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When Heroes Love: The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David

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Overview

Toward the end of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh King Gilgamesh laments the untimely death of his comrade Enkidu, "my friend whom I loved dearly." Similarly in the Bible, David mourns his companion, Jonathan, whose "love to me was wonderful, greater than the love of women." These passages, along with other ambiguous erotic and sexual language found in the Gilgamesh epic and the biblical David story, have become the object of numerous and competing scholarly inquiries into the sexual nature of the heroes' relationships. Susan Ackerman's innovative work carefully examines the stories' sexual and homoerotic language and suggests that its ambiguity provides new ways of understanding ideas of gender and sexuality in the ancient Near East and its literature.

In exploring the stories of Gilgamesh and Enkidu and David and Jonathan, Ackerman cautions against applying modern conceptions of homosexuality to these relationships. Drawing on historical and literary criticism, Ackerman's close readings analyze the stories of David and Gilgamesh in light of contemporary definitions of sexual relationships and gender roles. She argues that these male relationships cannot be taken as same-sex partnerships in the modern sense, but reflect the ancient understanding of gender roles, whether in same- or opposite-sex relationships, as defined as either active (male) or passive (female). Her interpretation also considers the heroes' erotic and sexual interactions with members of the opposite sex.

Ackerman shows that the texts' language and erotic imagery suggest more than just an intense male bonding. She argues that, though ambiguous, the erotic imagery and language have a critical function in the texts and serve the political, religious, and aesthetic aims of the narrators. More precisely, the erotic language in the story of David seeks to feminize Jonathan and thus invalidate his claim to Israel's throne in favor of David. In the case of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, whose egalitarian relationship is paradoxically described using the hierarchically dependent language of sexual relationships, the ambiguous erotic language reinforces their status as liminal figures and heroes in the epic tradition.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Gay & Lesbian Review - Raymond-Jean Frontain

A superb reading of The Epic of Gilgamesh.

The Catholic Biblical Quarterly - Peter D. Miscall

Ackerman presents a detailed and thorough introduction... Her study is both informative and challenging.

The Bible and Critical Theory - Anthony Heacock

The quality of the scholarship in this book is impeccable

Bryn Mawr Classical Review - Jean-Fabrice Nardelli

This is a brilliant book, learned, moderate, sensible.

Journal of the American Oriental Society - Benjamin R. Foster

[A] provocative study... Ackerman has surely brought the discussion... to a broader and more intellectual sophisticated plane.

Journal of the History of Sexuality - Martti Nissinen

Ackerman's engaging study gives these narratives a new interpretive framework... essential—and enjoyable—reading.

Union Seminary Quarterly Review - Alexandra Reid

[Ackerman's] book stands as a testament to balanced scholarship, excellent methodology, and a provocative exegesis that leaves the reader wanting more.

Gay & Lesbian Review
A superb reading of The Epic of Gilgamesh.

— Raymond-Jean Frontain

The Catholic Biblical Quarterly
Ackerman presents a detailed and thorough introduction... Her study is both informative and challenging.

— Peter D. Miscall

The Bible and Critical Theory
The quality of the scholarship in this book is impeccable

— Anthony Heacock

Bryn Mawr Classical Review
This is a brilliant book, learned, moderate, sensible.

— Jean-Fabrice Nardelli

Journal of the American Oriental Society
[A] provocative study... Ackerman has surely brought the discussion... to a broader and more intellectual sophisticated plane.

— Benjamin R. Foster

Journal of the History of Sexuality
Ackerman's engaging study gives these narratives a new interpretive framework... essential—and enjoyable—reading.

— Martti Nissinen

Union Seminary Quarterly Review
[Ackerman's] book stands as a testament to balanced scholarship, excellent methodology, and a provocative exegesis that leaves the reader wanting more.

— Alexandra Reid

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231132602
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 5/25/2005
  • Series: Gender, Theory, and Religion Series
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Ackerman is professor of religion and women's and gender studies at Dartmouth College and chair of the Department of Religion. She is the author of Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel and Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

AbbreviationsPrologue1. Of Greeting Cards and Methods: Understanding Ancient Near Eastern SexThe Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh2. Introducing Gilgamesh3. Gilgamesh and Enkidu4. The Liminal Hero, Part 15. The Liminal Hero, Part 2The Biblical Story of David and Jonathan6. Introducing David7. David and Jonathan8. Liminality and BeyondEpilogueNotesBibliographyIndex

Columbia University Press

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