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Parallel Lines


Murder and Difference: Gender, Genre and Scholarship on Sisera’s Death

translated by Matthew Gumpert. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988; 2nd edition: 1992

back cover text:

Woman’s song or man’s epic? This is the question Mieke Bal raises concerning the ancient Song of Deborah in Judges 5 and the later narrative in Judges 4. In her trenchantly argued work, Bal focuses on the two tales of the enemy general Sisera’s murder by the Israelite heroine Jael. Part I critiques the historical, theological, anthropological, and literary ‘codes’ - or modes of discourse - that modern scholars have relied upon in interpreting the two texts. Bal deconstructs traditional interpretive codes that have proven incapable of understanding the striking differences between the accounts of Sisera’s death.

Part II offers Bal’s sustained, differential interpretation, one that does not level out the religious, theological, and sexual differences between the ‘masculine’ prose account of Judges 4 and the ‘feminine’ song of Judges 5. Against the ethnocentrism and androcentrism of traditional codes, Bal argues for a hermeneutics free of the bias of any one discipline, which pays close attention to difference, thereby undermining homogeneous interpretations and enhancing the critical process. ‘Murder and Difference’ offers a serious challenge to historical criticism by provocatively calling into question the problematic givens of biblical interpretation.

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