The Bible deals with menstruation in the frame of the Laws of Purity (Lev 11-15) although it is also mentioned in passing in other passages. A short episode of Genesis (31:35) narrates matriarch Rachel’s ploy to deceive her father Laban so he cannot discover that she has stolen and concealed his household gods (teraphim). She avoids that he searches her belongings looking for the stolen teraphim by alleging that she is on her period. This almost comical episode deserved the attention of both the sages and medieval biblical commentators. Most explanations dwelled on Rachel’s deceit, while some of them justified her deed as an attempt to avoid that her father Laban worshipped other gods. The 13th-century Catalan exegete, kabbalist, and physician Nahmanides takes a very different approach and focuses his attention on menstruation and the menstruant. This paper analyses Nahmanides’s commentary on Genesis 31:35 in the light of his sources and of contemporary Jewish and non-Jewish discourses on sexual difference and women’s bodies.
This paper analyses the works of medieval Jewish Bible exegetes of both Muslim and Christian zones of influence, raising two connected queries: how do they characterize Esther’s concept of ‘self’ in relation to the gender and ethnic ‘other’, for example, Ahasuerus and Haman? And how, by extension, these discussions reveal the exegetes’ own social ‘reality’ and sense of ‘self’? The paper employs an interdisciplinary approach to the study of medieval Bible exegesis by way of literary analysis and comparative literature, in order to illuminate the techniques these exegetes employ in extrapolating Esther’s sense of ‘self’. Uniquely medieval modes of characterisation are also highlighted in relation to Muslim and Christian medieval narrative literature.