A (W)hol(e)(y) Breach: Philology, Gender, and Meaning
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Philology seeks to reconstruct the meanings of words within their temporal and social contexts. As such, it relies on a historical-critical approach to texts. Just as historical reconstructions of social complexity benefit from gender studies, applying insights from gender criticism expands the conceptual horizon of philology. With a focus on the meanings of חל(ל) and קדשׁ, this paper applies a gender lens to philology in two ways. First, as gender criticism often challenges the imposition of binaries, the deconstruction of assumptions about sacred/profane and their assumed meanings allows us to perceive more nuance in the ancient concepts of חל(ל) and קדשׁ. By expanding our understanding of קדשׁ along lines suggested by Mary Douglas and others to encompass a conception of wholeness, חל(ל) can be understood as connoting a breach in wholeness that operates on a continuum relative to status and circumstance, rather than as a simple opposite of קדשׁ. Second, as gender studies have posited a correlation between maleness and wholeness, the connection between חל(ל) and femaleness can explain peculiarities both of the Israelite cult, and of certain cultural customs such as levirate marriage, political coup by sexual conquest, and the requirement to kill enemy women who are not virgins.