Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, recently was honored with a distinguished fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities in order to pursue her research interests in biblical women.
Dr. Eskenazi was one of 215 recipients selected in December by the federal agency to receive support for her scholarly work. Her project is called, “Out from the Shadows: Biblical Women and Women in the Persian Period, 6th to 4th Centuries B.C.E.”
Created in 1965, the NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Only a small number of applicants – about 4 percent – were funded this year.
Dr. Eskenazi’s project focuses on the writings in the third division of the Bible, the Ketuvim, and puts the representations of women in these texts in the larger context of the ancient contemporaneous world. Dr. Eskenazi notes that women come boldly to the fore in biblical literature from the Persian period, which was pivotal in the formation of the Hebrew Bible and a time of reconstruction of Jewish life under Persian imperial rule. Women are prominent in many of these writings, especially in books like Ruth, Esther and Proverbs.
This study investigates the representations of women in this literature in order to illumine presumptions and projections regarding women, with an eye to explaining a relationship to the new socio-political dynamics of a vanquished nation under imperial rule. Her study, therefore, also analyzes the historical developments in Judah where this literature emerges, as well as extra-biblical sources, such as the archives from the Jewish community in Egypt in the 5th Century B.C.E. (which include the oldest Jewish marriage contract), together with evidence from Mesopotamia and Greece.
Dr. Eskenazi received her Ph.D. at the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology. Prior to joining HUC-JIR, she was a faculty member at the University of Denver and was also Director of its Institute for Interfaith Studies. Her research has long focused on the reconstruction of Jewish life after exile in the 6th Century B.C.E., on the role of women in the biblical world, and on the implications of the Bible for the Jewish community today. Her most recent book, JPS Bible Commentary: Ruth (Jewish Publication Society) was just announced the winner of a 2011
National Jewish Book Award in Women’s Studies. She also had received the National Jewish Book of the Year Award, together with Dr. Andrea L. Weiss (Associate Professor of Bible at HUC-JIR in New York) for her work as Chief Editor of The Torah: A Woman's Commentary (URJ) in 2008. Dr. Eskenazi has served on the executive committee of the Society of Biblical Literature, and her books include In an Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah (1988) and Second Temple Studies 2: Temple and Community in the Persian Period (1994). An expert in postexilic history and literature and in the Bible, Dr. Eskenazi has published numerous scholarly papers and presented her research in national and international scholarly conferences, as well as in synagogues and churches.