The topography of sacrifice and typology of space in twelfth-century martyrology

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Abstract

Following the First Crusade, a body of Hebrew literature emerged that both lamented the persecution of entire communities and celebrated instances of collective ritual suicide. Authors introduced episodes of Kiddush ha-Shem by structuring the scenery and urban topography in a way that strongly resembled biblical descriptions of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rendering the Jewish communities as sacrificial offerings to the Lord, these accounts not only provided an authoritative justification for unthinkable acts of suicidal-slaughter, but also offered a compelling theodicic interpretation of the events. Modern scholars have argued that the articulation of Kiddush ha-Shem in First Crusade literature became a defining motif in the way medieval Jews imagined their reaction to violence. This essay, however, sets out to redress the claim that Jewish communities adopted this ideology without reservation and idealized its emulation. Turning to the work of Ephraim of Bonn (d. ca. 1200), it argues that authors throughout the late middle ages invoked Kiddush ha-Shem as a literary motif in innovative, possibly critical, ways. In place of a language that uses urban imagery to draw on the Temple as a site of sacrifice, Ephraim employed a spatial framework in which the mountains and terrain invoke the Temple rather as a site of refuge and pilgrimage. With this redeployment of Jewish symbolic topography Ephraim redrew the landscape of persecutions and oriented it toward a new biblical typology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-306
Number of pages30
JournalProoftexts - Journal of Jewish Literature History
Volume33
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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