Every day, global news feeds and social media engagements testify to the complex relationships that exist between religion and gender violence. They also highlight the significant part that religions can play in both confronting and perpetuating the myths and misperceptions that lie at the heart of rape cultures – cultures that conceptualise gender violence as an “inevitable” or even profitable outcome of normative social gender roles. Religious texts, traditions, and beliefs can exert powerful influences on people’s understandings of gender relationships, shaping their responses to gender violence and rape culture within their own socio-cultural contexts.

The Shiloh Project started as a joint initiative set up by three scholars of the Bible who were at that time employed at the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Auckland (NZ). It was initially housed at the University of Sheffield under the umbrella of the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS). Since then, Katie Edwards, one of the founding co-directors, has left the University of Sheffield and academia to become a full-time writer. We hope to feature Katie’s work here from time to time and we look forward to seeing her thrive.

The Shiloh Project is now housed on an independent site and co-directed by Caroline Blyth and Johanna Stiebert (founding co-directors), as well as Chris Greenough and Emily Colgan, long-time supporters and contributors. 

The Shiloh Project is committed to fostering research into the phenomenon of rape culture, both throughout history and within contemporary societies across the globe. In particular, it will investigate the complex and at times contentious relationships that exist between rape culture and religion, considering the various ways religion can both participate in and contest rape culture discourses and practices.

It will also explore the multiple social identities that invariably intersect with rape culture, including gender, sexuality, race and class.

Our name, Shiloh Project, refers to a story replete with rape in the closing chapters of the Bible’s book of Judges. Judges is rife with brutalities and recounts a time of military skirmishes, preceding yet more organised warfare in the days of monarchy. The book ends with events at Shiloh and comments, on a closing note, that in those (chaotic and violent) days there was no king, so each man did as seemed right in his own eyes.

In Judges 20 an inter-tribal war begins between ‘the people of Israel’ and the tribe of Benjamin (which is also part of Israel). The catalyst for this war is the brutal gang rape of a Levite’s wife – a gang rape that is preceded both by the threat of male rape of the Levite and by the cavalier offering up for rape of his wife  and a host’s virgin daughter (Judges 19). The war has divine backing – though the Israelites have misgivings about fighting their own kin (Judges 20.23).

After Benjamin is defeated there is more upset, because the Israelites had sworn an oath at a place called Mizpah, not to give their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites. But if the Benjamites had no access to wives, how would the tribe survive?

A ‘solution’ is found: one group, from a place called Jabesh-gilead, had not sworn the oath at Mizpah. So, Israelite soldiers went to Jabesh-gilead and killed all the men and all the women who had had sex with a man. But all the female virgins were brought to Shiloh to become wives for the Benjamites. These virgins, however, prove insufficient for the Benjamites and ‘compassion’ (Judges 21.15) transpires in a further scheme: the Benjamites are to seize the young women of Shiloh as they come out to dance in the vineyards. Any Israelite male – father or brother – who is unhappy about this is told to be ‘generous’ (21.22).

We know nothing more about these women of Jabesh-gilead and Shiloh – they have no voice. The text is filtered through a lens of male demands for progeny and posterity. But we can resist the women’s invisibility and insist on giving them a voice. We can imagine their ordeal and demand that this story is not overlooked. In our own time, resonances with rape in war and with the abduction of the girls of Chibok by Boko Haram and of Yazidi girls and women by Daesh makes this particularly poignant.

If you would like to propose an article for the blog, please email Johanna at: [email protected]