PERSONAL: Female. Education: Harvard University, Ph.D., 1987.
CAREER: Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, associate professor of religion, 1990—.
Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah, Scholars Press (Atlanta, GA), 1992.
Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judah and Biblical Israel, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
Contributor of articles to scholarly journals, including Interpretation, Journal of Biblical Literature, Biblical Archaeology Review, and Bible Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Religion professor Susan Ackerman has published two books on the religions of ancient Israel. Her first book, Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah, was an only slightly revised version of her Ph.D. thesis on ancient Hebrew spiritual practices. In it, Ackerman examines five scriptural passages (Jeremiah 7 and 44, Ezekiel 8, and Isaiah 57 and 65) that condemn aspects of popular religion, including child sacrifice, the worship of the sun and other gods, and cults of the dead and of fertility. From these chapters and other historical evidence, the author attempts to reconstruct the specific popular spiritual beliefs of that time. For example, although the fact that child sacrifice occurred is well documented, to whom were the children sacrificed? Although other scholars believe that the children were sacrificed to a god called Molek, Ackerman sees "molek" as merely a technical term for child sacrifice and believes that children could have been and were sacrificed to Yahweh, the Hebrew god. The book "represents an impressive gathering of comparative data," commented Journal of Biblical Literature contributor Theodore J. Lewis. Ackerman's conclusions are necessarily speculative, but in the opinion of Religious Studies Review contributor John T. Fitzgerald, her treatment of the subject is "careful and often technical" and "her arguments merit serious discussion."
In her second book, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judah and Biblical Israel, Ackerman takes the many women who are mentioned in the book of Judges and, in the words of Washington Post contributor Jonathan Groner, "makes them leap out of these ancient verses and take on a real existence." Judges recounts the history of ancient Israel during a time when there was no strong or centralized authority, which, Ackerman theorizes, gave women an unusual amount of freedom to pursue activities from which they might otherwise have been barred. The author takes no firm position on whether or not the stories in Judges, including the famous tales of Sampson and Delilah and of the warrior Deborah, actually occurred. This is irrelevant to her analysis, she says, because what is important is that these stories have been carried through the ages and reflect the beliefs of the Israelites who heard and repeated them about the acceptable roles for women in society.
Ackerman divides the women of Judges into six different types, based on the roles that they played in Israelite society: military hero, cult specialist, queen mother, wife/mother/daughter in waiting, prostitute, and "maiden abducted while dancing." "Ackerman deftly weaves together literary criticism and historical analysis," a reviewer wrote in Publishers Weekly, "and her discussion of one role illuminates the discussion of another." "Ackerman's grasp of her sources is remarkable," Groner commented, but he stressed that the book was not only for Biblical scholars: "a nonspecialist reader, even someone who hasn't picked up a Bible in years and can't tell the Judges from the Kings, can learn a great deal from this book," he concluded.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Journal of Biblical Literature, winter, 1994, Theodore J. Lewis, review of Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah, pp. 705-708.
National Catholic Reporter, February 5, 1999, Pamela Schaeffer, review of Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judah and Biblical Israel, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1998, review of Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen, p. 70.
Religious Studies Review, April, 1994, John T. Fitzgerald, review of Under Every Green Tree, p. 145.
Washington Post, February 8, 1999, Jonathan Groner, review of Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen, p. C02.
Dartmouth College Web site,http://www.dartmouth.edu/ (January 29, 2004), "Susan Ackerman" and "Women's and Gender Studies Program Office."*