Phillis Trible, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, is a noted authority on feminist interpretation and literary analysis of biblical stories of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. From the start of her career, Trible has addressed the topic of how gender and gender/sex relationships are represented in the bible. She looks for biblical themes that have a 'depatriarchalizing principle', which she admits is a relatively minor theme in the biblical texts.
However, this particular book, 'Texts of Terror', addresses the situation from a different view - these are stories in which women suffer tremendously under the weight of different kinds of patriarchal and male-dominated societal mores. Trible employs feminist critique and literary analysis to four particular stories - that of Hagar, Sarah's maid and mother of Ishmael; David's daughter Tamar; the daughter of Jephthah, sacrificed for her father's promise; and an unnamed concubine from Judges 19, who was brutalised in an astonishingly violent episode in the bible. These stories are offered up in way of a memoriam - the text has graphic openings with tombstones to each of the women, including an epitaph for each.
Trible offers her own translations of the Hebrew texts, translating as literally as possible in most instances. She goes into great detail, drawing out the contradictions and paradoxes in the stories, and makes every aspect important. These are sad stories, as Trible says, and they deserve honesty as they come to us. Trible highlights in her introduction various pitfalls - placing the stories in a disconnected past, recasting the Hebrew stories in a solely New Testament context, and to find an inappropriately happy or redemptive ending in these without allowing the honest conclusion, that sad stories have sad endings. Her idea is rather to let the texts speak and be difficult to wrestle with, in the same manner as Jacob wrestled with the mysterious figure near the Jabbok river. We should not let the stories go until they bless us, but be aware that they may not bless us in the manner we expect.
This is an excellent book for students and scholars. There are multiple indexes (subject, scripture, Hebrew word, author/editor), extensive footnoting, and well-supported scholarship. These chapters come from the Beecher Lectures at Yale. As scholar Walter Brueggemann states in the foreword, Trible's work with the method of rhetorical criticism, operating on the presumption that every word is intentional and nothing is left to chance, is equally true of Trible's own words.
Trible's purpose, beyond the scholarship, is to offer honest and sympathetic readings of these texts of terror in the hopes that we as modern readers will recognise the kinds of conditions and issues still operative in the world, and work to end such terrors.