Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Kathryn McClymond - Chair

Second Advisor

Timothy Renick

Third Advisor

Louis Ruprecht

Fourth Advisor

William Gilders


The first chapter of Mishnah tractate Sotah (m. Sot) records rabbinic elaboration and interpretation on the sotah ritual contained in the Hebrew Bible, Numbers 5:11-31. Specifically, the nine mishnayoth that compose m. Sot 1 discuss the circumstances for invoking the trial of the “bitter waters” and the overall treatment of the suspected wife during the trial. This paper argues that, when read together, m. Sot 1 describes an entire economy of justice and punishment that must be imposed on a wife who is merely suspected of adultery, quite apart from whether she is—or is not—guilty of adultery. Through a close reading of m. Sot 1 and by examining the current gender discourse surrounding this text, this paper maintains that the rabbis sought to justify and explain these aspects of the sotah ritual by elaborating their understanding of suspicion and drawing them under a larger conception of measure for measure justice.

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