Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Learning from the Vernacular: Non-Jewish Influence and Didacticism in Medieval Hebrew Narrative from Northern Europe
by Gruenbaum, Caroline, Ph.D., New York University, 2019, 269; 13809929
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation focuses on the under-studied corpus of Hebrew narrative in medieval Northern Europe, which includes translations, folktales, and stories. These texts, while they teach Jewish ethics, often borrow from non-Jewish literature to form the content of their tales. My dissertation analyzes the longest and most innovative of these texts including: Berechiah ha-Nakdan’s Mishle Shu‘alim (Fox Fables), a translation of Marie de France’s Ysopet; the anonymous Melekh Artus, a translation of sections from the Lancelot-Grail Cycle; and the story collection Sefer ha-Ma‘asim, which draws on vernacular (Old French) romance. This study is the first to analyze these texts together as reflective of a Hebrew narrative awakening in medieval northern Europe. Unlike the bulk of Jewish texts produced in northern Europe, these narratives do not directly comment on biblical or rabbinic matters. I argue that these texts develop new modes of didacticism and entertainment based on a combination of vernacular literature and traditional Jewish forms of expression. This is achieved through a textual engagement with non-Jewish literature, with Jewish authors reading Old French directly, and a process of transculturation.

Created in a diglossic society, with Jews speaking French but writing and reading in Hebrew, the act of transculturation reveals a complex relationship between language and text. This dissertation puts these narratives into the foreground to concretize our understanding of language and literary practices among French-speaking, Hebrew-writing Jews of medieval Northern Europe. Close reading of the source texts in comparison with the Hebrew texts also illuminates the specific editorial practices based on authorial interpretation.

Many literary themes that appear in the Hebrew texts will look familiar to a medievalist, including romance, courtly love, moralizing exempla, and picaresque episodes. This dissertation introduces non-Hebrew-reading scholars to this rich trove of stories with the goal that scholars can begin to incorporate Hebrew stories into studies of global comparative literature.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Chazan, Robert, Russ-Fishbane, Elisha
Commitee: Wacks, David, Pearce, S. J., Rubenstein, Jeffrey
School: New York University
Department: Hebrew and Judaic Studies
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 81/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Judaic studies, Medieval literature
Keywords: Hebrew literature, Jewish studies, Medieval literature
Publication Number: 13809929
ISBN: 9781085670852
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