Ancient Attraction: Gender and Beauty in the Hebrew Bible

Ancient Attraction is a Digital Lecture Series on Beauty, Attractiveness and Sex Appeal in the Ancient Mediterranean World

The lecture: Gender and Beauty in the Hebrew Bible is presented by Dr. Hanna Tervanotko, McMaster University, Canada

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About the lecture

In this lecture, I analyze how female and male beauty are understood in the texts of the Hebrew Bible. For women, beauty has long been argued to be the most important trait. When female beauty is read through the lens of sociological studies, one can see that beauty is not only a question of aesthetics. Rather, contemporary social-scientific studies show how physical attractiveness often carries presuppositions regarding the individual's success in life. Hence it is possible that also in the texts of the Hebrew Bible beauty signifies some success in life, yet, aligning with the sociological studies, this success also contains a risk of not being fully acknowledged. In contrast to female beauty, for male figures beauty is but one trait among many others and it indicates socio-political success and divine protection.

About Dr. Tervanotko

Dr. Hanna Tervanotko, McMaster University, Canada

Dr. Tervanotko is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at McMaster University. I specialize in the Jewish literature of the Second Temple era. My research concentrates on two main themes: female figures in ancient Jewish texts and Greek and Jewish divination. With regards to the first theme, my doctoral dissertation focused on the figure of Miriam in ancient Jewish literature. Later I revised the dissertation into a monograph (2016). My examination of the portrayal of Miriam in the ancient texts have led me to ask more broadly about the status of female figures, women and gender reflected in the ancient literature. In my second book I explore methods of technical divination referred to in the ancient Jewish texts in the broader cultural contexts of ancient Eastern Mediterranean.

Suggestions for further Reading

  • Athalya Brenner, The Intercourse of Knowledge: On Gendering Desire and 'Sexuality' in the Hebrew Bible, BINS 26 (Leiden and New York: Brill, 1997), 31-51

  • Hanna Tervanotko, "Gendered Beauty: Observations on Portraying Beautiful Men and Women in the Hebrew Bible," in So good, so beautiful: Brothers and sisters holding together - Wat goed is het, wat mooi! Broers en zussen sluiten zich aaneen, ed. Peter Tomson and Jaap de Lange (Gorichem: Narratio, 2015), 41-52.

  • Jennifer Glancy, "The Accused: Susanna and Her Readers," JSOT 58 (1993): 103-16.

  • David J.A. Clines, "David the Man: The Construction of Masculinity in the Hebrew Bible," in Interested Parties: The Ideology of Writers and Readers of the Hebrew Bible, JSOTSup 205 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 212-43.

A Digital Lecture Series on Beauty, Attractiveness and Sex Appeal in the Ancient Mediterranean World

The purpose of this lecture series is to investigate concepts of beauty and attractiveness in ancient cultures, and to explore how these concepts relate to gender, hierarchy and power.

Five excellent international researchers, experts on the material cultures and texts of the ancient Mediterranean, will each present a 30-minute lecture, followed by amble time for questions and discussion.

We are interested in mapping ancient attractiveness as broadly as possible and therefore we encourage our speakers to consider beauty from a multi-sensorial perspective and to give thought to both touch, smell, taste, hearing and vision in constructions of beauty and sex appeal.

The lecture series is organized by Professor Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme and hosted by The Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo and the Faculty’s research group Biblical Texts, Cultures and Receptions.

Digital event - how to participate

The seminar will be held digitally due to Covid-19. If you wish to attend the the conference you need to register in advance.


Published Aug. 17, 2020 12:39 PM - Last modified Nov. 18, 2020 4:13 PM