Women and the Bible/ Donne e Bibbia/ Mujeres y la Biblia

Die Bibel und die Frauen: Eine exegetisch-kulturgeschichtliche Enzyklopädie

About the project

20 volumes, published in four languages by Irmtraud Fischer, Graz – Mercedes Navarro, Salamanca/Seville – Adriana Valerio, Naples  – Jorunn Økland, Sheffield/Oslo by Kohlhammer (German) – Il Pozzo di Giacoppe (Italian) – Edizione Verbo Divino (Spanish) –and Society of Biblical Literature/Brill (English)

The project is in the area of cultural history of the West. The current scholarly interest in „cultural studiesmeans that the exegesis of ancient canonical texts (i.e. the authoritative texts of monotheism, a religion with the three manifestations Judaism, Christianity and Islam) is now increasingly carried out in a more ancient-contextual and culturally sensitive way, but also that the effective history (Wirkungsgeschichte) of the ancient texts is given new and long overdue attention. Reflections on the reception history of a text are now regularly included even in the mainstream traditional commentaries.

As in humanities scholarship more generally, in all larger reception-historical projects until now, gender has not been included among the basic structuring categories  – if it has been reflected upon at all. This is partly due to the reception historians’ sources: Through most of European/Western history, mainly men had access to reading, writing and positions of interpretive authority, mainly men’s interpretations of the Jewish and Christian Bibles and the Quran were transmitted, and the result of the elimination of the corrective voice that women might have represented is that the preserved interpretations contain an inevitable androcentric focus. This androcentric focus has consequences both for the way reception historians approach texts that refer to women, but also for if and how they present women as interpreters. The current project is not just broad and encyclopediac in its scope, but also aims to publish hitherto unpublished materials by historical women exegetes and biblical interpreters.

The project thus tries to fill a gap in existing scholarship by concentrating on the history of interpretation of biblical texts in Western culture by women interpreters wherever available, but also more generally on interpretation of biblical texts that might be seen to have a particular relevance to women.

But it is not the intention to write a ‚compensationalist’ history in the sense that at this point women’s lacking presence in the records of historical agency, in historical writings and modern histories of interpretation should be added on as an afterthought or appendix to the ‘general’, ‘male’ history of interpretation. During the exploration of the significant aspect of history that has so far been left behind, the totality of reception history needs to be rewritten as a history of men and women’s readings. For the longue durée of cultural history male officials and informal (female or male) authorities have both been operative, but the latter were not granted any share in the official historical records, or only in marginal notes.

Since through much of Western cultural history, images have been the means of communication for illiterate groups, they have a particular importance in a project like this. Visual representation of biblical texts also produces a different kind of effects. For this reason, particular attention should be given to iconography, and the visual reception history of each period should be presented in an exemplary way. Thereby the interdisciplinarity of the project engages (at least) the following disciplines: Theology (Exegesis, Patristics, church history, but also dogmatics and moral theology), archaeology, art history, musicology, general history as well as literary history (Germanic Romance, English literature etc.).

Gender is one basic structural category of this project, periodisation is another. A third basic category is multilingualism and European cultural diversity. This cultural-historical project is multilingual at its roots and engages Western history of biblical interpretation. This has large and far-reaching consequences and benefits perhaps less immediately audible to an Anglophone ear less accustomed to listen to foreign languages and the cultural values they carry. This project has an explicitly all-European dimension, even if the main focal point will be on the Western part of Europe, eventually taking also the American continent into account for the later periods.


NFR og Fondazione Valerio Per La Storia delle Donne, University of Graz Mary Ward-sisters, Madrid. Period: 2006-2020.

Published Sep. 29, 2011 1:21 PM - Last modified Mar. 26, 2019 3:45 PM