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Israel's Holy Seed and the Foreign Women of Ezra-Nehemiah: A Kristevan Reading

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image of Biblical Interpretation

Though Ezra 9–10 is written at some distance from the circumstances it represents, the text memorializes at a level more profound than mere historical reportage the predicament of a fragile, emerging Judean subjectivity, a communal—in Kristevan terms—"subject-on-trial." For Kristeva, the biblical language of purity and impurity in Leviticus is already grounded in the abjection of the maternal body. In Ezra's campaign against foreign marriages, however, this repudiation of the feminine is taken a step further. The community's "holy seed" (an umistakably male emblem of purity), is opposed to the pollutions of the peoples of the lands (termed, a specifically female uncleanness). This conjunction of the feminine with the unclean positions women as signifiers of the Judean stranger within; thus only illicit wives (not husbands) and their children are designated for expulsion. Yet the text finally recoils from recounting the dismissal of these women. The divorce assembly scene of Ezra 10 commemorates an agonistic process of Judean self-constitution that remains unresolved for the rest of Ezra-Nehemiah.

Affiliations: 1: Saint Paul School of Theology


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