Login | Search:
Home | About Us | News | Events | Resources | ShowBiz | Directory | Gallery | Contact Us
 

Home : News : The Bible on Stage

 Back

Artist in Spotlight
Association for Jewish Theatre
Book Reviews
Boston Stage
Call for Proposals
Children & Young people's Theatre
Conferences & Symposiums
David's Front Line
Editor's Notes
Ellen Schiff's Shelf
European Association for Jewish Culture - EAJC
Festival in Spotlight
Film Reviews
First Curtain
From Page to Stage
Global Arts Initiative
Heritage
Holocaust Theatre On line Collection (HTC)
Info Center
Interviews
Introduction to Jewish Theatre
Israeli Theatre Worldwide
Jacobo Kaufmann
Jewish Intercultural Performance Group
Kaleidoscope on New York Stage
Magazine Reviews
Merchant of Venice
Michael's Corner
New Publications
Open Space
Open Stage - Intercultural Junction
Philadelphia Stage
Play Reviews
Production Point
Productions on Tour
Recommended Website
Research & Collections
Revisiting the Past
Solo Performance - Online Catalogue
Spanish
Spanish / Español : Artículos
Spanish / Español : Noticias y actividades culturales
Story Theatre
Success Story
The Arab- Israeli Melting Pot
The Bible on Stage
The European Research Center
The New York Scene
The Next Generation
Theatre and Physics
Theatre in Spotlight
Upfront Europe
What's New in Israel ?
What's New in London ?
What's New in Washington DC ?
What's Next ?
What's up in Australia ?
What's up in Europe ?
Yiddish Theatre

Save
Print
Email Page
Post Comment

From Alexandria to Berlin:The Hellenistic Play EXAGOGE Joins The Jewish Canon
By Sarit Cofman-Simhon

Dr. Sarit Cofman-Simhon teaches in the School for Performing Arts at Kibbutzim College in Tel Aviv, and is the academic advisor for the Theater Department at Emunah College in Jerusalem. She holds a PhD in Theater Arts from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and writes extensively on theatre and Judaism, performances based on Jewish ritual, Goldfaden and Romanian Theater, the dilemma of 'modesty' for religiously observant actresses, Moroccan and Ethiopian theater in Israel. As a researcher at the Hebrew University Vidal Sassoon International Center, she is researching Jews' representation in European drama.e-mail: saritcofman67@gmail.com   

Howard Jacobson opens his milestone treatise of Ezekiel’s play, Exagoge with the following statement: Ezekiel the tragedian is a writer of major importance. The fragments of his Exagoge represent the most extensive remains of any Hellenistic tragedy—or indeed tragedian. Consequently, Ezekiel is our most significant source of evidence for Hellenistic tragedy. [. . .] Further, for the student of Jewish literary history and thought Ezekiel is one of our most important sources for the Hellenistic period in the diaspora and may even be of importance for students of the New Testament and early Christianity. The Exagoge is the solitary surviving example of Jewish drama in Greek and the largest extant example of ancient Greco-Jewish poetry.

Ezekiel (Ezechielus), a Jewish tragedian, who lived in Alexandria probably during the second century BCE, was the author of the first known Jewish playtext. His Exagoge, originally written in Greek, has not survived in its entirety, but the seventeen scenes that have reached us are of incomparable value. Despite its obvious historic importance, the play has had no presence in Jewish culture, and it was Hellenic, Roman, and Christian scholars who translated, interpreted, preserved, and put the play to their own use. Only in the nineteenth century did German Jewish intellectuals reclaim Exagoge as a Jewish work. Since then it has been recognized as an integral part of Jewish cultural heritage, and has been fully incorporated into the Jewish discourse on Hellenistic Judaism.

