The Beard as Spectacle and Scandal in a Thirteenth-century Hebrew Maqāma

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The Eighth Maqāma by Yaʿacov ben Elʿazar (Toledo, ca. 1200) tells the story of ʿAkhbor, a bearded beggar-preacher who is revealed to be rich and lecherous. His sexual preference for a black maid leads his four white/Arab maids to murder him viciously, but not before taking revenge on his beard. In fact, the most notable feature of the false preacher is his gargantuan beard, which occupies a full one-third of the maqāma , and other beards are also excessively described. Following Robert Bartlett, I will relate to the beard as “social text” and explore its abundant symbolical meanings within the surrounding cultures of Islam and Judaism, as well as against the backdrop of Iberian contemporary society. Further, in order to better understand Ben Elʿazar’s manipulation of both the beard and the genre, as well as his emphasis on sexual, anal and scatological humor, I will have recourse to Mikhail Bakhtin’s theoretical discussions of “the grotesque body,” “the carnivalesque,” and to his generic model of the Mennipea .
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-161
Number of pages24
JournalIntellectual History of the Islamicate World
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 10 May 2021


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