Sabbatical update…in time for Purim

After a brilliant meeting with my supervisor in Cambridge I’ve had some additional texts on which I’ve been focussing. Notably, developing the connections between the representation of King David with the shock troops in the Babylonian Talmud which I previously mentioned and the midrashic figure of Esau. It’s work in progress and needs to be developed, but we were struck by the strength of allusion between Esau and David.

Esau of course is both the ancestor of the Amalekites (and therefore also of Haman) and is also symbolic of Rome in midrashic literature. So the question which I will be turning to, in due course, is the significance of colliding the image of David with the image of Esau (both of whom are described as ‘ruddy’ אדמוני in the Tanakh – Genesis 25:25, I Samuel 16:12).

I’ve also spent the last few days doing a more in depth analysis of rabbinic texts which contain reference to בלורית  – some kind of hairstyle associated in rabbinic literature with non-Jews and idolatry. It has led me to read a text which I had never looked at closely that is utterly hideous in its imagination of zealous violence. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 82a-b describes the actions of Pinchas and his zealous vengeful murder of Zimri and Cozbi (in the book of Numbers). It is not the only place where some of the motifs are found, but that doesn’t detract from the ghastly imagery. The Talmudic text describes Zimri as grabbing Cozbi by her hair (that is the בלורית) and dragging her in front of Moses – demanding whether she is permitted to him and if not, then how come Moses could marry a ‘non-Jew’ (only describing her as ‘Jethro’s daughter’).

In the manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud (as opposed to the printed edition known as the Vilna Shas) Zimri is described as the daughter of Balak (something that is also done in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, an Aramaic translation). There’s lots to do with this text, notably since Balak’s other descendent – as mentioned in bSanhedrin is Ruth, from whom of course we eventually get King David (whose children also have the same hairstyle – all of course according to the Talmudic account).

More about the methodological implications of this thick intertextual approach another time.

More another time. The pressure is slightly on to write up some more as I’m just over half way through the sabbatical. I’ve just switched off from ‘regular’ work but can now see it again on the horizon.

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