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Mothers and Rituals of Child-Naming in Ancient Israel – Susan Ackerman (Dartmouth)

Feb 20, 2023

In Hebrew Bible accounts of child-naming, it is a child’s mother (or a mother’s female surrogate or surrogates; e.g., a midwife) who, somewhat more often than not, bestows a name on a newly delivered infant. This same tradition of mothers or their female surrogates conferring infants’ names can also be found in Egypt and the Late Bronze Age city-state of Ugarit, but elsewhere in the Near East and eastern Mediterranean (e.g., the Hittite Empire; classical and Hellenistic Greece), it is a child’s father who bestows a newborn’s name. In the Hittite Empire and classical and Hellenistic Greece, moreover, as well as ancient Mesopotamia, births are marked by some sort of feast or celebration held in honor of the new mother. But what ritual might perform the same function for a recently delivered mother in Israel? I propose that it is the act of bestowing a name upon her newborn that allowed an Israelite woman to claim her new identity as mother and assume her new position and status in society.

Susan Ackerman joined the Religion Department in 1990 after teaching at the University of Arizona and at Winthrop College in South Carolina. She is a specialist in the religion of ancient Israel and the religions of Israel’s neighbors (Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Canaan), an interest she first developed as an undergraduate religion major at Dartmouth (A.B., 1980) and continued to explore in graduate school at Harvard (M.T.S., 1982; Ph.D., 1987).

Her publications include several articles and books including, Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah (Scholars Press, 1992); Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel (Doubleday, 1998); and When Heroes Love: The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David (Columbia University Press, 2005); Women and the Religion of Ancient Israel (Yale University Press, 2022); and Gods, Goddesses, and the Women Who Serve Them. Professor Ackerman is also a member of the faculty of the Program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Dartmouth.

Mothers and Rituals of Child-Naming in Ancient Israel

Susan Ackerman (Dartmouth)
Moderator: William Schniedewind (UCLA)
The Bible and the Ancient World Seminar Series

Cosponsored by the
UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures
UCLA Center for the Study of Religion


Feb 20, 2023
Event Category:


UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies
(310) 825-5387
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