The delineation of Exagoge, from its origin through centuries of survival as a Christian and Hellenic text, and finally its rehabilitation as a Jewish work, allows us to raise intriguing questions about its fortunes. Why was the play abandoned by pundits of Jewish culture? Why did the Church Fathers espouse it? Who made use of the play and for what purpose? And, finally, what circumstances facilitated its re-incorporation into the Jewish canon? These inquiries trigger further questions regarding agency, canonical inclusion, and the definition of Jewish theater and literature. The historical exclusion of the play from the Jewish cultural repertoire needs to be interpreted within the context of Jewish identity formation. Cultural critic Sander Gilman discusses the dynamics of Jewish inclusion and exclusion:

For the entire multiple histories of the Jews, there have always been consensuses about what is or is not Jewish enough to be Jewish. These claims have always been contested. They exist parallel in differing communities from the Hellenistic settlements to the medieval Rhine Valley to 17th-century Amsterdam to today’s Jerusalem or Brooklyn or New York and beyond. [. . .] Yet over time and space there is always constant negotiation, compromise, and contestation about what is or is not ‘Jewish’ enough.

Jewish discourse, the constant negotiation, compromises, contestations, and the bestowing of “Jewishness,” had, at one point, bypassed Exagoge altogether. During the Roman era, the entire corpus of Judeo-Hellenic literature was dismissed as “non-Jewish” or as “not Jewish enough” by the Jewish center in Jerusalem. “Not Jewish enough” is a term that Gilman employs in his discussion of the attribution of physical differences in the representation of Jews by non-Jews, as well as the term “too Jewish”. In a somewhat similar vein, Henry Bial discusses the complexity of “acting Jewish” in the performing arts, be it by Jews or by non-Jews. Both Gilman and Bial reflect on the development of meanings and the decoding of identity through actor-audience interaction. In his search for the definition of Jewish art, Gilman concludes that the true litmus test for “anything Jewish” needs to be found in “the community of interpreters” rather than in the work itself. Could we apply such observations to a written text and to the reader-text interaction? The fact is that Exagoge had for centuries been read by Christians as Christian. Can a change in the “community of interpreters”—as was the case with the reappropriation of Exagoge by German-Jewish intellectuals—alter the designation of a text as “Jewish”?

This essay aims to examine the various readings of Exagoge, to explore the metamorphosis that Exagoge underwent from Alexandria en route to Berlin, and, ultimately, to explore how the readers’ respective agendas determined the reading and the identity of the text. While tracking the play’s journey from the second century BCE to the nineteenth century, I will delineate a possible analogy between these two remote periods in Jewish history, within the span of two millennia.

“Not Jewish Enough”: The Endogenous and Exogenous Features of the Play

The fragmented surviving text of Exagoge (meaning “leading out,” rather than “exit”) covers only the first parts of the Biblical story, and scholars believe there is little ground to support the option that the lost parts of the text may have included segments on topics such as the Israelites’ forty-year wanderings in the desert, the Ten Commandments, or the creation of the Israelite nation. For the spectators in Hellenistic Alexandria, who were unfamiliar with the Hebrew Bible, the “happy ending” of the play meant that the Hebrews, led by Moses who is guided by God, escaped from slavery in Egypt, and reached an oasis or some other peaceful place where they could live happily ever after. In addition to the absence of the familiar biblical ending, the play deliberately distorts the locations of various scenes: Midian becomes Libya, the Promised Land is not mentioned at all, nor is Mount Sinai (substituted by Moses’ vision of a throne on a mountain). The same goes for Horeb, where the pivotal biblical scene of the burning bush takes place.

These omissions are critical: the biblical exodus story functions as the ultimate Jewish meta-narrative. Its central theme is both theological and national: the people of Israel’s relationship with God, and the founding of the nation. The story of the Israelites’ departure from Egypt, their covenant with God at Sinai, their wanderings in the wilderness, and their settlement in the Promised Land stands at the core of the Jewish ethos. Exagoge, on the other hand, offers primarily a tale of adventurous escape from slavery.

What are we to make of the Jewish playwright’s portrayal of the Exodus? Dwight Conquergood may offer an explanation for the sub-text of Ezekiel’s writing in describing a condition that can serve as a matrix for the circumstances in which Ezekiel lived and wrote. Conquergood notes:

Subordinate people do not have the privilege of explicitness, the luxury of transparency, the presumptive norm of clear and direct communication, free and open debate on a level playing field that the privileged classes take for granted.

