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Title page for ETD etd-03312008-094229

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Hammons, Meredith Burke
Author's Email Address meredith.b.hammons@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-03312008-094229
Title Before Joan of Arc: Gender Identity and Heroism in Ancient Mesopotamian Birth Rituals
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Dr. Annalisa Azzoni Committee Chair
  • childbirth
  • birth customs
  • sex roles
  • women
  • mesopotomia
  • heroism
Date of Defense 2008-03-18
Availability unrestricted
Within ancient Near Eastern studies, scholars have challenged the concept of dualistic gender division generally and, more specifically, with regard to texts and practices. They have raised the prospect for a more nuanced view of gender roles in the ancient Near East, introducing third or fourth genders and ideas of gender roles being played by those of either sex. However, such studies are largely restricted to discussions of special cases, such as women in specific legal circumstances, ruling women, or followers of a specific cult. Since birth is experienced by women of all social classes, legal standings, and beliefs, evidence that suggests gender fluidity in birth incantations from the ancient Near East provides an opportunity to investigate the possibility that gender boundaries within these communities were, in general, more flexible than it has previously been posited.

Birth requires the body of a woman but does not necessarily require feminine gender. Some rituals use masculine metaphors for the birthing mother, such as warriors and ship’s captains, or redefine the masculine characteristics associated with bulls. This inversion of expectation calls into question the gender performed by both the birthing mother and the male deities addressed in the incantations. Masculine images used in rituals surrounding the woman-centered act of childbirth provide a unique means to examine the construction of gender in the ancient Near East. Because motherhood and femininity are so closely intertwined, looking at the images and symbols related to birth rituals can shed light on feminine identity, both together and separately from maternal identity, and can challenge the assumption that maternal identity is necessarily feminine. Analysis of these birth rituals suggests that while the ancient Near East had a patriarchal socio-economic system, deities and people performed alterior characteristics, radically different from what would be traditionally considered masculine or feminine. Thus, in the ancient Near East, an omnigendered lens provides a means to understand how individuals reflected alterior gender identities.

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