Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel, "Holiness and Transgression Mothers of the Messiah in the Jewish Myth" (ASP, 2017)


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In this interview, Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel discusses her first book, Holiness and Transgression Mothers of the Messiah in the Jewish Myth, with Rachel Adelman. Translated by Eugene Matansky and published by Academic Studies Press in 2017, it was originally written in Hebrew as Kedeshot ukedoshot: Imahot hamashiah bamythos hayehudi (2014). The book engages with the female dynasty leading up to the House of David in the Hebrew Bible—specifically Lot and His Daughters (Genesis 19), Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38), and the Book of Ruth— and its influence on the Jewish Messianic Myth, from classic midrash to the Zohar.

Drawing on anthropology and psychoanalytic theory, Kaniel enhances our understanding of the connection between female transgression and redemption. She identifies a type-scene by motifs that these stories all share (near extinction, lack of knowing, seduction and transgression), addressing the question of agency or lack thereof, and the fundamental tension between sexuality and motherhood. She also traces the same motifs to the opening genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew and the story of Mary in Luke, and compares representations of "the mother of the Messiah" in Christian and Jewish imaginaire. Through the prism of gender studies that explore questions of femininity, motherhood and sexuality, the murky origins of the Messiah appear in a new light. This research intertwines close Jewish literary readings with comparative religion, psychoanalysis, and gender theory, expanding the ‘mythic gaps’ in classical Jewish sources. The book won the Pines, Lakritz and Warburg awards.

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