Judean immigrants settled in Egypt during the Ptolemaic era, defined by the Greek dynasty that ruled in Egypt between 305 BCE and 30 BCE. According to the account of the historian Josephus Flavius who lived in the first century CE, when Alexander the Great captured Judea, he led around 120,000 captives—who would subsequently be freed—into Egypt. Later on, Judean immigrants settled in Egypt and a substantial Jewish community found a home in Alexandria. The Ptolemaic rulers allowed the practice of various faiths—Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish—and the diverse communities lived side-by-side in relative harmony. The Jewish community of Alexandria in the second century BCE formed a notable portion of the city’s population and enjoyed a greater degree of political independence than elsewhere. John Joseph Collin notes that the Jews’ “early embrace of Greek culture” did not signify a loss of Jewish identity. Matters of cultural identity can be gleaned from the historic enterprise of translating the Hebrew Bible into Greek which began in the third century BCE and concluded before 132 BCE. Known as the Septuagint, it is the first translation of the Bible. There was a demand for such a translation because most Alexandrian Jews spoke Greek and were unable to read the text in the original. The Septuagint was widely used by the Hellenistic Jewish diaspora and circulated even in Jerusalem, which had become a relatively cosmopolitan and hence Greek-speaking urban center. Though the translation allowed the Hebrew Bible to reach a wider readership, its existence does not imply that non-Jewish spectators watching a performance of Exagoge had read or were familiar with the story. Katharine B. Free responds to the question of whether Exagoge was composed for performance by stating emphatically that “the Greeks had no tradition of closet drama. All plays were intended for performance of some type.” Free also argues that Ezekiel was an observant Jew and that the play was written at a time when Greek-Jewish relations in Alexandria were good. But the triangle—Greeks (the rulers), Egyptians (the natives), and Jews (the immigrants)—did not exist in perfect harmony. Free suggests that the performance of a tragedy based on the Exodus before a Greek audience was important to the Jews in order to combat Egyptian anti-Semitic views of that story.

She explains: Starting in the mid-third century BCE, Egyptian propaganda had proclaimed Moses a renegade Egyptian priest and the Jews a lawless people, lepers and Hyskos barbarians, who had ransacked Egypt before being expelled by the pharaoh and the Egyptian army. To be lawless was a serious accusation to the Greeks for whom such a state was a denial of legitimate nationhood. A Jewish response was undoubtedly needed to maintain a favorable position in the society of Alexandria. Some of the inventions of Ezekiel seem to be in answer to the Egyptian slander.

Ezekiel was probably trying to diffuse Egyptian hostility toward Jews without raising doubts in the Greek rulers. Free explains that, to this end, he truncated the story and concluded it in Sinai rather than in the Promise Land, for a play based on the exodus from Egypt was a very daring subject-matter for a writer living in Egypt. Ezekiel cleansed the story from subversive insinuations, primarily that Jews desire national independence and that they considered the now Hellenized Judea as their Promised Land. Additionally, Ezekiel’s deviations from the original biblical tale were motivated by the desire to counter anti-Jewish propaganda. At the time it was also necessary to defend Hellenistic Judaism from pagan impact, to present its glorious past and to come to terms with the Jewish center in Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s celebration of Moses as the founder of the Jewish nation ought to be seen in this light.

It is even possible that Ezekiel lived and wrote his play around the time of the Maccabean revolt (167 BCE) against the Hellenistic rulers of Judea. Such circumstances would have reinforced his decision to mention neither the final destination of the Israelites who escaped from Egyptian bondage, nor their journey of forty years in the desert. Ezekiel thus opted for ex silentio.

In sum, endogenous and exogenous aspects suggest that Ezekiel had to juggle three political vectors. He therefore attempted to placate everybody: to refute the Egyptian interpretations of the Exodus story, to celebrate Jewish heritage, and to conceal some national aspirations from the Greek rulers. It was this combination that made the play “not Jewish enough” from the perspective of the Judean center.

“Not too Jewish”: Exagoge’s Christian Career

After the Roman depredations of the first and second centuries CE, the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem, and the subsequent destruction of the Jewish community at Alexandria, the rabbinical tradition turned its back on Hellenistic Jewish culture which had developed at Alexandria.”

Exagoge joined the fate of other Alexandrian Jewish works that were preserved and appropriated first by pagan and later by Christian scholars. The following three cases demonstrate the malleability of the play’s Jewishness, from the moment it embarked on its odyssey throughout Western culture.

