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The Gift That Stops Giving: HÉLÈNe Cixous's "Gift" and the Shunammite Woman

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image of Biblical Interpretation

2 Kgs 4:8-37 tells of a relationship between a nameless "Shunammite woman" and the prophet Elisha. This relationship revolves around a series of gift exchanges between these two figures-most notably they are exchanges centered around the sexually-charged space of a bed. However, the two figures "give" out of different economies. French writer Hélène Cixous has discussed the sexual difference involved with economies of giving and has coined the two interlapping and interfering spaces of the feminine Realm of the Gift and the masculine Realm of the Proper. This essay reads the biblical text through Cixous's economies and results in an interpretation that displays power differentials which have gone almost entirely unnoticed by biblical commentators. By reading the feminine Realm of the Gift alongside the masculine Realm of the Proper, a conflict of power is revealed between the Shunammite woman and the prophet, with the inevitable overtaking of the feminine Realm by the masculine Realm. Yet, by going further with Cixous's thought, this essay demonstrates that the story may be read in a way that escapes such a takeover.

Affiliations: 1: Emory University


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