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Agnon's Moonstruck Lovers

The Song of Songs in Israeli Culture

by Ilana Pardes

Publication Year: 2013

Agnon's Moonstruck Lovers explores the response of Israel’s Nobel laureate S. Y. Agnon to the privileged position of the Song of Songs in Israeli culture. Standing at a unique crossroads between religion and secularism, Agnon probes the paradoxes and ambiguities of the Zionist hermeneutic project. In adopting the Song, Zionist interpreters sought to return to the erotic, pastoral landscapes of biblical times. Their quest for a new, uplifting, secular literalism, however, could not efface the haunting impact of allegorical configurations of love. With superb irony, Agnon's tales recast Israeli biblicism as a peculiar chapter within the ever-surprising history of biblical exegesis.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-2

I had the honor and privilege of first presenting this book (in its primary form) as part of the Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures series at the University of Washington in the spring of 2010. I am very grateful to the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Washington for inviting me. Special thanks to Gad Barzilai, Michael Rosenthal, and Naomi Sokoloff for their...

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1. Introduction: Upon the Handles of the Lock

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pp. 3-29

In “Reflections on S. Y. Agnon,” an essay published in Commentary in 1967, shortly after Agnon received the Nobel Prize, Gershom Scholem sets out to explore the literary genius of his close friend.1 Scholem defines Agnon as a remarkable classicist who ventures to set limits to the “anarchic” processes of secularization in Israeli culture, above all, to the “lawlessness and roughness” of...

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2. The Song of Songs as Cultural Text: From the European Enlightenment to Israeli Biblicism

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pp. 30-65

The Song of Songs was embraced by secular Zionism with unparalleled passion from the early twentieth century on, and yet this thriving exegetical scene has hardly been investigated. There are, to be sure, other pivotal biblical texts in Zionist culture—among them “The Binding of Isaac,” Exodus, and the Book of Joshua.1 Each one of these highlights other cultural aspects. What...

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3. Rechnitz’s Botany of Love: The Song of Seaweed

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pp. 66-95

The novella Betrothed (Shevu’at emunim), hailed as a masterpiece already on its publication in 1943, opens with a memorable depiction of Jaffa as a city “of beautiful seas”: yafo yefat yamim.1 The resonant alliteration of y f m augments the sensuality of a feminized city of legendary beauty, whose shores are “kissed” by the waves of the great sea (3). Among those compelled...

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4. The Biblical Ethnographies of “Edo and Enam” and the Quest for the Ultimate Song

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pp. 96-120

“Edo and Enam,” one of Agnon’s most enigmatic tales, a renowned Agnonian riddle that has generated as many readings as the dog Balak, opens with the narrator’s puzzlement at finding his friends, the Greifenbachs, “so dark and distracted” before traveling abroad. The story takes place in Jerusalem under the British Mandate (after “the war”), a time...

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Epilogue: Forevermore

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pp. 121-136

After twenty years of painstaking research, Adiel Amzeh, the protagonist of “Forevermore” (“Ad olam”), yet another fascinating character in Agnon’s gallery of scholars, completes his book on the history of the great city of Gumlidata and even finds a worthy publisher: Gebhard Goldenthal. But just as he sets out from his house to submit the manuscript, the...


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pp. 137-148


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pp. 149-178


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pp. 179-192


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pp. 193-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780295804774
E-ISBN-10: 0295804777
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295993034
Print-ISBN-10: 0295993030

Page Count: 214
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: First edition.

OCLC Number: 867630700
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Agnon's Moonstruck Lovers

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Subject Headings

  • Agnon, Shmuel Yosef, 1888-1970 -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
  • Bible. Old Testament -- In literature.
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