Antiquity. Alexander Polyhistor, a Greek scholar of great erudition ( polyhistor meaning erudite) who lived in Anatolia during the first century BCE, was captured by the Romans as a prisoner of war, brought to Rome to become a teacher, and later freed. Alexander became an important historian in Rome, writing for the Roman public that was interested in the geography, history, and customs of the regions the Romans had conquered. He was the first to publish parts of Ezekiel’s play and was probably the one who chose the fragments that survived until now. Pierluigi Lanfranchi makes the case that Polyhistor’s writings show a predilection for mirabilia (marvels). We see this guiding principle in his choice of sections of Exagoge and other ancient texts. Clearly, he was not motivated to recount biblically-based Jewish history. Lanfranchi argues that Polyhistor did not select the more realistic scenes of Exegoge of which we, of course, have no record; rather, Polyhistor was fascinated by supernatural visions. Given Polyhistor’s interests, it is probable that Exagoge did not include a scene depicting Moses receiving the Ten Commandments because, in that case, he would have selected it as a mirabilium. At the same time, Lanfranchi maintains that it is difficult to establish whether Polyhistor, who worked in Rome, gathered all his sources by himself, or whether he used an existing compilation. Indeed, the very fact that a Greek scholar writing in Rome in the first century BCE was familiar with an extensive corpus of Jewish literature is, in itself, extraordinary. In part, Polyhistor’s familiarity with the Jewish text may have been the result of an alliance with the Maccabees and Rome, described in I Maccabees, 8:1–32.16.

In subsequent years, Polyhistor’s work would be quoted in Evangelical Preparation and Demonstration, the first part of a grandiose Christian apologetics project written by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, between 303 and 320 AD. An apologetic work seemed necessary as a response to decades of anti-Christian persecutions. Eusebius quoted Exagoge in Book XI, thus saving the 269 iambic trimeters that constitute the extant fragments of Ezekiel’s play. Lanfranchi says that the passages of Exagoge quoted by Alexander Polyhistor must have been more elaborate than those quoted by Eusebius.

Another Greek Christian scholar of antiquity who cited Polyhistor was Clement of Alexandria, a theologian who combined Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine. Clement’s citations, however, are meager and constitute only 29 lines in his book Stromata. This raises the question whether Clement had at his disposal the full text of the Exagoge, or merely excerpts. Unlike Eusebius, he does not say that he is quoting Ezekiel via Polyhistor, though it seems probable that this is what he was doing.

The Renaissance. Largely forgotten during the Middle-Ages, Polyhistor’s work was translated into Latin by Georgius Trapezuntius in 1448 at the initiative of Pope Nicolas V, and it was circulated in the West in Latin. The Renaissance. With the rediscovery of Eusebius’ and Clement’s works, the text of Exagoge became well-known to Renaissance humanists. Sixtus of Siena, an Italian Jew who converted to Christianity and became an anti-Talmud agitator, entered the Franciscan order, but was soon after charged with heterodoxy and sentenced to death at the stake. A cardinal, recognizing Sixtus as a potentially powerful religious tool, rescued him and helped him enter the Dominican order. At the command of the Pope, Sixtus and other converts traveled around the Papal States preaching in synagogues and inciting the mob against the Jews. Sixtus is the author of the Bibliotheca sancta ex praecipuis Catholicae Ecclesiae auctoribus collecta (Venice, 1566), a Latin work in eight books that discusses divisions and authority in the Bible. The books contain an alphabetical index and an alphabetical list of rabbinical interpreters of the Bible, one of whom is Ezekiel. Sixtus dedicates an entry to Ezekiel, whom he calls “a Jewish tragic poet.” Greatly appreciative of Ezekiel’s style, he proposes dating the text to the year 40 BCE, though he offers no specific reasoning. Sixtus, whose intention was to convert Jews to Christianity, was only one of several theologians of the time who used (and abused) Exagoge after it was rediscovered.

