This commitment to human dignity relates to the constitution of South Africa that reads: “Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected” (Chapter 2.10, South African Bill of Rights) – words that are particularly poignant in light of the dehumanizing events and injustices that have marked South Africa’s history of apartheid. Similar language is also found in the preamble to the United Nations declaration of Human Rights that affirms the inherent rights of all human beings in terms of “the dig­nity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women.” This conviction offers the basis of the organization’s resolve “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” for all peoples and all nations.

The term “human dignity” is rooted in the powerful theological claim found in Gen 1:26-27 that humans, both male and female, are created in the image of God – the Imago Dei signifying a profound theological insight that implies that human dignity belongs to all people regardless of factors such as skin color, gender, social status, physical or mental capabilities, sexual orientation, etc. Human dignity thus constitutes a gracious gift from the Creator God – to be created in the image of God focusing the attention squarely on God’s activity rather than on human ability or achievement. The perspective that human dignity is not dependent on anything humans are or do, is a profound belief that has important implications for how we view people of all walks of life, regardless of ability, moving the conversation away from achievement or utility value. In our own society in which race matters, class matters, gender matters, sexual orientation matters, the very idea of one’s createdness as foundational to be treated with honor and respect is a compelling thought indeed.

To illustrate this notion of dignity, help comes from an unlikely source. Let us listen to songwriter and poet, and some would say theologian, Bob Dylan’s song called: “Dignity.”

“Fat man lookin’ in a blade of steel
Thin man lookin’ at his last meal
Hollow man lookin’ in a cottonfield
For dignity

Wise man lookin’ in a blade of grass
Young man lookin’ in the shadows that pass
Poor man lookin’ through painted glass
For dignity

Somebody got murdered on New Year’s Eve
Somebody said dignity was the first to leave
I went into the city, went into the town
Went into the land of the midnight sun

Searchin’ high, searchin’ low
Searchin’ everywhere I know
Askin’ the cops wherever I go
Have you seen dignity?”

Blind man breakin’ out of a trance
Puts both his hands into the pockets of chance
Hopin’ to find one circumstance
Of dignity

Strangers stares down the light
from a platinum window into the Mexican night
searching every bloodsucking thing in sight
for dignity
I went down where the vultures feed
I would’ve gone deeper, but there wasn’t any need
Heard the tongues of angels and the tongues of men
It all sounded no different to me

Soul of a nation is under the knife
death is standing in the the doorway of life
in the next room a man fighting with his wife over dignity

In this powerful song, Bob Dylan narrates his search for dignity.  Reflecting a context of slavery in the American South as well as ongoing human rights violations in the USA where people are killed for no reason and others are facing hunger in the land of plenty, the narrator is searching high and low and everywhere he can, asking people: “Have you seen dignity?”

This search for dignity is equally relevant in our own context. We can think of numerous instances both past and present in which people’s basic human rights have been disrespected. Situations of violence that cut across racial and socio-economic divides in which the perpetrators have trouble seeing: There is a human being standing in front of me. Situations of extreme poverty in which people are living in terrible conditions without access to clean water, sanitation, adequate food, and education. Instances in a postapartheid South Africa where people continue to be discriminated based on the color of their skin, economic situation or sexual orientation not to speak of the continuing objectification and trivialization of women in the media and society at large that contributes to a culture of rape and violence that makes up many women’s reality. And one only has to look at how our society treats its most vulnerable members, i.e. the lack of dignity that people with disability experience, to know that Dylan speaks a word of wisdom when he says:

“I went down where the vultures feed
I would’ve gone deeper, but there wasn’t any need
Heard the tongues of angels and the tongues of men
Wasn’t any difference to me”

“The tongues of angels and the tongues of men” is a reference to 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1Cor 13:1 NRS).” Dylan says that his search for dignity took him to where the vultures feed where all he could hear was “the tongues of mortals and of angels.” The implication of this is of course that there was no love. And where there is no love, one cannot expect to find human dignity.

So how does one go about recovering human dignity in the context in which we live and teach – a context in which we may often feel overwhelmed by the extend of the injustice and the lack of love? At the heart of the conversation on human dignity is people’s ability to comprehend what another person is experiencing, i.e., to suffer with another as exemplified in the literal translation of the English designation “compassion” or the German “Mittleid.” An essential step in recognizing the dignity of another is to be able to acknowledge another person’s pain, to really suffer with the other.  To experience true compassion is an essential precondition for recognizing the other’s dignity, and hence, for recovering dignity in our community.

