1st Edition

The Womb and the Simile of the Woman in Labor in the Hebrew Bible Embodying Relationship with YHWH

By Karen Langton Copyright 2025
    176 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book explores figurative images of the womb and the simile of a woman in labor from the Hebrew Bible, problematizing previous interpretations that present these as disparate images and showing how their interconnectivity embodies relationship with YHWH.

    In the Hebrew Bible, images of the womb and the pregnant body in labor do not co-occur despite being grounded in an image of a whole pregnant female body; the pregnant body is instead fragmented into these two constituent parts, and scholars have continued to interpret these images separately with no discussion of their interconnectivity. In this book, Langton explores the relationship between these images, inviting readers into a wider conversation on how the pregnant body functions as a means to an end, a place to access and to seek a relationship with YHWH. Readers are challenged and asked to rethink how these images have been interpreted within feminist scholarship, with womb imagery depicting YHWH’s care for creation or performing the acts of a midwife, and the pregnant body in labor as a depiction of crisis. Langton explores select texts depicting these images, focusing on the corporeal experience and direct references and allusions to the physicality of a pregnant body within these texts. This approach uncovers ancient and current androcentric ideology which dictates that conception, gestation, and birth must be controlled not by the female body, but by YHWH.

    The Womb and the Simile of the Woman in Labor in the Hebrew Bible is of interest to students and scholars working on the Hebrew Bible, gender in the Bible and the Near East more broadly, and feminist biblical criticism.

    Introduction; 1: Methodology; Section I: The Womb; 2: The Womb in Job; 3: Psalm 139; 4: Brought Forth from the Womb in Psalms 22 and 71; Section II: A Woman in Labor; 5: Non-Biblical ANE Texts – A Woman in Labor; 6: Isaiah Like a Woman in Labor; 7: YHWH Like a Woman in Labor; Conclusion: The Interconnectivity.


    Karen Langton is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT. Her publications include “YHWH as a Woman in Labour: The Controlled Pregnant Female Body in Labour” and “Bringing to Birth: Relationship with YHWH.” Her current research engages material religion explored through textiles.

    "In this erudite analysis, Langton turns tired scholarly assumptions on their head. She confronts us viscerally and compellingly with the pregnant, laboring, delivering body that has been so readily rendered mere metaphor or simple simile, requiring us to think again.  Familiar texts are rendered unfamiliar as she compels readers to consider afresh how and why womb, labour, birthing, and issues of control are key to exploring the YHWH/human relationship." - Deryn Guest, Honorary Lecturer, University of Birmingham.

    "Karen Langton’s book The Womb and the Simile of The Woman in Labor in the Hebrew Bible: Embodying Relationship with YHWH focuses our readerly attention on the pregnant body and the pregnant woman as presented in its full narrative context and the larger semantic field of figurative language for the womb in the Hebrew Bible. By using Benjamin Harshav’s theory of Integrational Semantics, Langton maps a greater range of meanings for womb and labor imagery in the Bible. Whether it is Job’s struggle with YHWH, the psalmists’ entreaties to YHWH, a warrior’s experience of violence on the battlefield, or Isaiah’s imagining the power of YHWH as a warrior, Langton uncovers the dynamic power and creative force of the language of pregnancy and birth. Langton’s book makes an important contribution to the study of womb imagery in the Bible by showing how ancient biblical writers turned to the image of the pregnant and laboring body to express the multifaceted, sometimes controlled and sometimes uncontrolled, human relationship to the divine." - Cynthia R. Chapman, The Adelia A.F. Johnston and Harry Thomas Frank Professor of Religion, Oberlin College.

    "In this book Langton demonstrates how the image of the womb as communicated through visceral imagery, key metaphors, and similes in the Biblical ancient Levantine material is often highly complex and inconsistent. Langton’s key contribution is to emphasise the inseparability of the womb from the woman's body more globally." - Katherine Southwood, Associate Professor in Old Testament, Oxford University.