Books by Ita Sheres

Released: Aug. 1, 1995

Working from a flimsy premise, two feminist scholars make a bizarre attempt to recreate the beliefs and rituals of Qumran. In 1947 fragments of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts were discovered in hillside caves near Qumran by the Dead Sea; they belonged to the library of a quasi-monastic Jewish community that some believe provides the missing link between Judaism and nascent Christianity. Although many of the fragments have yet to be assembled and recent finds still leave many questions tantalizingly unanswered, Sheres (English/San Diego State Univ.; Dinah's Rebellion, not reviewed) and sociologist Blau (The Sex of the Dollar, not reviewed) try to fill the gaps by adducing parallels from gnostic and pseudepigraphal texts. The problem, as they admit, is that there is little evidence that these texts were connected with Qumran. Furthermore, they make the decidedly dubious contention that a ``Goddess religion'' had dominated Asia Minor for 4,000 years before patriarchal Judaism began a war of attrition against this earlier, life-affirming cult. For the authors, Qumran and its zeal for celibacy and ritual purity represents the apogee of the Jewish faith's contempt for women. Sheres and Blau describe in fascinating detail a mystery rite involving communion with the angels and culminating in male castration; their book climaxes, so to speak, with an account of a sacred marriage ritual in which a woman's virginity was preserved by artificial insemination. Unfortunately, we never know when the authors have moved from hard evidence to mere psychological amplification of a theme. Typical of their reasoning is the assertion that Samson's suicide by destroying the temple pillars of a pagan fertility god demonstrates ``male anxiety in a goddess-oriented culture.'' Their text abounds in sweeping and gratuitous value judgments, and the reader's patience is further tried by poor sentence construction. An ideologically motivated farrago of unsupported assertions. Read full book review >