So philosopher Martha Nussbaum considers in her book Upheavals of Thought the crucial question of how individuals and groups may learn to have compassion with one another.[i] She argues that the ability to show empathy is something that we learn (or do not learn) from an early age – already in the parent/child relationship, and after that in various educational settings.  Acknowledging the fact that people often have difficulty empathizing with one another across boundaries of race, class, nationality, gender and sexuality, being focused so much on their own group and their own pain that they have trouble placing themselves in somebody else’s shoes, Nussbaum is convinced though that it is possible for people to cultivate compassion for the other. She describes three conditions that need to be present in order for one group to truly show solidarity with another group’s suffering. First, one has to be convinced of the fact that what is happening with the other person or group is a serious predicament. Nussbaum writes that Aristotle’s list of misfortunes that documents what impede human flourishing still rings true today: “death, bodily assault or ill-treatment, old age, illness, lack of food, lack of friends, separation from friends, physical weakness, disfigurement, immobility, reversals of expectations, absence of good prospects (86a6-13).[ii]

In our context one would have to be able to say, it is truly terrible that people’s basic human rights are violated; that people are living in shacks without prospects of finding meaningful employment. Or that the education system is in such disarray, failing the young people who are supposed to be the future of this country. Or that a woman is raped every 27 seconds. The first step in recovering dignity in our communities is to recognize that everything is not right, to name the injustice and to notice people’s pain.

What I know from the work done from many of the members of the School of Theology, Philosophy and now also Classics at UKZN is that you are doing exactly this. Over the years, you have been taking the lead in showing us the reality of Gender violence, contemplating the link between gender violence and the HIV-AIDS pandemic, pondering the (unfortunate) role the Bible has played in the way victims of HIV-AIDS has been treated by the church and played a leading role in the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.

A second important point in cultivating true compassion is that one has to be convinced that what is happening to an individual or a group is undeserved.  Nussbaum writes that compassion requires “the belief that there are serious bad things that happen to people through no fault of their own, or beyond their fault.”[iii] It is however not always easy for people to recognize injustice around them. In a recent class I taught on Gender, Culture and Scripture, I showed the film, Yesterday that narrates the story of a young Zulu woman with HIV which she had contracted from her migrant worker husband, to illustrate some of the important issues arising from a conversation on HIV-AIDS as a gendered pandemic. The response of one young Afrikaans woman was particular telling. For her, the movie helped break down some deep-seated assumptions about HIV-AIDS being associated with immorality – an assumption of course shared by many other people in this country who in the past have viewed AIDS as a gay disease or as the Zimbabwean word of HIV-AIDS would have it: a disease erroneously called “the prostitute killer.”

How often does one not hear regarding the poor “They are just lazy,” or in the case of rape, that the woman provoked her attacker by the way she dressed or the way she acted?  In order to cultivate compassion for the other would thus require that you here at UKZN and we back at SU find ways to challenge these deep-seated assumptions that still live in our students and the communities from which they come.

Finally, according to Nussbaum at the heart of recognizing injustice and forging compassion is the ability to recognize a shared vulnerability among different groups, i.e., to be able to recognize similarities between my own situation and that of the other.[iv] It is to truly imagine myself in the other’s situation, i.e. how it would feel not to be able to provide food to my child, or to suddenly become disabled due to an accident or disease. Compassion is rooted in the ability to see the similarities between myself and the other, recognizing that we as people are more vulnerable than we like to think. As Shylock, the Jew, says it so well in the Shakespeare play, Merchant of Venice: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

