Women's Divination in Biblical Literature Prophecy, Necromancy, and Other Arts of Knowledge Esther J. Hamori, John Collins

The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library
Publication date:
25 Jun 2015
Yale University Press
288 pages: 235 x 156 x 25mm
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Divination, the use of special talents and techniques to gain divine knowledge, was practiced in many different forms in ancient Israel and throughout the ancient world. The Hebrew Bible reveals a variety of traditions of women associated with divination. This sensitive and incisive book by respected scholar Esther J. Hamori examines the wide scope of women’s divinatory activities as portrayed in the Hebrew texts, offering readers a new appreciation of the surprising breadth of women’s “arts of knowledge” in biblical times. Unlike earlier approaches to the subject that have viewed prophecy separately from other forms of divination, Hamori’s study encompasses the full range of divinatory practices and the personages who performed them, from the female prophets and the medium of En-dor to the matriarch who interprets a birth omen and the “wise women” of Tekoa and Abel and more. In doing so, the author brings into clearer focus the complex, rich, and diverse world of ancient Israelite divination.

Esther J. Hamori is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Union Theological Seminary. Her publications include a book on divine anthropomorphism, “When Gods Were Men”: The Embodied God in Biblical and Near Eastern Literature. She lives in New York, NY.

“This first comprehensive scholarly study of the role that ancient Israelite women played in facilitating communication between the human and divine worlds offers penetrating and original insights. A solid and judicious study, it will become required reading in the field of biblical interpretation.”—Robert R. Wilson, Yale University

"In this first comprehensive study of all female diviners in the Hebrew Bible, Dr. Esther Hamori acknowledges the whole spectrum of ways ancient women were believed to have access to divine knowledge, providing refreshing new perspectives on female figures often ignored by researchers and readers. Her book is essential for everyone doing research on divination in the Hebrew Bible and women’s agency in the ancient world."— Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki

"Esther Hamori’s book on women’s divination in biblical literature fills an important gap. It makes a significant contribution to the academic field while also providing a thought-provoking, academically-responsible and much needed account for students and educated lay readers who are thirsty for knowledge in these areas.  This volume will be widely read by multiple audiences."—Ehud Ben Zvi, University of Alberta

"Hamori offers astute theoretical correctives to the ways in which women who were skilled in the divinatory arts are often misconstrued.  Her provocative analysis is a requisite read for anyone who wants to understand the full spectrum of women’s acquisition of privileged divine knowledge."—Theodore J. Lewis, Johns Hopkins University

"Divination is an elusive and probably for many readers an insignificant phenomenon in the Hebrew Bible, but in Esther Hamori's hands, it comes to life as something fundamental to the world views of the biblical authors. With considerable erudition, lightly worn, and even more, great and penetrating discernment, Hamori gathers the biblical texts at issue, and shows how many-sided a phenomenon divination was in the Hebrew Bible and how varied, even contradictory, the biblical attitudes toward it were. Hamori is an outstanding reader of the ancient texts. Patiently and meticulously, she can crawl inside them and illuminate what they say and do not say. In the process, she carries on a lively conversation with previous interpreters, able and willing to build both on their insights and, as she gently but firmly demonstrates, on where they have gone astray. At the same time, she understands the importance of comparative study, and in a series of judicious forays into such other ancient Near Eastern cultures as the Mesopotamian and the Hittite, she finds just the analogy that will clarify what the often elliptical biblical text is assuming – all the while very much aware of the dangers of pressing the analogy too far. In sum, Hamori has not only opened up the phenomenon of divination in the biblical world in new and fascinating ways, but given us a model analysis that has ramifications for many other fields of study."—Peter Machinist, Harvard University