Sex in the Shadow of Rome: Sexual Violence and Theological Lament in Talmudic Disaster Tales
This article analyzes the representation of rape in three narratives from the Babylonian Talmud's account of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and discusses the connection between sexual violence, enslavement, and colonial domination. These narratives mimic pervasive Roman symbolism of imperial dominance as a form of “sexual conquest,” using that symbolism to express rabbinic lament and violation at the hands of Rome. These stories express elements of rabbinic resistance to imperial domination, emphasizing Jewish resilience even in the midst of intense suffering. Yet the symbolic and theological significance afforded to rape in these narratives also reinscribes the vulnerability and invisibility of women and enslaved people in both rabbinic and Roman cultures. By using rape to conceptualize divine woundedness and rabbinic lament, these narratives privilege the theological significance of Roman violation over the brutal body cost of imperial conquest.
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