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C o n c l u s i o n Passing Fancies In a 1997 essay that asked how Jewish feminist scholarship might be applied to “issues other than the explicitly gendered,”1 Susannah Heschel described Jesus as a theological transvestite: “Just as gender may be seen to be performative, so too Jesus and even Christianity and Judaism can be seen as constructs of the modern period, which exist by the virtue of performative activity. The anxiety over the self-­ definition of the two religions, and over the boundaries between them, comes into relief through discussions of the jewishness of the historical figure of Jesus. Jesus, I argue, functions as a kind of theological transvestite , calling into question the constructions of Christianity and Judaism and destabilizing the boundaries between them.”2 Heschel draws on the work of Marjorie Garber and Judith Butler to articulate the “category crisis” that Jesus represented for modern, German Jews and Christians eager to secure their religious identities: “As a Jew and the first Christian,” Heschel writes, “yet neither a Jew nor a Christian, Jesus is the ultimate theological transvestite.”3 The impossibility of Jesus’ religious identity, Heschel concludes, ultimately “queers . . . ​ the ‘boundaries’ between Judaism and Christianity.”4 Heschel focused on modernity, the age in which “the quest for the historical Jesus” emerged to make sense of post-­ Enlightenment religious subjectivities. But Jesus as a queer figure, poised between yet rendering impossible the boundaries of religious identity, illuminates the context of ancient religion, as well. Throughout this book, I have been exploring how some gentile Christians from the second century onward attempted to understand their religious identity by deploying a contradictory symbol that—­ to use Heschel’s phrase—­ “queer[ed] . . . ​ the ‘boundaries’ between Judaism and Christianity.” Once located on the body of the Christian savior, in the hands of a predominantly non-­ Jewish community, Jesus’ circumcision both constructed and confounded the very categories of religion ostensibly signified on and by Christ’s body. In her work on modern Germany, Heschel appropriated the gender-­ bending idea 180 Conclusion of transvestism to imagine how and why Jesus could queer religious boundaries . Here, in the conclusion of my study, I want to look to a related and, perhaps, more expansive figure of troublesome boundary crossing: the trope of passing. Passing emerged first as a narrative of racial camouflage in the literature of the nineteenth century, when “race” as a category acquired its patina of scientific inevitability.5 Primarily accounts of passing portrayed a black individual “passing” for white, reinforcing the binary nature of U.S. racial politics;6 but “passing” has been read into a diverse array of deceptive identities beyond race.7 Passing both necessitates and undermines the imposition of stable, mutually exclusive categories (categories of race, gender, sexuality, and so on). Like transvestism, narratives of passing institute an unstable “optical economy of identity,”8 emerging in social settings that rely on what Amy Robinson and others have called “specular identification.”9 The interior qualities of a person must be, in some way, legible on the body’s surface; the surface of the skin conveys deeper, more ingrained and essential aspects of identity. We have already seen, in Chapter 1, how circumcision functioned as part of a Roman cultural economy of signs that made legible and therefore in some sense Romanized (but never made Roman) a host of “others” within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The ability to read those signs was arrogated to the Romans themselves; the possibility of sign failure—­ of passing—­ lurked, often unspoken, within that web of cultural stereotypes. To “pass” from one category to another calls the link between exterior surface and interior essence into question. How meaningful can “white” be as an essential category if a black person can mimic it so perfectly as to “pass”? How meaningful can “black” be as an essential category if a black woman—­ as philosopher and artist Adrian Piper recounted in a 1992 essay—­ has to remind or even insist to friends and colleagues that she is not “really” white?10 The pass over the racial boundary calls that boundary—­ and the essential categories it supposedly divides—­ into question. Yet in the logic of passing, those essences are also paradoxically affirmed: the notion of interior essence is never evaporated, it is temporarily dissociated from the surface of the passer’s skin. To successfully pass as white, the “real person” (underneath? within?) must—­ somehow, in some fashion—­ remain not white, or else they are not “passing...


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