“Dancing with the Angel of Death: Demonic Femininity in the Ancient Synagogue” by Laura S. Lieber

“Dancing with the Angel of Death: Demonic Femininity in the Ancient Synagogue” by Laura S. Lieber

Posted on August 27, 2019

Professor of Religious Studies, Duke University

Thursday, October 24, 7 pm, Location TBA

What makes a woman powerful?  And dangerous?  Can what makes her “good” also be a potential “evil”?  In this talk, we will consider a striking presentation of demonic femininity in early Judaism (ca. 5th-6thcenturies CE).  At the center of this presentation is a dramatic poem that elaborates on the biblical ritual of the suspected adulteress, the Sotah(Numbers 5).  In the course of our examination of the long-forgotten composition, we will explore how the synagogue performance expands on traditions preserved in more familiar Jewish sources, and ways in which this work resonates with magical texts, amulets, and traditions; and we will consider how the portrayal of the accused woman relates to universal human fears and the female power to compel the male gaze.

Laura Lieber is Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University, where she directs the Duke Center for Jewish Studies as well as the Center for Late Ancient Studies.  She holds secondary appointments in Classics, German Language and Literature, and the Duke Divinity School.  A native of Fayetteville, Arkansas, she received her BA in English Literature and Classics from the University of Arkansas (1994), has rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (1999), and holds a PhD in the History of Judaism from the University of Chicago (2003).  Her most recent books are A Vocabulary of Desire: The Song of Songs in the Early Synagogue (2014), and Jewish Aramaic Poetry from Antiquity (2018), with a volume on Classical Samaritan Poetry coming out in 2020.  She has held ACLS and National Humanities Center fellowships, and received grants from the American Philosophical Society and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.  While her research focuses on Jewish life and culture in the Roman world, particularly on theatricality and performance in the world of the synagogue, Lieber’s teaching spans from the biblical period to the present day.