Neo-Classicism. Exagoge was again evoked and recruited for the sake of apologetic writing in 1660–1670, this time in France. Its role was to advocate the morality of theater, in relation to the controversy over Molière’s Tartuffe. The text of Tartuffe, as we know it, is the last of three different versions, all of which stirred up great controversy. Three acts of the first version of Tartuffe were presented in 1664 at Versailles. In this original version, Tartuffe was probably a cleric, or at least costumed in such a manner implying some connection with the church. This alone would have scandalized his audience, since an ecclesiastical costume worn onstage would have been a shocking novelty in France at the time. Powerful men in the secretive La Cabale des Dévots (cabal of the devout) were outwardly offended by the play. The Archbishop of Paris and the first president of Parliament were aggressively opposed to the production. A full production of the play was even prohibited by the King. The controversy over the play resuscitated the old conflict between theater and the Church. Interestingly enough, one of the most prominent figures involved in the debate on the side of the theater was François Hédelin, a poet, preacher, archeologist, philologist and playwright, who had taken holy orders and became the Abbé d’Aubignac. In his Dissertation on the Condemnation of the Theaters (1666) he compared the concerns of the Church with the supposedly liberal attitude of the Jewish Sages:

We ought not forget in this discourse that the Hebrews did not appreciate the Dramatic Poems that contradicted their interests or their Religion, as we can tell from the remaining fragments of the tragedy by Ezekiel, titled “The Exit from Egypt”. The Authors of the Talmud or the Book of Enoch condemned the mimes, songs, dances and buffooneries to which Cain’s children were devoted, but did not talk of either tragedies or of comedies.

Exagoge appears here in a totally new and surprising light, as a Jewish text par excellence and as proof for the Jewish Sages’ liberal attitude toward theater. With d’Aubignac, the paradoxical identity of Ezekiel’s play reached its zenith.

“Jewish Enough”: Jewish Discourse on the Play in the Nineteenth Century

What we have seen in the various readings of the play by non-Jews is a dualistic understanding: a “Jewish” interpretation up to the point where Christianity became separated from Judaism, and a Christian interpretation from that moment on.
Lanfranchi writes that “the first Jew to deal with Exagoge, was Philippson, in 1830.” Yet there may be indications that Jewish writers were familiar with Exagoge in antiquity. According to Jacobson, “[t]hat Philo never mentions Ezekiel is no surprise; he never mentions any Jewish sources aside from Scripture . . . [I]t would be hard to imagine Philo’s not being familiar with his work.” Moreover, Jacobson indicates the likelihood that both Philo and Josephus Flavius knew and used the Exagoge, the former probably knowing the entire play, the latter the excerpts by Polyhistor.

The deep and long slumber of Jewish attention to the play reflects the determination of knowledge and Jewish identity formation up until the Enlightenment. Why, then, did Jewish scholars engage in the reevaluation and rehabilitation of Exagoge and put an end to the silence regarding Judeo-Greek literature? Evidently, the major shift came from the German Haskalah, the movement that marked the beginnings of Jewish modernity and offered Jews a new, more secular identity. The movement left its mark on all aspects of Jewish life. One of its consequences was the endeavor of young intellectual German Jews to incorporate Judaism as a culture, not only a religion. It was a process that constituted a secularization of consciousness, the disengagement of the individual from the absolute authority of religious tradition. Paul Mendes-Flohr explains:

According to most empirical indices contemporary Jewish life in the West is markedly different from that which the Jews traditionally led. The overarching role of religion is no longer a feature of Jewish life. Integrated in western, secular culture, contemporary Jews do not, as their forbears did, conduct their lives according to norms and criteria exclusively derived from Judaism and the Jewish experience.

During this time, Jewish scholars embarked on new scientific approach known as Wissenschaft des Judentums (the science of Judaism). Originating in Berlin in the 1820s, its pioneers set themselves a number of goals that ranged from the apologetic to the educational, and to the political, but their principal objective was to develop a scientific approach to the study of Judaism, much in line with the German scholarly principles with which they had become familiar. Ludwig Philippson, who in the 1830s translated Exagoge from the original Greek into German, was a gifted young student of classical studies. He maintained that the play was written with the intention of familiarizing the gentiles of ancient Alexandria with Jewish history, and therefore was written in a literary form with which they were familiar. Since Philippson also embarked on a rabbinical career and became a distinguished and influential Reform rabbi, his interest in the play may not have been solely that of a classicist but also that of a Reform Jew. A year later, in 1831, Philippson published a vindication of Spinoza, who could be considered a forerunner of Jewish modernity. Philippson was something of an exception, however. Lanfranchi points out that the study of Hellenistic Judaism, and particularly that of Alexandria, was not a high priority for other Jewish intellectuals, amongst the pioneers of Wissenschaft des Judentums. Rather, they viewed the appropriation of Hellenistic Judaism by Christian theologians as a transitional phase between Biblical Judaism and Christianity. They adopted the rabbinical Judaism of antiquity and adhered to its prejudices against Alexandrian Judaism.

