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Three Mirrors for Two Biblical Ladies


The Queen of Sheba and Susanna in the Eyes of Jews, Christians, and Muslims


The biblical episode relating the encounter of the Queen of Sheba with Solomon and the apocryphal tale of Susanna, a Jewish woman slanderously accused of adultery by two judges and saved by Daniel, have become part of the collective imagination in West and East. These two Old Testament women have been adapted in art throughout time and space to meet the changing cultural horizons of the community. Like mirrors, various periods and modes of late-Ancient and medieval Judaism, Christianity and Islam have each, in their own way, reflected the characteristics of the great Queen and the chaste Susanna.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-59333-363-8
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Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Aug 16,2013
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 152
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-59333-363-8
$121.00
$72.60

The biblical episode relating the encounter of the Queen of Sheba with Solomon and the apocryphal tale of Susanna, a Jewish aristocrat in exile in Babylon, slanderously accused of adultery by two notable judges and saved by the prophet Daniel, then a mere stripling (Daniel 13), have always inspired narrative and figurative art, becoming part of the collective imagination in West and East. The figures of these two Old Testament women have been adapted in time and space to meet the expectations and changing cultural horizons of the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim community to whom it is addressed. Like mirrors, various periods and modes of late-Ancient and medieval Judaism, Christianity and Islam have each, in their own way, reflected the characteristics of the great Queen and of the chaste Susanna.


The Queen of Sheba has become part of a cycle of popular legends about the magical and miraculous powers attributed to Solomon. On the one hand, she has taken on the ambiguous features of a witch or a demon; on the other, she has been transformed into a sibyl who foretells the Passion of Christ. In the case of Susanna, there lies half-hidden behind her story an ancient myth about the fall of the angels. In the Samaritan and Arab-Islamic version, as well as in Boccaccio’s reworking of the story, Susanna has been transformed into a disarmingly lovely, naive young girl, who has chosen to become an ascetic in the isolation of the desert. Reminiscences of the cycle of the Wood of the Cross, into which Christian narrators have inserted the figure of the Queen of Sheba, can also be found in an Arab-Islamic version of the tale of Susanna.



Fabrizio A. Pennacchietti holds the Chair of Semitic Philology in the Faculty of the Humanities at the University of Turin. The author of numerous linguistic and philological studies, he has for some time been engaged in the study of Near East comparative literature.



Cover: The Queen of Sheba, from the medieval manuscript Bellifortis, by Conrad Kyeser, ca. 1405.

The biblical episode relating the encounter of the Queen of Sheba with Solomon and the apocryphal tale of Susanna, a Jewish aristocrat in exile in Babylon, slanderously accused of adultery by two notable judges and saved by the prophet Daniel, then a mere stripling (Daniel 13), have always inspired narrative and figurative art, becoming part of the collective imagination in West and East. The figures of these two Old Testament women have been adapted in time and space to meet the expectations and changing cultural horizons of the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim community to whom it is addressed. Like mirrors, various periods and modes of late-Ancient and medieval Judaism, Christianity and Islam have each, in their own way, reflected the characteristics of the great Queen and of the chaste Susanna.


The Queen of Sheba has become part of a cycle of popular legends about the magical and miraculous powers attributed to Solomon. On the one hand, she has taken on the ambiguous features of a witch or a demon; on the other, she has been transformed into a sibyl who foretells the Passion of Christ. In the case of Susanna, there lies half-hidden behind her story an ancient myth about the fall of the angels. In the Samaritan and Arab-Islamic version, as well as in Boccaccio’s reworking of the story, Susanna has been transformed into a disarmingly lovely, naive young girl, who has chosen to become an ascetic in the isolation of the desert. Reminiscences of the cycle of the Wood of the Cross, into which Christian narrators have inserted the figure of the Queen of Sheba, can also be found in an Arab-Islamic version of the tale of Susanna.



Fabrizio A. Pennacchietti holds the Chair of Semitic Philology in the Faculty of the Humanities at the University of Turin. The author of numerous linguistic and philological studies, he has for some time been engaged in the study of Near East comparative literature.



Cover: The Queen of Sheba, from the medieval manuscript Bellifortis, by Conrad Kyeser, ca. 1405.

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Fabrizio Pennacchietti

  • Contents (page 5)
  • Foreword (page 7)
  • Part I - Susanna in the Desert: Reflections of a Bible Story in Arab-Islamic Culture (page 9)
    • 1 Introduction (page 9)
      • 1.1 The tale of 'Susanna and the elders' in the Book of Daniel (page 10)
      • 1.2 Antecedents of the tale of Susanna in folklore and mythology (page 12)
        • 1.2.1 The midrash of Shemhazay and 'Aza'el (page 15)
        • 1.2.2 The Islamic legend of Harut and Marut (page 17)
        • 1.2.3 The Indo-European myth of Sukanya and the Heavenly Twins (page 19)
      • 1.3 The Falasha variant of the tale of Susanna (page 22)
    • 2 The story of Susanna in Arab-Islamic culture (page 24)
      • 2.1 The Susanna of the Tazyin al-asqaq (page 24)
      • 2.2 The 'Susanna' of the Thousand and One Nights (page 25)
      • 2.3 the 'Susanna' of the Story of David (page 27)
      • 2.4 The Story of the skull and the king (page 29)
    • 3 The Story of the skull and the king translated from the Arabic (page 30)
    • 4 Antecedents and parallelisms (page 41)
      • 4.1 The 'hunter king' and the hunted cervid (page 43)
      • 4.2 The 'Gardener king' and the Tree of Life (page 47)
      • 4.3 The affair of Susanna, the young anchorite (page 55)
        • 4.3.1 The Samaritan 'Susanna' (page 55)
        • 4.3.2 Relationships among the various forms of the tale of Susanna (page 60)
        • 4.3.3 A possible parallel in medieval Italian literature (page 63)
    • 5 Epilogue (page 65)
      • 5.1 The identity of the young judge (page 65)
      • 5.2 The morals of the fable (page 67)
      • 5.3 The hero becomes a hermit (page 68)
        • 5.3.1 The legend of Jesus and the skull (page 69)
        • 5.3.2 The narrative structure of the Story of the skull and the king (page 73)
    • 6 The dating problem (page 75)
    • 7 Conclusion (page 77)
  • Part II- The Queen of Sheba, the glass floor and the floating tree-trunk (page 80)
    • 1 The Queen of Sheba in the Scriptures (page 80)
    • 2 Under the sign of the hoopoe (page 82)
    • 3 The Jewish and Islamic version: an aetiological account (page 85)
      • 3.1 Two discourteous epithets (page 87)
        • 3.1.1 'The hairy woman' (page 87)
        • 3.1.2 'The donkey-legged woman' (page 89)
    • 4 The Christian legend: a prophetic tale (page 92)
    • 5 The Queen as seen by Piero della Francesca (page 97)
    • 6 The floating tree trunk (page 98)
    • 7 Solomon's grotto and the hoopoe devil (page 100)
    • 8 Before and after Constantine (page 105)
  • Biblography (page 107)
  • The story of the skull and the king (Arabic text) (page 123)
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