Guest Editor #1 and Guest Editor #2

Names in the Bible and later Jewish traditions are imbued with great significance and are integral to an individual’s personal identity.[1] Namelessness, therefore, is a narrative strategy. A growing body of work exemplified by Adele Reinhartz and Gina Hens-Piazza encourages the reader to act as narrator and treat the Bible as an “initial draft.”[2] As Reinhartz puts it: “anonymity does not suppress the personal identities of the anonymous; it does not prevent us from seeking them out and fashioning their individuality.”[3] There is much to unpick, then, from biblical literature and its reception and retellings. This special volume focuses on the anonymity of unnamed biblical figures; the authors rediscover these voices. The following contributions explore the identities and significance of otherwise anonymous figures and the critical and methodological challenges of addressing the interpretative space surrounding them.

Scholars are often compelled to give names and epithets to otherwise unnamed characters, which in turn, inevitably shapes how these characters are read. This is fruitfully explored in Esther Brownsmith’s contribution to the volume: “‘Call Me By Your Name’: Critical Fabulation and the Woman of Judges 19.” This article examines both the names given to the woman of Judges 19 by modern writers and scholars and how their choice of name reflects the aims and impact of their retellings. Brownsmith contends with the ethical issues at stake in such namings, exploring them through the lens of critical fabulation, an approach originally developed to study the suppressed voices of enslaved African women during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.[4]

The question of how scholarly naming and descriptors shapes the reading of unnamed figures is also taken up by Katherine Southwood in her article “The Social Dynamics Surrounding Yahwistic Women’s Supposed Ritual Deviance in Ezekiel 13:27–23.” Southwood critiques the treatment of the unnamed women in Ezekiel 13 in biblical scholarship for the tendency to reiterate and amplify the polemic of the text through the use of gendered slurs like “witch.” She explores new models for the treatment of the accusation of deviant magic, drawing on insights from the field of Classics, and suggests that these accusations reflect a desire to reclaim a sense of agency and control in the face of inexplicable or uncontrollable events.

In “Forgetting the Forgetter: The Cupbearer in the Joseph Saga (Genesis 40–41),” Jonathan Homrighausen offers a close-reading of the cupbearer to demonstrate how the reader can become a narrator and, in so doing, help to fill in the gaps surrounding overlooked and unnamed figures. Homrighausen’s article explores how this approach can function as a means of resisting hierarchical structures both in the biblical text and in our own lived experience. Through the example of the cupbearer, Homrighausen calls on the reader to reflect on their own ethical (in)action and uses the forgotten and overlooked cupbearer to ask broader ethical questions about who is forgotten and marginalised in our own world.

Katherine Low’s essay “Moses Married a Black Woman: Modern American Receptions of the Cushite Wife of Moses” explores how the interpretative space surrounding unnamed characters allows readers to project their own contemporary social issues onto the narrative. Focusing on the reception of Moses’s marriage to the Cushite woman (Num 12) in nineteenth and twentieth-century sources, Low explores how the treatment of the text reflects contemporaneous concerns about abolition and inter-racial marriage.

Heather Macumber resists the inclination to name or identify the Woman clothed with the Sun (Rev 12) and instead reads this figure through the prism of monster theory. While the book of Revelation contains many monsters (both heavenly and in the abyss), this contribution emphasises that not only should the Woman clothed with the Sun be included in the category of the monstrous, but that there is a fluidity and hybridity of the Woman’s monstrous body as she reflects multiple forms. In turn, Macumber recognises the polysemy of allowing a figure to remain nameless.

In her short note “The Mother of Rufus and Paul in Romans 16,” Janelle Peters explores the significance of identifying a female figure through her relationship to her son. Reading counter to the traditional assumption that to go unnamed denotes lesser status, Peters argues that Rufus’s mother nevertheless had status in and influence over Paul’s mission.

Concluding this special issue, Joseph Scales also explores historical questions about how we conceive of and gender groups of unnamed elders. In his article “Who Is ‘Worthy of Honour’? Women as Elders in Late Second Temple Period Literature,” Scales critiques the assumption that groups of elders in texts such as Judith and Susanna are necessarily male and reflect a patriarchal structure. Scales argues that these texts have been read as further highlighting the lack of women as elders and carried that assumption in their readings.

One of Scales’s concluding statements is particularly striking: “studies of women in relation to local power [should] be re-examined without the assumption that women did not occupy positions of recognised authority.” While anonymity may not necessarily directly correlate with gender, social or literary status, what is clear from the contributions to this volume is the need to redress imbalances, conventions and assumptions – where socio-cultural factors play a key part – and give credit to those that otherwise go uncredited.

All of the authors in this volume deserve to be credited for their exemplary work, which contributes fresh insights and creative analysis. It has been a joy to read and edit every article in this volume. As guest editors, we would also like to name and thank the editorial board at JIBS and especially Meredith Warren, Tom de Bruin and Eric Vanden Eykel for their help, support and mentorship. They have provided a platform for an international group of senior and newly emerging scholars to give a voice to those previously unvoiced.


Hartman, Saidiya. “Venus in Two Acts.” Small Axe 12 (2008): 1–14. doi:10.1215/-12-2-1.

Hens-Piazza, Gina. “Supporting Cast Versus Supporting Caste: Reading the Old Testament as Praxis of Justice.” Pages 109–20 in The Bible and Catholic Theological Ethics. Edited by Yiu Sing Lucas Chan, James Keenan, and Ronaldo Zacharias. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2017.

———. The Supporting Cast of the Bible: Reading on Behalf of the Multitude. Lanham, MD: Lexington/Fortress Academic, 2020.

Reinhartz, Adele. “Why Ask My Name?” Anonymity and Identity in Biblical Narrative. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

[1] As guest editors, we have chosen to be nameless. Too often in academia, the measure of a person is determined by the number of publications attributed to their name. Defining a person by the number of times they are published or named in citations is in itself a form of erasure of identity; it fails to fully appreciate the varied talents, experiences and relationships that identify us more than the number of publications which bare our names. Moreover, the order in which editors and authors are named in a collaborative project such as this, inevitably constructs a hierarchy with the first author or editor deemed the more significant or senior. So much of our work as editors of this volume cannot be attributed to a single named individual but has been the product of teamwork. In remaining nameless we resist the implicit ranking and instead celebrate the truly collaborative nature of this project. While namelessness can be a form of oppression, remaining nameless can also be a form of power which can be used as a strategy to rectify power imbalance, much as the blind peer-review process serves to protect against bias. Although we are nameless, we can be contacted at: and (in no particular order).

[2] Gina Hens-Piazza, The Supporting Cast of the Bible: Reading on Behalf of the Multitude (Lanham, MD: Lexington/Fortress Academic, 2020); Gina Hens-Piazza, “Supporting Cast Versus Supporting Caste: Reading the Old Testament as Praxis of Justice,” in The Bible and Catholic Theological Ethics, eds. Yiu Sing Lucas Chan, James Keenan, and Ronaldo Zacharias (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2017), 109–120.

[3] Adele Reinhartz, “Why Ask My Name?” Anonymity and Identity in Biblical Narrative (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998),191.

[4] Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 12 (2008): 1–14, doi:10.1215/-12-2-1.