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UD Hebrew Bible scholar to release award-winning book on gender in the Old Testament

By Lauren McCarty ’26

Esther Brownsmith became immersed in the Bible at a young age, attending biblical studies conventions with her parents, who created Accordance Bible study software.

Brownsmith, assistant professor of Hebrew Bible in the University of Dayton Department of Religious Studies, saw “scholarship in action” at these events, inspiring her to attend Yale Divinity School and pursue an academic career as a religious scholar. Brownsmith received her doctorate from Brandeis University in 2020. 

“I see myself as an activist, and the reason I do biblical studies is because I feel that through it I can change the world,” she said. “I feel like the Bible is still so relevant to how people understand the world.”

She explores questions of gender and sexuality in the Old Testament in her first book, Gendered Violence in Biblical Narrative: The Devouring Metaphor, to be released in April as part of The Ancient Word series from Routledge, the world's leading academic publisher in the humanities and social sciences.

“I am especially interested in questions of gender and sexuality within the Hebrew Bible, and I wanted to look at passages that describe violence against women and understand what were the underlying metaphors that made these passages so resonant,” Brownsmith said.

Her book explores the conceptual metaphor of women as food in three biblical passages.

Through a text analysis approach called “philology,” she examines the context and sociocultural meanings of the texts. 

“I found that in the three texts I looked at, all three stories of violence against women had acted on an underlying conceptual metaphor of woman as something to be consumed.” Brownsmith said. 

Her book was one of five to receive a 2023 Jordan Schnitzer First Book Publication Award from the Association for Jewish Studies. The association awards funds to recipients to help with publishing costs.

Brownsmith used the remaining funds to make her book delayed Open Access, which means that after one year on the market, anyone can freely read it. 

Brownsmith teaches introductory classes in religion and theology, as well as upper-level classes such as the Pentateuch. “Scripture as Fan Fiction” is the tentative title for another course Brownsmith will teach this fall. Students will learn to examine ancient texts and explore how they are similar to modern fan fiction.

“We will be looking at stories from the past and present that build on previously existing stories in ways that are written out of love, excitement, passion or out of the desire to see more or ask questions the original narrative didn't ask,” she said.

Brownsmith appreciates the value UD places on exposing students to religious studies. Her teaching focus is on contextualizing ancient texts. She wants students to come away from her classes with the practice of creative and critical thinking. She strives to open their minds and broaden their understanding of the world.

“Dr. Brownsmith is only in her first year of teaching at the University of Dayton, but she is already a sought-after teacher,” said Jana Bennett, professor and UD Department of Religious Studies chair. “In addition, she's been a faculty member of choice to work with students on research projects related to the Bible.” 

Brownsmith said she has found a great community in the religious studies department and she feels supported by the University's dual focus on teaching and scholarship. Her personal belief “the purpose of education is to make you a person who goes out and makes the world a better place through connection” is promoted by UD’s Catholic, Marianist values. 

“I am not personally Catholic, so when I first came here I was unsure I would fit in, but I found that the way UD lives out its Catholic heritage through the Marianist charisms is really akin to the way I look at the world in terms of mission and community,” Brownsmith said. “I felt very welcomed from the start. I felt they wanted me to be here.”

For more information, visit the UD Department of Religious Studies website.

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