Shylock’s words that refer to people of different religions may also be extended to include groups from different socio-economic, racial or sexual orientation. We share the same frustrations, joys, and fears. A central aspect of cultivating compassion for one another is to seek common ground. In this regard, it is significant to see how feminist theorist Judith Butler, author of important works such as Gender Trouble, has extended the work she has done with regard to gender performativity to other communities that are in, what she calls, a situation of precarity, i.e., a vulnerable position due to factors such as insufficient resources, unemployment, disease, violence, and war. For instance, in her book, Frames of War, Butler considers the question who a society deems to be grievable and who not?[v] She turns her attention to those individuals and groups who are particularly prone to injury, violence and death; who are in a situation of precarity due to unjust structures and the gross abuse of power. And in Precarious Life, she considers whether groups who find themselves in similarly challenging circumstances, subjugated by those in power, may not act in solidarity with one another, forming alliances across those seemingly insurmountable divides of race, gender, ethnicity and class. She asks whether is it possible for people who find themselves in one situation of precarity to be able to look further than their own plight to see the pain of people in equally difficult circumstances?[vi]

It is noteworthy that a central aspect of Nussbaum’s argument about teaching compassion has to do with the important role of narrative. She says for instance, that in her own life, the children’s story Black Beauty and the American classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin played a significant role in offering her the first lessons in empathy– for horses and for the slaves in the American South. Nussbaum thus makes a case for the humanities in creating a culture of compassion that is in her mind essential for a society to recognize people’s dignity.  Herself trained in the Classics, Nussbaum’s work on moral formation is interspersed with examples from the classic Greek and Latin literature. Literature indeed offers a great opportunity of re-engaging the imagination, to “cultivate the ability to imagine the experiences of others and to participate in their sufferings.”[vii] She writes:

To promote empathy across specific social barriers, we need to turn to works of art that present these barriers and their meaning in a highly concrete way…In that way, it exercises the muscles of the imagination, making people capable of inhabiting for a time, the world of a different person, and seeing the meaning of events in that world from the outsider’s viewpoint.[viii]

And as Nussbaum rightly points out, if one is able to allow someone else into one’s imagination, it is much more difficult to wish him/her harm.

In the second half of my presentation, I want to elaborate on this point and show some examples of how I use human dignity as a hermeneutical lens for my own work on Gender in the Old Testament. It is my hope that this creative interaction between text and context(s) may spark your own imagination how your new department can continue to contemplate the role of ancient texts and traditions in the midst of the manifold challenges of a 21st century South African context.

Despite the beautiful image of the Imago Dei introduced in Genesis 1 that inspired a rich tradition of the inherent dignity of both male and female as created in the image of God, in the Hebrew Bible there are numerous instances where this dignity of individuals and groups and particularly women are threatened, violated or potentially violated. A variety of factors are responsible for creating the conditions for such a context of dehumanization including famine, death, poverty, barrenness, violence, as well as the customs and laws of a patriarchal society that views women as less than fully human.

And yet, it is exactly in the midst of these situations of dehumanization that the conversation on what it means to be human becomes most urgent. Ultimately to be human means to resist those forces that seek to assault, violate or obscure one’s human dignity (Mitchell 2009:4; De Lange 2010) – albeit tragic events beyond one’s control or the dehumanization caused by unjust structures in which the powerful exploit the weak.

In my remaining time, I want to share three perspectives on human dignity in the biblical traditions using three biblical narratives that portray women who, even though they find themselves trapped in circumstances that violate their self-worth, resist the indignity that had befallen them. I propose that the narrative portrayal of female resistance as found in the biblical traditions may fruitfully be employed in a conversation regarding contemporary situations of dehumanization that continue to threaten the wellbeing of women, children and men across the world. Reading the complex and multilayered biblical narratives through the lens of human dignity offers their (feminist) readers many centuries later the space to contemplate those instances in our own community in which the dignity of women and men, who are created in the image of God and thus deserving of respect, is violated. In particular the narrative portrayal of female resistance may encourage contemporary readers to contemplate persisting questions such as how unjust structures in our context(s) may be challenged and transformed, and what different individuals and communities are doing to protect the wellbeing and dignity of its most vulnerable members.

Rizpah’s Lament: Resisting Violence

One of the least known, but perhaps most haunting images of women resting violence regards the story of Rizpah, the widow of king Saul, who laments the brutal death of her two sons as well as her five stepsons in 2 Samuel 21. After David offers up Saul’s seven sons as a blood sacrifice to atone for Saul’s breaking of an oath to the Gibeonites, Rizpah steps forward to protect the bodies of her own sons’ as well as another mother’s sons’ brutally massacred bodies left in the open from predator birds for a period of seven months. During this time, Rizpah’s voice is never heard, yet it does not take much to imagine this bereaved mother weeping silently as well wailing at the top of her voice. It is significant that in response to Rizpah’s act of resistance, King David ultimately is compelled to respect the dignity of the dead by giving Rizpah’s sons a decent burial.

