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Animals, Creatures, and Monsters: A Study of Animality and Foreignness in the Danielic Corpora


The nonhuman animals and creatures featured in what may be called the Danielic corpora are some of the most memorable and influential in early Jewish literature. The collection presents episodes of a king’s theriomorphic transformation, violent confrontations with lions and serpents, the judgment of mythic-hybrid monsters, and domestic animals in conflict, each of which this study examines. With attention to the unique expressions of animality and foreignness of each episode—how animality reflects foreignness and foreignness reflects animality—this investigation demonstrates the diverse ways in which early Jewish communities negotiated identity and worked out their conceptions of self and other. The diversity of these expressions is a reflection of the heterogeneity found in the Danielic corpora, which remains a complex and palimpsetic set of traditions that preserves linguistic, generic, and compositional distinctions which cannot be reduced to the categories often applied to them. In the same way, this investigation maintains that the animals, creatures, and monsters who often portray foreign others in the Danielic texts cannot be simplified into one understanding of foreign kings, empires, and gods as bestial aggressors and monsters of chaos. Moreover, this study argues that the instability and malleability of the human-nonhuman binary is evinced in how Jewish literary imagination of the early centuries BCE employed and interacted with nonhuman interlocutors, and provided a mirror in which Jewish groups could view and review themselves, foreign others, and divine sovereignties.

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