The Image of Suffering Women in the Book of Lamentations and Nanjing Holocaust Literature: A Cross-Textual Reading

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Zhe LiBy: Zhe Li, University of Illinois at Ubana-Champaign, Noble Group Fellow

The aim of my research was to decentralize a male-gendered interpretation tradition of Lamentations 3, and to reinterpret the neglected image of “Daughter Zion” (בת־ציון) in Lamentations 1 and 2 in the sense of human suffering. Meanwhile, reexamining the counterpart image of suffering women through the lens of Nanjing Holocaust literature also helps to demonstrate how these different types of texts transform the unique voices and experiences of women into the memories of human disasters.

Throughout the Book of Lamentations, especially in Chapters 1 and 2, “Daughter Zion” is depicted as a female victim who has lost her city, her husband, and children. Moreover, this widow, wife, and mother is personified as one upon whom rape is committed during the war. The striking image of rape, on the one hand has been sharply criticized by some feminist interpreters. On the other hand, whatever is sexual abuse or is harmful to women in the real world, the personification of “Daughter Zion” is the most important literary device of the book which conveys her pain and anxiety on behalf of her city and the remaining inhabitants on a profound level. So what is the meaning of the rape image in the Book of Lamentations? Why does the book use the metaphor of rape?

In approaching the answers to such questions, the non-fiction book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War by Iris Chang represents the narrative of the historical Nanjing Holocaust, which I place in juxtaposition to the image of the suffering woman in the Book of Lamentations. In common parlance, rape is often referred to as the sexual abuse of women in the real sense, or metaphorically, the invasion of an enemy and the fall of an entire city. In this stage, however, the meaning of rape becomes a metaphor of attack, aggression, and violence during the war as characterized in the biblical Lamentations and the non-biblical text, The Rape of Nanking. Rape imagery, as a particular female imagery is used to evoke a strong feeling of horror and pain, shame, and sorrow, suffering and pity, and the mixture of such feelings is crucial to both of the books. It is precisely the literary openness that enables different texts to address the disasters beyond their own literal meanings and confines, and reach the common spirit of living experiences of hurt, pain, and above all, the aspiration to pursue life in the midst of death and suffering.

Besides the imagery of rape, the imagery of mother also symbolizes female suffering, a concept which has been ignored by scholars and will be dealt with in my future work in which I will attempt to combine this dual imagery.

During my time at the Albright, I also made final revisions of my papers entitled “Choosing Life: An Exegetical Investigation of Deuteronomy 30” (Chinese), which will appear in Biblical Literature Studies vol. 6 (2012); and “Thought on Xבת־ in Hebrew Bible: And its Related Characteristics of City-lament in Ancient Near Eastern Text” (Chinese), which will appear in The Journal of Religious Studies (2012).

I would like to thank the Albright Institute and the Noble Group of Hong Kong for providing me with the opportunity to further my research in the Institute’s excellent academic environment. I also wish to thank the staff and the Albright Fellows for making me feel welcome at the Institute.


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