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Religions 2012, 3(1), 37-49; doi:10.3390/rel3010037

Inscribing Authority: Female Title Bearers in Jewish Inscriptions

Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Saunders Hall, CB#3225, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA
Received: 10 January 2012 / Revised: 25 January 2012 / Accepted: 8 February 2012 / Published: 8 February 2012
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Women and Religious Authority)
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This paper investigates representations of gender in the material culture of the ancient synagogue. The pertinent data are numerous dedicatory and funerary inscriptions linking individual Jews, men and women, with titles seemingly associated with leadership in Late Antique synagogues (ca. 200–600 CE). Bernadette Brooten’s influential 1982 monograph argued against the prevailing tendency to characterize these titles as indications of power, authority, and responsibility when associated with men but as meaningless flattery when applied to women. She suggests that synagogue titles denote power, authority and responsibility on all title bearers equally, both men and women. I question the continued utility of proffering female title-holders as enumerable examples of powerful women rescued from their forgotten place in history. Using theoretical insights developed by historians Elizabeth Clark and Gabrielle Spiegel, this paper will engage a comparative analysis with the work of Riet van Bremen and Saba Mahmood to develop new methods of conceptualizing women’s authority in early Jewish communities. I propose that viewing women’s synagogue titles as culturally constructed representations allows for a fruitful inquiry into how women’s titles were used by male-dominated synagogue communities in their self-articulation and public presentation of Judaism.
Keywords: women; authority; synagogue; representation; inscriptions women; authority; synagogue; representation; inscriptions
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Duncan, C. Inscribing Authority: Female Title Bearers in Jewish Inscriptions. Religions 2012, 3, 37-49.

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