Jewish Constructions of Nakedness in Late Antiquity.
Journal of Biblical Literature 1997, Fall, 116, 3
Journal of Biblical Literature
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Adam and Eve, as we all know, were created naked: "The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, yet they felt no shame" (Gen 2:25). (1) The verse raises a number of exegetical, cultural, and theological questions. What exactly do "naked" and "shame" mean? Why was there no shame to nakedness and, conversely, why should there be shame to nakedness? Before whom are the man and his wife shamed? Are they shamed equally? The answers to these questions can have powerful theological or normative repercussions: much of Augustine's discussion of sexuality, for 'example, departs from precisely these questions. (2) By understanding how a group addresses these questions, though, we can also gain an insight into how that group and its culture understand what it means to be naked. This understanding, in turn, can provide a window into how a culture constructs and reproduces power and hierarchical relationships. Unfortunately the rabbis of late antiquity (ca. 70 C.E.- 500 C.E.) do not address these questions in their commentaries on Gen 2:25. In other contexts, however, the rabbis, and nonrabbinic Jewish authors from antiquity, do provide abundant data on how they understood nakedness. Scholars have noted this evidence and have tended to interpret it only within a moral or valued framework: Jews saw nakedness as "bad." These discussions have tended to be apologetic and superficial. George Foot Moore talks of the "highly esteemed" Jewish virtue of modesty, Louis Epstein of the abhorrence of male nakedness. (3) Even a recent article by Michael Poliakoff hews to the question of whether Jews saw nakedness as "good" or "bad." (4) This assessment of Jewish constructions of nakedness is so common in the scholarly literature that it has become something of a commonplace. Larissa Bonfante writes of the "fundamental" opposition of Hebrew tradition to Greek athletic nudity; Jonathan Z. Smith mentions Judaism's "horror" of nudity; and Sebastian Brock posits a general Semitic "abhorrence" of nakedness. (5) Yet nakedness, like clothing, is culturally complex. On some level, we are all aware of the polysemous messages transmitted by clothing and adornment. Within any given sociocultural context, clothing can function to suggest "the behaviors (roles) expected of people ... and can, therefore, distinguish the powerful from the weak, the rich from the poor, the hero from the outcast, the conformer from the non-conformer, the religious from the irreligious, the leader from the follower." (6) For effective communication, though, clothing, like all other forms of communication, must be worn with sensitivity to environment and context. The same two-piece woman's bathing suit sends vastly different messages if worn by a man or a woman, to a business meeting or on a beach, in modern-day Iran or in the United States. Assumptions must be shared for communication of this nature to take place.
- 2,99 €
- Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
- Published: 22 September 1997
- Publisher: Society of Biblical Literature
- Print Length: 55 Pages
- Language: English