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"My Brother Esau Is a Hairy Man"Hair and Identity in Ancient Israel$
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Susan Niditch

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195181142

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195181142.001.0001

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Letting Down Her Hair or Cutting It Off

Letting Down Her Hair or Cutting It Off

The Ritual Trial of a Woman Accused of Adultery and the Transformation of the Female “Other”

(p.121) 6 Letting Down Her Hair or Cutting It Off
"My Brother Esau Is a Hairy Man"

Susan Niditch (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores two rituals patterns involving women and hair. One is a ceremony prescribed for a married woman accused of adultery by her husband in the absence of witnesses or other tangible proof (Numbers 5:11–31). It is a particularly troubling passage for modern appropriators of biblical material, with its implications concerning men’s abusive power and women’s subjugation. A key symbol of the ritual involves the woman’s hair and the difficult-to-translate term pr‘, explored in connection with heroic hair and the uncut hair of the Nazirite vow. The second symbolic complex involves the treatment of one of the most valuable and vulnerable spoils of war, captured women (Deuteronomy 21:10–14). If an Israelite man desires one of these women as a wife, he may take her, but she is first transformed by ritual actions, among which is the shaving of her hair. Both passages are disturbing, multilayered, and thought provoking regarding gender, cultural identity, and transformation.

Keywords:   women, adultery, power, captured women, war, ritual action, shaving, gender, cultural identity, transformation

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