Medieval Iberian retellings of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden

Medieval Iberia was a hotbed of cross-cultural medieval literary activity. Jewish writers adapted Arabic poetics to give birth to a new Hebrew poetry. Muslim poets penned elaborate Arabic poems based on popular Spanish lyrics. Christian writers pioneered the use of the vernacular to tell Saints’ lives and write court histories. One tradition all three religions had in common was the Hebrew Bible: all three groups retold its stories in both their classical (Latin, Hebrew, Arabic) and vernacular languages. Medieval Iberians of all three religions participated in a common culture of biblical retellings that fused the doctrines of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity with the languages and cultures common to all three groups.

Illumiated page from Cloisters Bible

They have this in common
(Cloisters Bible, Castile, 14th c. Source:

In all of these retellings we see the influence of the unique circumstances of the Medieval Iberian coexistence (sometimes peaceful, at other times violent) of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in the creation of a specifically Iberian Biblical storyworld. The creators and audiences lived in a world in which the three traditions were conscious of one another and competed for supremacy: their visions of the Biblical world were at once a product of their distinct religions and of the shared reality in which they lived.

I’ve written previously on the General estoria’s (13th c.) retelling of the Song of Songs, the Abraham and Sarah story, and more generally on the influence of rabbinic literature on the emergent vernacular fiction in the General estoria. In this series of posts I’d like to both narrow the focus of each to a single episode, and broaden the scope to include multiple Iberian sources from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions.

Illuminated manuscript page showing Adam and Eve with fig leaves covering genitals

Escorial Beatus
(Escorial, Biblioteca Monasterio, Cod. & II. 5) (source:

The story of Adam and Eve addresses in narrative form some of the most fundamental human social issues, from family life to the establishment of an agricultural society. The tale of the awareness gained by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and subsequent expulsion from the garden is an allegory for the development from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural society, technology, and the complications that this changes precipitates. 

Jewish sources frame the Adam and Eve story as the blueprint for the human relationship with God, with creation, and as a model for heterosexual family life, and to a lesser extent to explain the role of human error and its consquences. Muslim sources emphasize Adam’s role as the first prophet in a line that end with Muhammad. Christian sources follow the Church’s doctrine of supersessionism, by which Christian readings of the Hebrew Bible point toward redemption in Christ. 

Here I’d like to take a look at three versions of the tale of the expulsion from Eden, from the General Estoria (Castile, 13th c.), the Compendi historial de la biblia (Catalonia, 15th c.), and the Misteri d’Adam i Eva (Valencia, 15th-16th c.). In these works we see very different approaches to brining Biblical narrative to vernacular audiences, and get some sense of how Jewish, Muslim, and Chrstian traditions of the Hebrew Bible shared space in the Medieval Iberian biblical imagination.

Image of Homer and Marge Simpson as Adam and Eve, with Mr Burns as the serpent

“Simpsons Bible Stories” (The Simpsons, Season 10, Episode 18, 1999) (source:

The General estoria is the universal history of Alfonso X, begun in the mid-thirteenth century and completed by Alfonso’s son Sancho IV at the end or the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth century. As part of its history of the world from the earth’s creation to the time of Jesus it includes large sections of a number of biblical books, supplementing the biblical text primarily with the twelfth-century biblical interpretation of French scholastic Petrus Comestor, titled Storia scholastica, and with material from Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, but also with material drawn from Muslim scholarship, Jewish biblical commentary, and a wide selection of Christian apocrypha. 

The chief concern of the compilers of the General estoria seems to be to enrich the telling of the tale with historical and geographical information, but also with details that explain the motivations of the characters and that flesh out the details of the material world in which they live. 

Still from One Million Years BC with Raquel Welch and John Richardson dressed in animal skins

“and clothed them”
Raquel Welch and John Richardson in One Million Years B.C.(dir. John Chaffey, 1966) (source: Chroniques du Cinephile Stakhanoviste)

When Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden, they need clothes to survive in their harsh new reality. After God explains to them the consequences of their disobedience in eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (exile, childbirth pain, grueling subsistence farming), Adam names Eve, and before showing them the door, “the Lord God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). According to the GE, it is Adam’s contemplation of the skins of the (dead) animals that leads him to realize the fact of his own mortality:

When he threw them out of Paradise, he gave them leather garments made from the skins of dead herd animals that had been alive. And here the gloss says that Adam had never before seen a dead animal, nor knew what death was, and that he then understood that the skins he wore had come from living animals that were now dead, and from this perceived something: that likewise, he himself would die.

E cuando los echava del paraíso dioles unas pelliças fechas de pellejas de ganados muertos que fueron vivos. E diz aquí la glosa que Adam nuncua aún viera cosa muerta ninguna sin sabié qué era muerte, e que entendiesse que de cosas vivas fueran aquellas pieles que él vistié, e eran ya muertas, e que apercibié de sí algo por ello. E esto es que assí morrié él (Alfonso X 1:10)

This makes God, and not Adam and Eve, into the first technologist, showing them how to manipulate their environment to improve their chances of survival, a matter to which the GE is very attentive in its subsequent accounts of the development of a range of technologies by Adam and Eve and their descendents.