In this compelling narrative of Rizpah’s lament, one sees evidence of one of the central aspects of human dignity, i.e., the profoundly human reaction of expressing indignation at having one’s humanity denied or one’s dignity assaulted. In her book Plantations and Death Camps: Religion, Ideology and Human Dignity, Beverly Mitchell argues that in the worst hovels of human existence, such as the extreme degradation of human beings experienced by the Jews in the extermination camps during the Holocaust and by the African American slaves on the plantations in the South, to be human means to resist those forces that seek to assault, violate or obscure one’s human dignity. On all accounts, these acts of resistance that occur in the most dire of circumstances may seem futile. However, the very act of resisting as exemplified in Rizphah’s lament, even though it may not change the victim’s situation in any decisive way, is a sign that this person is maintaining some basic sense of what it means to be human.

Rizpah’s lament for her sons moreover serves as a powerful testimony of the injustice committed – a silent protest of the futility of violence that affects the community as a whole, inviting further contemplation on lament as means of resistance. So Rizpah’s act of mourning calls to mind a story told by C.S. Song that artfully describes the power of tears as part of people’s political resistance in China. Song tells the story of a Chinese woman whose husband is violently taken away on his wedding day to serve as a human sacrifice for ensuring the successful completion of the Great Wall of China. Later, the woman travels to the wall where her husband’s bones are buried. There she begins to cry inconsolably. Song writes, “Truly astonishing the power of Lady Meng’s tears! … Her wailing must have moved the firmament of heaven, shaken the foundations of the earth. Her crying must have stirred all ‘living souls’ … to rally behind her. And an incredible thing happened. The Wall, that invincible Wall, the Wall that embodied brutal power and naked authority, collapsed and yielded up her husband’s bones.”[ix]

The narrative outlining Rizpah’s lament encourages the reader to contemplate other victims of violence, imagining the pain felt by mothers around the world who have lost their sons and daughters to the infinite cycle of violence. Rizpah’s courageous act of resistance serves as a model of resisting violence that violate the dignity not only of one’s own children but also the children of others.

Ruth and Tamar (Genesis 38): Resisting Barrenness

In the interconnected narratives of Tamar (Gen 38) and Ruth, one finds another example of women resisting those forces that prevent them from flourishing. Set in a context of famine and death, the female characters’ livelihood and their basic rights to lifegiving sustenance is threatened. So the death of the male characters as well as some unwilling partners is responsible for the fact that both Tamar and Ruth find themselves in a situation of barrenness. And yet, in these narratives we once more see two women who actively resist their respective situations of dehumanization. These signs of resistance, even though limited and fraught with ambiguity, are an important sign of women who will not just accept their circumstances as they are, but who will repeatedly act to counter and transcend the dehumanization they are experiencing.

Another perspective regarding human dignity that also ties the stories of Ruth and Tamar together is the notion of recognition. In this regard, Frits de Lange describes this very basic human need as the desire to be treated as a subject whose voice is heard and whose needs are recognized.[x] Equally important, though, is the ability to see others – to show empathy. A crucial aspect of showing empathy – to take up one’s responsibility to act for the wellbeing of the other – regards the ability to see the face of the other; to forge a common connection between oneself and the other.

It seems that, in both Ruth’s and Tamar’s story, it is when respectively both Boaz and Judah truly see the face of the young woman in all her vulnerability that they act for the other’s good.[xi] So Judah does not recognize Tamar at first. He does not see her for who she is – his daughter-in-law, who deserves his care and support but who has been overlooked and discarded by himself as well as the rest of society. Even after his sexual encounter with Tamar, despite him “knowing” her quite intimately, Judah does not “know” her.[xii]

It is only when Judah and Tamar meet in the public square – an exceedingly dangerous place for Tamar, who stands to lose her life in a minute – that Judah finally recognizes her righteousness, and her righteousness inspires him to act in greater righteousness.[xiii] It is when Judah truly looks that he recognizes Tamar’s true worth as a woman in need who is more righteous than him; not a prostitute, but a daughter-in-law, who ought to have been protected and provided for by her household and community. There seems to be a connection between really seeing the other and seeing that justice be done.

