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Medieval Exegesis and Religious DifferenceCommentary, Conflict, and Community in the Premodern Mediterranean$
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Ryan Szpiech

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780823264629

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823264629.001.0001

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Between Epic Entertainment and Polemical Exegesis

Between Epic Entertainment and Polemical Exegesis

Jesus as Antihero in Toledot Yeshu

(p.155) 10 Between Epic Entertainment and Polemical Exegesis
Medieval Exegesis and Religious Difference

Alexandra Cuffel

Fordham University Press

This chapter considers the dissemination of the anti-Christian text known as the Toledot Yeshu (“Life of Jesus”). The author shows that recent discoveries of many more versions of the Toledot Yeshu in Judeo-Arabic in the Cairo Geniza and elsewhere have enabled such research to include the Islamic world in a significant way. In this light, she suggests interpreting the text in terms of oral epic tradition in the Muslim world. Comparing the text to other well-known oral story cycles such as Alf laylah wa-laylah (1001 Nights), she shows that the Life of Jesus shares certain elements with these works, which were circulating in oral and written forms among both Muslims and Jews, and being transformed in its Jewish versions according to the vagaries of circumstance and taste. Focusing on the figure of Jesus, Cuffel explores the ways in which various versions of the text commented upon and played with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish notions of humanity, prophecy, divinity, and magic to create a gendered polemic in which Jesus was the ultimate religious rebel, doomed by the circumstances of his “menstrual,” illegitimate conception to turn against religious truth and actively work against God and the believers.

Keywords:   Toledot Yeshu, 1001 nights, Judeo-Arabic, Cairo Genizah, Oral epic, gender studies

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