Date of Award

Spring 1990

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 1990 Joshua Tarjan. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religion Department


To understand gentile women and their marginality within and without the Hebrew patriarchal system, I compare them to Hebrew women. Using literary-critical and anthropological methodologies my study examines their lives as wives, mothers, religious individuals, and dangerous beings. We also consider their ambiguities and the mechanisms which allow them to move between societies. Three levels of marginality emerge. The gentile woman who harms Hebrew men is kept free of Hebrew societal structures. The gentile woman who lacks a Hebrew husband and who helps Hebrew men is often ambiguously linked to both the Hebrew and the foreign realms. And the gentile woman who has a Hebrew husband is accepted into the Hebrew realm, but her power, including the ability to do harm, is minimal in that structured realm.

Using Mary Douglas's work I show that the gentile woman outside structured society functions as a fantasy figure; the subconscious emerges through her. Fantasies and fears arise, and she functions both as the mother-figure and as the extremely dangerous woman. If that danger is directed against Hebrew men, then it leads to her ultra-marginalization. If her danger helps Hebrew men, then an attempt is made to subsume her. Yet a tension evolves, as what is foreign and dangerous, even if it benefits Hebrew society, must be kept at a distance. The gentile woman outside structured society is thus ambiguous. Likewise, the woman who marries into Hebrew society and gets ordered by that society still represents disorder simply in being a foreigner. She too is ambiguous as she is both incorporated in the society and kept more marginal, in this case more disempowered, than Hebrew women.