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REVIEWS Lisa Lampert. Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. Pp. 277. $55.00. There are elusive qualities in the phrases and sentences of this book. This represents both a virtue and a vice. Elusiveness is often the greatest gift of great poets. I have always been particularly drawn to the sentence , ‘‘Teach us to care and not to care,’’ in T. S. Eliot’s ‘‘Ash Wednesday .’’ I do not know, or, if deep inside my mind I do know, I cannot clearly express what these words mean, but ever since I first read them I was seized with an absolutely unshakable conviction that they must mean something and, given the power of paradox, it must be profound. It might be possible to take cover behind an equally baffling assertion, namely, Gunther Stent’s in his ‘‘Paradoxes of Free Will,’’ that it is a tragic ‘‘failure of philosophers to find an acceptable resolution of the contradictory nature of such paradoxical pairs of deep truths’’ (Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 148 [2004]: 207). Where philosophers fail, mere mortals can be forgiven. If the virtue of the prose of this book is that it convinces one that something genuinely important is being asserted and discussed, the vice is that one cannot easily describe to another person or perhaps even to oneself precisely what it is. What follows is my best attempt. In an introduction, four chapters, and a brief conclusion, the author traces two intermeshed, mutually informed—‘‘intersectional’’—types, the ‘‘hermeneutical Jew’’ and the ‘‘hermeneutical Woman.’’ The hermeneutical Jew is the Jew of Christian construction, changing over two millennia, but having a remarkable stability from the time of Saint Paul until the dawn of modernity. The traditional and conventional, indeed arbitrary, division of the medieval from the modern, the author dismisses , following the lead of a number of what might be called postmodern scholars of periodization. This allows her to emphasize continuities between the medieval and the modern, although she still takes seriously the warning of other scholars to avoid an easy narrative line from traditional anti-Judaism to modern anti-Semitism, let alone to the Holocaust. The consistency the hermeneutical Jew enjoys is rooted in the overwhelmingly dominant and stable perception of Christianity, by nearly all its interpreters for two millennia, as a universal and universalizing faith, one having superseded Judaism. Only recently have learned apologists of Christianity disavowed or, perhaps better, tried to soften the PAGE 329 329 ................. 11491$ CH13 11-01-10 14:02:39 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER supersessional and even universalist theology of Christianity. My own feeling is that these apologists still constitute only a vocal few among Christian theologians and popular interpreters and that they do not really command much support from the rank and file of Christian believers , who are quite comfortable with the traditional theology. The hermeneutical Woman is a more subtle and variable concept over time. Yet, though unstable or less stable than that of the hermeneutical Jew, it has a certain consistency about it. Therefore, the author seems confident that it is permissible to draw on much late twentieth-century feminist writing that has explicitly or implicitly invoked the hermeneutical Woman as she navigates the texts she has chosen to analyze. Indeed , Lampert argues that any proper understanding of the literary and artistic relics of the past must take into consideration a kind of superorganizing principle, implied by the existence of but not entirely defined by the hermeneutical Woman, one that often goes or has gone unremarked . She uses Toni Morrison’s image of the fishbowl to make the point. The fishbowl, transparent glass, is what makes the world within the fishbowl possible. Without it there would be chaos and rapid death and putrefaction. There is a bundle of myths, stereotypes, and imaginative landscapes, all rarely interrogated, that constitute the ever-changing but always present fishbowls of the past. Our job as scholars, at least our job in part, is to make our readers and listeners aware of these easily missed glass bowls that order or permit certain kinds of ordering in the worlds of the past. Hermeneutical Jew and hermeneutical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 329-331
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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