The best books about sexual violence in the Bible

Joy Schroeder Author Of Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation
By Joy Schroeder

Who am I?

Joy Schroeder is a historian devoted to examining the experiences of women in Christianity and Judaism. With concern for female and male victims of violence, Schroeder scrutinizes historical documents to find accounts of harassment, rape, clergy sexual abuse, and other violence. She brings the historical accounts to light while critiquing the cultural patterns that perpetuate violence in our own day. In her work as a pastor and as a professor, she has worked to support victims of harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence, and child abuse. Schroeder is a professor of church history at Capital University (Columbus, Ohio), where she teaches at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and the department of religion and philosophy. 

I wrote...

Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

By Joy Schroeder,

Book cover of Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

What is my book about?

Dinah’s Lament explores heartbreaking biblical stories of sexual violence that were misinterpreted by Christian interpreters in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Through the centuries, male interpreters interpreted and retold these scriptural stories in ways that revealed their own cultural assumptions about rape.

All too often, clergymen blamed victims or minimized the reality of the violence the women endured. In sermons and biblical commentaries, interpreters accused the young rape victim Dinah (Genesis 34) of provoking and enjoying a brutal attack by a powerful prince’s son. Some denied that the encounter was actually rape. In the case of an unnamed woman (Judges 19) who suffered collective rape (“gang rape”) and died following the violence, some commentators believed that the attack was God’s fitting punishment for sins she committed. Too often, the female biblical character is voiceless—emblematic of the silencing of victims throughout history. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives

Why did I love this book?

Published in 1984, this book is an enduring classic. Filled with sympathy for victims and survivors, it is a groundbreaking, poignant feminist reading of biblical “texts of terror” about violence against women who were raped, enslaved, ritually sacrificed, or forced to become surrogate mothers. This book transformed the way people now read stories of biblical violence. It calls on readers to acknowledge and remember the suffering of victims—in biblical times and in our own. 

By Phyllis Trible,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Texts of Terror as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Professor Trible focuses on four variations upon the theme of terror in the Bible. By combining the discipline of literary criticism with the hermeneutics of feminism, she reinterprets the tragic stories of four women in ancient Israel: Hagar, Tamar, an unnamed concubine, and the daughter of Jephthah. In highlighting the silence, absence, and opposition of God, as well as human cruelty, Trible shows how these neglected stories interpreted in memoriam challenge both the misogyny of Scripture and its use in church, synagogue, and academy.

Womanist Midrash

By Wilda C. Gafney,

Book cover of Womanist Midrash

Why did I love this book?

Inspired by midrashic approaches of rabbis who use storytelling to fill in the “gaps” in scriptural narratives, Dr. Wilda Gafney combines her expertise as a biblical scholar with her commitment to racial and gender justice. Gafney expresses particular sympathy for enslaved women forced into sexual servitude and surrogate motherhood, especially Rachel and Leah’s servants (“womb-slaves”) Bilhah and Zilpah (Genesis 30).

By Wilda C. Gafney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Womanist Midrash as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Womanist Midrash is an in-depth and creative exploration of the well- and lesser-known women of the Hebrew Scriptures. Using her own translations, Gafney offers a midrashic interpretation of the biblical text that is rooted in the African American preaching tradition to tell the stories of a variety of female characters, many of whom are often overlooked and nameless. Gafney employs a solid understanding of womanist and feminist approaches to biblical interpretation and the sociohistorical culture of the ancient Near East. This unique and imaginative work is grounded in serious scholarship and will expand conversations about feminist and womanist biblical interpretation.

Book cover of Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible

Why did I love this book?

Susanne Scholz says readers should consider biblical accounts of sexual violence to be “sacred witness” to the horrific reality of rape in the biblical world and in our own world. She proposes that we wrestle with the Bible’s words, including passages that depict God as a violent aggressor, and that we should read scriptural accounts in solidarity with victims, past and present.

By Susanne Scholz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sacred Witness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Sacred Witness, Susanne Scholz discusses the wide range of rape texts in biblical literaturesome that long have troubled readers, others that should have but didn't, such as texts of marital rape, for example, or metaphorical speech about God as rapist. Assuming the androcentric nature of these writings, Scholz asks how we may read these texts in order to find some redemptive meaning for women, children, and men who have been injured by sexual violence and by cultures of rape. Sacred Witness provides illuminating reflection on some of the most troubling texts in the Hebrew Bible.

Book cover of The Narrative of Rape in Genesis 34: Interpreting Dinah's Silence

Why did I love this book?

The twelve sons of the biblical patriarch Jacob had a sister named Dinah who was abducted and raped by the son of a prince (Genesis 34). Dinah speaks no words in the biblical text. Caroline Blyth gives voice to Dinah by examining the words of modern women from around the globe, comparing Dinah’s experience with that of her modern-day sisters. With a poignant, sensitive reading of the Bible and the testimonies of women living today, Blyth exposes and rejects dangerous myths and stereotypes about sexual violence.

By Caroline Blyth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Narrative of Rape in Genesis 34 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This innovative study explores the interconnectedness of ancient and current attitudes towards sexual violence, focusing upon the representation of rape in the biblical narrative of Genesis 34.

Caroline Blyth takes the reader on a journey through both biblical and contemporary cultures, contemplating the commonality and diversity of rape survivors' experiences across space and time. In particular, Blyth evaluates the insidious and pervasive influences of the cultural myths and misperceptions surrounding sexual violence, which have long served to deny rape survivors a voice with which to relate their narrative of suffering. Blyth examines whether such 'rape myths' are likewise given

Book cover of Rape Myths, the Bible, and #Metoo

Why did I love this book?

The #MeToo movement has helped twenty-first-century society begin to reckon with sexual violence, including the harmful myths that blame victims and shield perpetrators from consequences. Stiebert reads ancient biblical stories about rape in conversation with modern accounts. Similarities include the way society fails to acknowledge the reality of violence or to believe victims, especially victims of powerful men.  

By Johanna Stiebert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rape Myths, the Bible, and #Metoo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Biblical studies is increasingly interdisciplinary and frequently focuses on how the Bible is read, received, and represented in the contemporary world, including in politics, news media, and popular culture. Rape Myths, the Bible and #MeToo illustrates this with particular and critical assessment of #MeToo and its rapid and global impact. Rape myths - in particular the myth that rape victims are complicit in the violence they encounter, which consequently renders sexual violence 'not so bad' - are examined both with regard to current backlash to #MeToo and to biblical texts that undermine the violence perpetrated by rape. This includes aggressive…

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