R. Cleopatra? Constructions of an Egyptian Queen in the Babylonian Talmud

In: Journal of Ancient Judaism
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  • 1 Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department, University of California8783, Los Angeles, CA, USA
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Informed by the political power of the image of Cleopatra VII Philopator in late ancient southwest Asia and the eastern Mediterranean, this study investigates the Babylonian Talmud’s portrait of the Egyptian queen. I argue that depictions of the queen in classical rabbinic literature may not be as negative as previously thought and that the figure of Cleopatra acts as a potent character for the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud to assert rabbinic authority because of the depth of her knowledge about the human body and her fight against Rome. The portrait of Cleopatra serves a variety of purposes, first to support certain rabbinic concepts, like resurrection and menstrual impurity, through references to Cleopatra’s knowledge of embryology and the human body, and second, to elevate and include the rabbis themselves in the famous struggle of Cleopatra versus Rome, East versus West, with the goal of further authorizing the rabbinic project itself.

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