A major figure, Zacharias Frankel, the head of the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, wrote about Exagoge in Uber den Einfluss der Palästinensischen Exegese auf die Alexandrinische Hermeneutik (Leipzig, 1851). Frankel was also the founder and most eminent member of the school of historical Judaism that advocated freedom of research while upholding the authority of traditional Jewish belief and practice and closely linked Wissenschaft to Jewish faith. In an attempt to reconcile the play with the rabbinical exegesis of antiquity and that of his own times, Frankel wrote that Ezekiel interpreted the Hebrews’ spoliation of Egypt as retaliation for their slavery. If so, Ezekiel’s interpretation brings to mind the same justification offered by the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a). In a similar vein, the explication of the length of Passover in Exagoge is linked to the seven days during which the Hebrews walked, as they departed from Egypt. This explanation is not offered in the Hebrew Bible, but is found in the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 19, and Exodus 13,1). Frankel returned to the ancient writer in an article he wrote in 1876, on another Judeo-Hellenistic work, The Letter of Aristeas. In the article, he advanced the hypothesis that when Aristeas talks about Theodotus, he is actually referring to Ezekiel, since the Greek name Theodotus has the same meaning as Ezekiel. Indeed, Theodotus is mentioned in this Hellenistic work of the third century BCE, describing the Greek translation of the Hebrew Law by seventy-two interpreters sent to Egypt from Jerusalem (resulting in the Septuagint translation). Yet the date of Exagoge is almost certainly a century later, thus refuting Frankel’s hypothesis. On the other hand, among the Midrashim (interpretations of Jewish religious texts) that Adolph Jellinek, the famous rabbi and preacher of the Leipzig synagogue, began to compile in 1853, there is a translation of a short paragraph from Exagoge, a depiction of Moses’ dream. Jellinek, who was associated with the promoters of “New Learning” within Judaism, and who published many Midrashim in the six parts of his Beth ha-Midrash, analyzed Moses’ dream as a literary genre that originated in Alexandria and was later used in the literature written in Judea. Furthermore, he offered a Hebrew translation of the verses. According to Lanfranchi, Jellinek himself prepared the translation, following Philippson’s 1830 translation of the play. The two men knew each other and, in 1854, they founded in Leipzig the Jewish Publication Society, which published, among other works, Heinrich Graetz’s Geschichte der Juden (1856), a comprehensive history of the Jews written from a Jewish perspective. Graetz mentions Exagoge very briefly in his book. A more elaborate entry on the subject can be found in the history of the people of Israel written by the rabbi and historian Levi Herzfeld (1857). Curiously enough, says Lanfranchi, Herzfeld is comparing the Hellenist play with the epic poem Shirei Tiferet, by Naphtali Wessely, which deals with the story of Moses in Romantic form. Herzfeld argues that Exagoge was written for the Jews of ancient Alexandria, who wished to hear the biblical story in classical form.

It was not until 1865 that the study of Alexandrine Judaism was institutionalized by Jacob Freudenthal, a professor at Breslau’s prestigious rabbinical seminar. Freudenthal wrote the most extensive nineteenth century work of the science of Judaism on Hellenistic literature, Hellenistische Studien I–II (1874–1875). He used the phrase “Hellenistic midrash” to identify the works of those Jewish writers after the time of Alexander the Great who presented biblical events in Greek literature. He maintained that writers like the poet Ezekiel reflect Jewish interest in the events of sacred history, though they employed genuine Greek literary genres. Unfortunately, Ezekiel was not discussed in any great detail in this comprehensive work and his play was left lingering on the margins of Jewish discourse.

