‘When Egypt’s slain, I say, let Miriam sing!’: Women, Dissent and Marginality

  • Elisabeth Jay
Part of the Studies in Literature and Religion book series (SLR)


I should like, if I may, by way of introduction to begin with a brief story: a couple of years ago I was attending a conference where I heard an interesting paper on ‘being a feminist philosopher in a British University’. The first question after the paper came from a very eminent male professor, who, bypassing the quite complex arguments she had presented, said ‘All right then, what would you do if you were the Academic Vice-President of a University?’ To my amazement this capable and experienced female academic became flustered and inarticulate.


Black Woman Chestnut Tree Feminist Philosopher Mythical Hero Biblical Theology 
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  1. 3.
    For further discussion of these issues see Diane Purkiss, ‘Women’s Rewriting of Myths’, in Carolyne Larrington (ed.), The Feminist Companion to Mythology (London: Pandora, 1992), pp. 441–57.Google Scholar
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    Daphne Hampsen, Theology and Feminism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990).Google Scholar
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    See, for example, the personal postscript to Athalya Brenner, ‘The Hebrew God and his Female Complements’, in The Feminist Companion to Mythology, pp.48–61. ‘Paradoxically, the fight itself [of reading the Hebrew Bible against the gender grain of its composition] is testimony to its futility. In spite of this small victory, the post-reading sensation I experience focuses on the bitter taste in my mouth. This is my heritage, I cannot shake it off. And it hurts’. Probably the least ideologically entrenched study of Miriam’s various roles as prophetess and cultic leader occurs in Rita J. Burns, ‘Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses?: A Study of the Biblical Portrait of Miriam’, Society of Biblical Dissertation Series, LXXXIV (Scholars Press: Atlanta, Georgia, 1987).Google Scholar
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    Carol Shields, The Republic of Love (London: Flamingo, 1993) p. 366.Google Scholar
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    A point further developed in J. Cheryl Exum, Fragmented Women: Feminist (Sub) version of Biblical Narratives (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993).Google Scholar
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    An enterprise recently undertaken by Emmanuel Rice in Freud and Moses: the Long Journey Home (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).Google Scholar
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    These ranged from medieval fears of the Jews as the murderers of Christ (a factor often mentioned by Freud), to the unfair competition for scant working-class employment presented by recent immigrant Jews driven out of Russia, to a view, apparently shared by the American President, Roosevelt, that Germany had an understandable complaint against the Jews, ‘namely that... over fifty per cent of the lawyers, doctors, school teachers, college professors, etc. in Germany were Jews’. Casablanca, 1943, cited by A. Parker, Struggle for Survival: The History of the Second World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990) pp. 265–6.Google Scholar
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    ‘The Fire and the Cloud’ (September 1934) reprinted in Zora Neale Hurston, The Complete Stories, eds H. L. Gates, Jr and S. Lemke (New York: Harper Collins, 1995).Google Scholar
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    According to Hurston’s own account in ‘How It Feels to Be Colored Me’, (1928) reprinted in A. Walker (ed.), I Love Myself When I am Laughing (New York, The Feminist Press, 1979).Google Scholar
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    Eventually printed in R. Hemenway (ed.), Dust tracks on a Road: An Autobiography, 2nd ed. (Urbana and Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 322–48.Google Scholar
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    Alice Walker, ‘In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens’ (1974) quoted by Mary Helen Washington in her discussion of this issue in her Introduction to I Love Myself When I am Laughing... And Then Again When I am Looking Mean and Impressive (New York: Feminist Press, 1979) pp. 7–27.Google Scholar
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    Two recent books deal with this episode: T. Dennis, Sara Laughed: Women’s Voices in the Old Testament (London: SPCK, 1994)Google Scholar
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    Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: New American Library, 1988) Cf. pp. 149, 193, 271.Google Scholar
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    A tendency in black women’s writing noted by Mary Helen Washington, ‘“The Darkened Eye restored”: Notes Towards a Literary History of Black Women’, in H. L. Gates Jr. (ed.), Reading Black: Reading Feminist (New York: Meridian, 1990) pp. 30–43.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elisabeth Jay

There are no affiliations available

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