Retelling the bible: Jewish women’s midrashic poems on abishag the shunammite

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Judaism traditionally barred women from studying; thus, much of Jewish feminism has been devoted to gaining access to the Jewish canon as a whole and the biblical text in particular. Adrienne Rich and Alicia Suskin Ostriker argue that, in re-visioning biblical/ancient texts, women help liberate themselves from male-dominated culture. This article focuses on what may be called feminine “midrashic poems”: poems that rewrite the biblical story from a feminine perspective, giving a voice to a female protagonist, Abishag the Shunammite, who is silenced in the original text (1 Kings 1.1-5, 1.14, 2.13-26). Each poet gives Abishag a different voice and way of tackling her situation: Hedwig Caspari’s Abishag commits suicide; Anda Amir Pinkerfeld’s Abishag is transformed from a hopeful young girl into a sexually abused woman; Louise Glück’s Abishag remains passive and compliant in the face of the patriarchy; Karen Gershon’s Abishag is not a poor girl forced into an impossible situation, but constitutes a powerful presence; Shirley Kaufman’s Abishag is changed from an object into a woman who is cognizant of her power over the old King David; Rivka Miriam links Abishag with David’s other wives; and Lou Barrett’s Abishag dreams of erotic salvation.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Rhetoric of Topics and Forms
Publisherde Gruyter
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9783110642032
ISBN (Print)9783110641486
StatePublished - 18 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Gianna Zocco, published by Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.


  • Abishag the shunammite
  • Contemporary poetry
  • Jewish women poets
  • Midrash


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