Abstract

The Hebrew Bible contains multiple texts in which mothers eat their children. Deuteronomy 28, Lam 2 and 4, and 2 Kgs 6 all offer variations on the theme of maternal cannibalism. While these passages are often written off as gruesome, exceptional, or motivated by extreme necessity (such as starvation), such approaches miss the literary and ideological significance of maternal cannibalism. This study, in contrast, approaches the biblical accounts through another body of literature with its own rich assembly of cannibalistic mothers: the classic fairy tales. Reading with fairy tales surfaces four important points: (1) starvation is insufficient to explain cannibalism; (2) cooking children, as much as eating them, is narratively significant and should be analyzed as such; (3) some mothers are indeed Bad Mothers, even as (4) cannibalism does not preclude affection and love—including at least some mothers who cannibalize their children. Taken together, these principles challenge the assumed norms of maternity, while offering new ways of reading and responding to the cannibal mothers of the Hebrew Bible.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.