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‘Say You Are My Sister’: Danger, Seduction and the Foreign in Biblical Literature and Beyond

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Throughout biblical and Jewish literature we encounter a repeated story of a Hebrew or Jewish character who becomes involved in a dangerous erotic relationship. The sexual tension in these tales articulates the ambivalence between the national identities of the character and of the foreign other.

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Throughout biblical and Jewish literature we encounter a repeated story of a Hebrew or Jewish character who becomes involved in a dangerous erotic relationship. The sexual tension in these tales articulates the ambivalence between the national identities of the character and of the foreign other.

The first exemplification of the topos occurs in Genesis, where the matriarchs Sarah and Rebekah are handed over (or almost so) by their husbands to a foreign king. The other biblical cases are those of Joseph, who experiences the danger of seduction by Potiphar’s wife, and Esther, who is taken by force into the harem of the Persian emperor.

In modern Hebrew literature, the theme reappears in the short story by the Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon, ‘The Lady and the Pedlar’ from 1943, in which the Jewish pedlar is at risk of becoming the prey of a foreign cannibalistic woman, and in the novel Inta Omri (1994) by the poet-author Smadar Herzfeld, which describes a desperate love affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man against the backdrop of the Intifada in the late 1980s.

Between the chapters devoted to these works lies a discussion of the film by the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, The Touch (1971), the story of a Jewish archaeologist who falls in love with a Swedish woman, which Keshet reads as another instance of the same theme, but this time as a metaphor of Jewish —Christian relations from the perspective not of the Jewish character but of the foreign other.

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Table of Contents

1. 'Say you are my sister'
Let the Story Speak for Itself
Status of Research
Intertextual Study

2. The Recurring Story as a Collective Cultural Discourse
The Recurring Story as a Collective Discourse
The Patriarchs on Foreign Soil
The Sexual Image as Metaphor
Sarah as Wife and ‘Sister’

3. The Story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife
Joseph and Potiphar's Wife: The Masculine Model
Loss of Identity, Assimilation
Between the ‘Patriarch's Model’ and the ‘Joseph Model’
Later Readings of the Story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife
Significance of the Findings in the Sociopolitical Interpretation

4. The Book of Esther: Living in Duality
The Book of Esther as Mega Metatext
Intertextual Structuring
The Joseph Complex
The Second System: 'You are my sister'
Summary: The Masculine, the Feminine, and Integrative Models

5. ‘The Lady and the Pedlar’: Shai Agnon Follows the Biblical Narrative
The Aconscious Layers of the Collective Subject
Intertextual Connections
Text and Context

6. Ingmar Bergman: The Madonna's Hidden Sickness
Synchronic Intertextuality
The Touch as a Religious-Allegorical Text
'You are my sister'

7. Inta Omri: The Exile Is within Us
From Theology to Sociology, to Politics and Back
Exile as an Existential Condition
The Place Beyond

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Book information

Author
Shula Keshet
List Price
£50 / $75 / €60
Series
Bible in the Modern World, 53
Scholars' Price
£25 / $37.50 / €30
ISBN 13 hardback
978-1-907534-89-8
Format
Hardback
Page Extent
xii + 152
Publication Date
October 2013
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