Non-Jewish scholars of the nineteenth century discussed Exagoge, furthering the play’s contribution to theology, Greek literature, philology, and history. Regrettably, not one of them was a theater scholar. The first comprehensive Jewish reading and discussion of the play would come almost a century later, in Yehoshua Gutman’s book, The Beginnings of Jewish-Hellenistic Literature, written in Hebrew and published in 1958 in Israel. Ever since, it has been part of the Jewish Canon.

Conclusions

As we have seen, the agenda and intentions of the different readers generated a variety of meanings, ranging from Christian apologetics during the Roman period, anti-Jewish propaganda during the Renaissance, theater apologetics in the French Baroque, to its ultimate comeback as a “Jewish enough” text. One can draw certain analogies between the Hellenistic Jews in antiquity, and the German Jews who brought the play back to the Jewish fold. In some ways, Judaism has encountered modernity twice: the first time following the conquests of Alexander the Great, and the second time in the wake of Napoleon’s conquests. In both cases, mainstream Judaism faced new vistas and opportunities for joining the new world.

The price, though, was renunciation of Messianic dreams and of a national sentiment that may have been considered “too Jewish” or “uniquely Jewish” either by the Jews of Alexandria represented by Ezekiel, or the Jews of Germany, represented by those who wrote about Exagoge in the nineteenth century.

One should note that the modern German Jews who embraced Exagoge were not “assimilated” secular intellectuals, but rather intellectuals striving for a redefinition of Jewish religious practice, Reform and Conservative rabbis, preachers and scholars of Judaism. The modern German rabbis of the 19th century negotiated with and re-introduced Exagoge into Jewish discourse and incorporated it into its canon, thus asserting that it was “Jewish enough.” Indeed, their position was quite similar to that of Ezekiel, who was an observant Alexandrian Jew.

Exagoge’s unique status and multiplicity of usages indicate its liminal, fluid, and transcultural nature. It was “Jewish enough” to serve the interests of Alexandrian Jews, “not Jewish enough’” from the vantage-point of Judean Jews, and “not too Jewish” for later Christian scholars who preserved it as the first Mystery Play. Centuries later it returned full circle to the status of “Jewish enough.” It may be that this very special malleability guaranteed its survival, while the texts of other Hellenistic tragedies have not survived the vicissitudes of time.

Works Cited

  • Bial, Henry. Acting Jewish: Negotiating Ethnicity on the American Stage & Screen. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008.
  • Collin, John Joseph. Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000.
  • Conquergood, Dwight. “Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research,” TDR 46, 2(2002).
  • Free, Katharine B. “Thespis and Moses.” in Levy, Shimon. ed. Theater and Holy Script. Brighton: Sussex Academc Press, 1999, 149–158.
  • Gilman, Sander L. “Jewish Art?,” http://www.adifoundation.co.il/My%20Documents/symposium%20texts/GilmanEng.pdf .
  • Gutman, Yehoshua. The Beginnings of Jewish-Hellenistic Literature [Hebrew]. Jerusalem: the Bialik Institute, 1969.
  • Jacobson, Howard. The Exagoge of Ezekiel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
    1983.
  • Lanfranchi, Pierluigi. L’Exagoge d’Ezéchiel le Tragique: introduction, texte, traduction et commentaire. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
  • Mandes-Flohr, Paul and Reinharz, Jehuda, eds. The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.


    /6630/


Source: Jews and Theater in an Intercultural Context
Edited by Edna Nahshon
Copyright 2012 Brill.
All rights reserved

Website: http://www.brill.com/jews-and-theater-intercultural-context

Related Links:

  • The Bible on Stage

    Bookmark    Print    Send to friend    Post a comment  


    There are currently no comments about this article


  • Sarit Cofman-Simhon

    Jews and Theater in an Intercultural Context Edited by Edna Nahshon

    The Exagoge of Ezekiel

    Copyright © 2002 - 2014 All About Jewish Theatre. All rights reserved.
    Concept and Content by NCM Productions | Graphic Design by Sharon Carmi | Programming by Tigersoft, Ltd.
    Privacy Policy | Site Map | Contact Us