Two Sarahs: Victimhood in the Bible and Its Reception

FWF Elise Richter Project by Katerina Koci

Project no.: V 1047
Start: May 1, 2024
End: April 30, 2028
Funding amount: € 444,906

This project presents a nuanced exploration of gender dynamics within the context of biblical sacrifice, grounded in feminist and gender philosophical-theological inquiry. Drawing from the rich tapestry of biblical exegesis and literary analysis, this study delves into the archetypal narrative of sacrifice, guided by the insights of Julia Kristeva's psychoanalytical philosophy.

Through a comparative lens, this inquiry juxtaposes biblical narratives with select works by Margaret Atwood, including “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Testaments”. Central to this examination is the concept of “double victimhood,” which illuminates the complexities of long-term oppression and its manifestations.

By examining the portrayal of biblical matriarch Sarah and her contemporary counterparts in Atwood's literature, such as Aunt Lydia and Handmaid Jeanine, this study highlights the intersecting themes of oppression and self-sacrifice.

While the study acknowledges the issue of gendered violence, its primary objective is to uncover the underlying origins of violence, situating it within broader power dynamics. Through this academic inquiry, we aim to deepen our understanding of gender, power, and sacrifice in both biblical and literary contexts.


Research questions

  • How is the phenomenon of violence against women narrated in the Bible, described in psychoanalysis, and received in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments?
  • What is the role of violence against women and of gendered sacrificial acting of women against women, and how does Kristeva’s concept of ‘double victimhood’ of both victim and perpetrator function within it?
  • Is this violence and sacrificial acting always gendered, or is the phenomenon of double victimhood symptomatic of all people who suffer long-term oppression, regardless of their sex or gender?



Koci will employ the following methodologies: a synchronic literary analysis of the Abrahamic narratives, with a particular focus on Sarah's different responses towards long-term oppression (the so-called 'double victimhood'); an exploration of the psychoanalytical philosophy of 'double victimhood' grounded in the scholarship of Julia Kristeva; and a utilization of literary examples coupled with a comparison with the oeuvre of Margaret Atwood.

The novelty of this project stems from my conceptualization and proposal to term the theory originated by Julia Kristeva as 'double victimhood.' This involves refining the perception of victimhood pertaining to the biblical Sarah and, most importantly, refining the understanding of gendered violence's origins alongside considerations of power dynamics and oppression.