Whilst the matriarchs play minor roles in the Book of Genesis, in the Book of Jubilees they come to the fore of the literary stage. This dissertation revisits the question of the motives and priorities that led the author of Jubilees to embellish the characterisations of the matriarchs in his rewriting of Genesis. It also asks whether Jubilees was unique in its elevation of female characters or dealt with them in a manner that was typical of the then literary Zeitgeist. Utilising approaches drawn from the fields of gender and feminist studies, this dissertation offers a more nuanced examination of the matriarchs in Jubilees, that considers how attitudes towards sex and gender during the period of the author’s floruit may have influenced his rewriting of female characters. This examination of the women in Jubilees is situated within the larger context of roughly contemporaneous literature, comparing Jubilees’ depiction of female characters to heroines in Greco-Roman novels and ancient Jewish novellas — Chariton’s Callirhoe and Chaereas, the Book of Esther, and the Book of Judith.
Firstly, this dissertation proffers that the author of Jubilees did not rewrite the matriarchs in a systematic way. There was not an overarching aim to improve the images of or elevate the statuses of the matriarchs, as some scholarly opinions hold. Some matriarchs traverse gender boundaries (Rebekah), some matriarchs are confined within them (Leah), and other matriarchs receive little attention (Sarah). These women are treated differently depending on the ideological concerns and exegetical questions the author of Jubilees sought to address. As a result, different types of femininity are represented in the depictions of the matriarchs. Secondly, the author of Jubilees was not unusual in the way he treated female characters. Like the Greek novel and Jewish novellas, Jubilees simultaneously contains images of female characters who defy gender norms, as well as images of female characters who reinforce stereotypically patriarchal ideas about the performance of gender.