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Book: Gender and Sacred Textures

Chapter: Drinkable Ink or Womb-Destroying Words? A Solution for Suspected Adultery in Numbers 5:11–31

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.46461


The biblical text of Numbers 5:11–31 describes a ritual designed to determine the guilt or innocence of a woman suspected of adultery: she must drink a mixture of water, dirt, and the ink of written curses given to her by a priest. This article analyses how the ritualized use of a material sacred text as described in Numbers 5:11–31 – and the ways it interacts with the bodies of the people involved – impacts the biblical construction of gender identities. Using concepts introduced by R. W. Connell, I argue that the ritual makes use of a material sacred text to reinforce a hegemonic masculine identity for the Israelite priesthood, while encouraging the complicit masculinity of laymen and the subjugated feminine identity of women. In doing so, the ritual of Numbers 5:11–31 bolsters the hierarchy of gender identities constructed by the book of Numbers and the Pentateuch more broadly.

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