Moreover, in Ruth’s story, it is at the threshing floor that Boaz is finally able to see Ruth as more than a mere foreigner, a needy widow who gleans in his field, but as a woman of worth, a woman whose loyalty inspires him to act in greater loyalty. An important precondition for Boaz truly seeing the face of the foreign widow regards the act of also hearing the story of the other. In Ruth 3:5 Boaz asks about her identity: “To whom does this woman belong?” The workers name Ruth with reference to her ethnic identity (Ruth the Moabite) and her relationship to Naomi. One thus finds in the narrative a movement from Ruth as the foreign, widowed migrant worker to Ruth as being recognized by Boaz as a woman of worth (an lyx-tv]a)) – a “a sign of seeing her dignity.”[xiv] This woman with a story becomes a person whose honor has to be protected; a woman whose basic needs have to be fulfilled and whose future needs to be secured.

In our complex global context, in which people are living in increasingly close proximity with multiple “others,” reading biblical narratives such as those of Ruth and Tamar from the perspective of human dignity reminds us of the importance of seeing the face of the other, resisting those forces that deny their dignity. This conversation is particularly urgent in a context of migration and immigration, which is increasingly becoming the reality of many Western countries today. The emphasis on seeing the face of the other, which emerged as a key theme in the interconnected narratives of Ruth, Naomi and Tamar in a context of immigration, may challenge people to look for ways in our own world where we can become more human together.


The Daughters of Zelophehad: Resisting Systemic Injustice

A final theme regards the notion of female resistance regarding unjust laws or authority. For instance, in the intriguing text in Numbers 27 in which the five daughters of Zelophehad challenge the judicial powers regarding the question of female inheritance (cf. also Numbers 36), the daughters emerge as a symbol of the powerless standing up for what is right. In several feminist interpretations of this narrative, the daughters are hailed as feminist heroes – as an example of where the (divine) authorities can be challenged in light of the needs of the disenfranchised. However, as recent postcolonial treatments of this narrative point out, the daughters of Zelophehad form part of the conquerors who are on the verge of entering the land.[xv] With their request for land, these women wittingly or unwittingly participate in the imperial agenda of the Israelites that divide up the land without regard to the people who are already living there – a particular painful interpretation in the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Human dignity as a hermeneutical lens may be helpful in an attempt to seek common ground between such competing claims of justice. For instance, in terms of the daughters of Zelophehad narrative, it may be possible to find common ground between the silencing of the daughters of Zelophehad in the second installment of their brief appearance in the biblical text (Numbers 36) and the silence[ing] of the subaltern or the Canaanites discerned by the postcolonial interpreter. Moreover, the desire for land, for a little plot of land where one may sit under one’s own vineyard and fig tree and hence make a living for one and one’s family, is shared by the daughters of Zelophehad as well as the people of the land who lurk in the shadows of this story. In this regard, land offers a common denominator, standing for one of the basic human rights, i.e., a right to autonomy;  the right to make a living; the right to not only survive, but also to thrive. The request of the daughters, “Give us a portion among our father’s brothers” thus also voices the silent but equally urgent desire of the people who will find themselves in subsequent chapters without land.

This contemplation on how to grow in recognizing a common humanity, i.e., how to grow in compassion for the other is of course not just a hypothetical, theoretical exercise. For communities around the world, it is a matter of life and death. For instance, Jean Zaru outlines the common humanity that ought to mark the interactions between Palestinians and Israeli’s. She says:

We should learn how to live together as equals, as real neighbours. As our shrinking world makes us all near neighbours, we should be increasingly aware of two facts about our nature as people of this world. One is that we are very different from one another in color, lifestyles, cultures and beliefs. The other is that we are exceedingly alike. There is a fantastic range of common needs and desires, fears and hopes, that bind us together in our humanness and in the concern for the well-being of others. Maybe the time has come when we should unite in certain common affirmations of life.[xvi]

In situations of competing claims of justice such as reflected above, it is an important perspective to realize that both sides deeply yearn for the opportunity to flourish. It is a matter of seeing the face of the other; to recognize his/her humanity and his/her need and desire to meaningful and autonomous existence and to find instances of common ground where groups may be united in a shared quest for justice.


