chapter
4 Pages

The Problem Body

W hile many cultures are preoccupied with the body, there are specific,local reasons why the body emerges as problematic in any given culturalformation. l This chapter explores factors indigenous to ancient Judaism that turned the human body into a problem. To anticipate, I shall argue that the human body was the object around which conflicting cultural representations met and clashed. Like other religious cultures, ancient Judaism was not a tidy entity. Tidiness is a characteristic of philosophic systems, not cultures. Each culture has its own set of conflicting impulses that struggle against one another for hegemony. In the case of ancient Judaism, at least in one of its formations, it was the human body that was caught between contradictory impulses. To cite two of the more important examples: 1) humans are understood as created in the image of God, yet God has "no-body"-neither others with whom to interact nor a fully conceptualized body with which to do it, and 2) procreation is enjoined as a mandate from God, yet semen is considered polluting, even when discharged during intercourse. These contradictions, which first surface in one form of Israelite religion, are inherited by the rabbis (200-600 C.E.), who continue to find the body a source of conflict.