Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Talmud, Gilgamesh, Eden, and sex

LEHRHAUS: Gilgamesh and the Rabbis: Knowledge and its Price from Uruk to the Beit Midrash (Eli Putterman.
The tale of R. Yohanan and Reish Laqish related in b. Bava Metzia 84a ranks among the most shocking narratives in rabbinic literature, yet also one of the most profoundly moving. Certainly, the story has exerted an unabated fascination upon generations of scholars, who have analyzed the text using a wide variety of theoretical approaches and brought it into dialogue with intertexts within rabbinic literature and without, from Syriac Christian monastic traditions to Les Miserables.[1] In what follows, I will focus on a complex of motifs in the first episode of the story—the initial encounter between R. Yohanan and Reish Laqish in the Jordan River—and trace its multifarious appearances in a wide range of ancient cultures, beginning at the very dawn of world literature.