Teaching Intersectionality in the Hebrew Bible

Following one of my Twitter exhortations on academia, one of my colleagues asked me for some recommendations.

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I don’t teach undergrads, and I don’t focus specifically on gender or ethnicity in my MDiv Intro OT/HB courses. I have a limited amount of time in which to cover a huge amount of material. Still, I do sneak intersectionality into my intro courses. Here’s an example of how I attend to issues of gender, ethnicity, and class within one lesson on Proverbs. 

Assigned reading: Proverbs 1-9; Christine Roy Yoder “Proverbs” in the Women’s Bible Commentary; and Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” in At the Bottom of the River.

Proverbs 1-9 provides instructions on desired attitudes and behaviors to a privileged young man. Yoder’s article provides historical and literary context on Proverbs. Kincaid’s prose-poem provides instructions on desired attitudes and behaviors to a non-elite, Caribbean girl.

Many of my students assume that biblical proverbs provide timeless wisdom that applies across time and cultural distance. This assignment helps students to see biblical proverbs and their own wisdom traditions not as universal but part of particular contexts that encourage particular beliefs and actions.

In class discussion, we compare and contrast the advice in Proverbs with the advice in “Girl.” Identifying the very specific context of “Girl” helps students to highlight the ways in which Proverbs is also context-specific. For instance, the son in Proverbs is told to fleeing the “strange” woman, while the girl in “Girl” is told not to talk to “wharf-rat boys." 

Also, I ask students to share one saying from their own community and the specific context in which they usually hear the saying. Students discuss how much context matters in sharing advice. For example, advice shared in the barber shop among men ("Don’t let her know how much money you make”) may differ from the beauty shop wisdom shared among women (“Don’t buy a man a pair of shoes; He’ll walk out on you). This is always a fun and lively class. If you try it, let me know how it works for you!