Bob Dylan ends his song “Dignity” with the following words:

“Soul of a nation is under the knife
death is standing in the the doorway of life”

These words speak prophetically to many situations in our own country and the hotspots around the world where the search for dignity can be described in terms of a life and death situation.

We at SU as well as you at UKZN as a newly formed School of Theology, Philosophy and Classics have a lot work to do in restoring human dignity: like Rizpah to lament injustice; as in the case of Ruth and Tamar’s stories to acknowledge the dignity of those individuals and groups trapped in dehumanizing circumstances, and as in the story of the daughters of Zelophehad to find common ground between people who find themselves in different but equally taxing circumstances. It may well be that a common quest for justice, a common focus on promoting the human dignity of those individuals and groups who are most vulnerable can serve as the glue that hold you together as well as the fuel that propel you to do great things.

[i] Martha C. Nussbaum’s definition of compassion draws on that of Aristotle who views compassion as “a painful emotion directed at another person’s misfortune or suffering” (Rhet 1385b13ff), Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 301-306.

[ii] Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought, 306-307.

[iii] Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought, 314.

[iv] Nussbaum notes that “this is a judgment of similar possibilities; compassion concerns those misfortunes which according to Aristotle “the person himself might expect to suffer, either himself or one of his loved ones,” (1385b14), Upheavals of Thought, 315-316.

[v] Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (London: Verso, 2009). In this book, Butler considers why in a case such as the Iraq War, the lives of certain Iraqi’s and Muslims are considered less grievable. She holds to the precariousness of all life that forms the basis for resisting the notion that some matter more than others, pp. 13-15.

[vi] Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004), 43-49.

[vii] Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 426-433. Cf. also Miedzian who quotes Hannah Arendt as having said that the lack of empathy exists in the absence of imagination, “Beyond the Masculine Mystique,” 428.

[viii] Nussbaum, Upheaval of Thought, 431.

[ix] Chuan-Seng Song, The Tears of Lady Meng: A Parable of People’s Political Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1981), 44.

[x] De Lange, “The Hermeneutics of Dignity,” forthcoming. Julia Kristeva describes this desire as “a call for love: ‘recognize me,’” Strangers to Ourselves (trans. Leon S Roudiez; NY: Columbia University Press, 1991) 42.

[xi]See also Van Wijk-Bos’s description of the theme of deception with reference to the ironic use of the verbs for “seeing,” (h)r), “noticing” (rkn), and “knowing” ((dy),“Out of the Shadows,” 39.

[xii] Fentress-Williams, “Location, Location, Location,” 64.

[xiii] Moreover, it is Tamar’s foresight to ask for identification tokens that finally compels Judah to see Tamar’s just cause when his eyes are opened by the evidence of his actions (see also the repeated reference to “look,” “really look” in Gen. 38:25). Fentress-Williams notes that “the motif of encounter/meeting creates opportunities for the exploitation of language in dialogue. Tamar and Judah speak the same language, but they use language differently. As is the case in this narrative, the meeting/encounter brings with it the possibility for recognition. The exchange between Judah and Tamar demonstrates that the existing power structure can be challenged by the one who can recognize or perceive new possibilities within the existing language,” “Location, Location, Location,” 68.

[xiv] Van Wijk-Bos, “Out of the Shadows,” 60.

[xv] Dora Rudo Mbuwayesango, “Can Daughters be Sons? The Daughters of Zelophehad in Patriarchal and Imperial Context,” in Relating to the Text: Interdisciplinary and Form-Critical Insights on the Bible (ed. Timothy J. Sandoval and Carleen Mandolf, 2003), 251-262; Judith McKinlay, “Playing an Aotearoa Counterpoint: The Daughters of Zelophehad and Edward Gibbon Wakefield,” in The Hebrew Bible and Postcolonialism: The Next Step (ed. Roland Boer; Atlanta, GA: SBL, forthcoming).

[xvi] Zaru, “Biblical Teachings and the Hard Realities of Life,” 137.


Oor | About L. Juliana Claasens

Mede Professor in OuTestament, Departement Ou en Nuwe Testament, Universiteit van Stellenbosch.
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