Saudi man wearing traditional wreath (source:

However, looking at the various sources to which la glosa might refer (the Glosa ordinaria, the Postillae of Nicholas of Lyra or of Hugh of St. Cher), none spells out in such detail Adam’s deduction of his own mortality. Here is where the compilers of the General estoria jump in. They explain that if the animals whose skins Adam wore were once living and now were dead, he deduces that himself would one day die. This novelizes Christian theology that links the exile from the garden with the origin of human mortality.

Elsewhere the General estoria draws on Muslim sources in fleshing out the details of Adam and Eve’s experience. While Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve cultivate the land after their expulsion, it is silent on the particulars. What did they cultivate? Where did they get the seeds? Again, the General estoria addresses this gap in the narrative, this time drawing on the work of “Arab sages”:

According to the writings of the Arab sages who write on the matter, they say that upon the expulsion from Paradise, Our Lord also gave Adam and Eve seeds of grains and legumes and the other things that they would sow and reap in the land they made their living.

E segund que fallamos en escritos de arávigos sabios que fablaron en las razones d’estas cosas dizen que en aquella echada del paraíso que dio otrossí Nuestro Señor Dios a Adam e a Eva las simientes de los panes e de las legumbres e de las otras cosas que sembrassen en la tierra e cogiessen dond se mantoviessen” (Alfonso X 1:11)

These details are found in writing of al-Tabari (9th c.) and al-Tha‘labi (11th c.), both of whom recount a number of traditions in which Adam arrives on earth after the fall wearing a wreath with leaves and seeds from 30 different fruit-bearing plants, or various versions of how he brought grains of wheat to earth, sometimes assisted by the Angel Gabriel (al-Tabari 296; al-Tha’labi 60–62)

These details about the seeds of agricultural practice (horrible pun intended) serve the General estoria’s goal of accounting for all aspects of human history, not just those that relate to theological issues. Alfonso X employed a number of Christians, Jews, and Muslims at court, and famously translated several Arabic works into Castilian. It is hardly surprising that Jewish and Muslim sources found their way into his works of history.

Corpus Christi procession (Granada, 2013) (source: mcsgranada)

Later Christian Iberian retellings are more doctrinaire than the Genera estoria. The fifteenth-century Catalan Compendi historial de la biblia, or ‘Collection of bible stories,’ which sermonizes the action quite heavily. The text deals explicitly with the Adam and Eve’s sin as both a source of human fallibility and an opportunity for redemption in Christ, probably due to the popularity of the Adam and Eve plays during the festival of Corpus Christi, when the consecrated host was paraded through the streets in a procession that included dramatized biblical scenes.  

The narrator introduces the episode of Adam and Eve focusing on Adam’s first sin, the original sin, that of pride, and subordinates all of the Seven Mortal Sins to it. In this way, it brings the biblical tale in line with Catholic theology of sin:

Adam committed the first major sin, which in itself contains the seven mortal sins, that have attached to his entire lineage. The first is pride, in wanting to be equal to our Lord [by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil].

Adam feu .i. peccat maior que tot lo mon, en lo qual encloy .vii. peccats mortals en que hach a esser envolcat tot lo seu linatge. Lo primer es superbia, quant volch esser egual ab nostre Senyor (Serra 9)

Likewise, the narrator glosses God’s words to Eve as she and Adam are expelled from the garden, including the uniquely Christian doctrine that her punishment includes not only the pain of birth but also the sin of conception itself:

And with these words that our Lord said to Eve (that she would birth in pain), we understand that if she had not sinned that women would conceive without sin and birth without pain.

E per aquesta paraula que nostre Senyor dix a Eva, que infantaria ab dolor, se enten que si no hagues peccat que devia la fembra concebre sens peccat e enfantar sens dolor (Serra 10)

The dramatization of this scene in the Valencian drama Misteri d’Adam i Eva (staged as part of the Corpus Christi festival to this day) uses the sources of dramatic dialogue, rather than sermonizing narration, to emphasize women’s deceitfulness and absolve Adam of his complicity, both ideas that were developed in Christian sermons and misogynist literature of the times. 

Adam and Eve float in procession of Corpus Christi (Valencia, 2017)

Here the author puts the serpent’s lie “you will not die” into the mouth of Eve, who not only gives her husband the forbidden fruit, but actively tricks him into eating it, a detail absent from the biblical text. Eve mocks Adam, asking him why God would provide them with a garden and all the plants and animals within it only to set them up for a fatal punishment?  Why would God, who has provided us with all this, kill us? She even protests that Adam must not think much of her if he won’t even believe her in this:

What’s it to you? Can’t you see that our all-powerful God, in order to scare us innocents, to punish us, told us ‘you will die’? How can you believe that God did not know that I would sin on this day? I’ll say no more; if you don’t want to [eat it], I don’t care, now that I know and clearly understand how little you must think of me. Are you so blind that you cannot see that he has given us life, property, and such standing, that he would neither kill us nor take any of this away from us?

Què us costarà? / ¿No veu que nòstron Déu omnipotent, / per espantar-nos, inosens, / per castigar-nos, / nos dix ‘morreu’? / ¿Com creu que ignorava Déu / que io avia  / de pecar en aquest dia? / No os vull dir més; / si no voleu, no m’i do rés, / que ara conech, / i molt clarament entenc, / quant m’estimau. / ¿Tant sego sou que no mirau. / que qu·ms à dat / vida, béns y tal estat, / no·ms matarà / ni res de asò ens disparagà?” (Huerta Viñas 112–13, ll. 196–213)

This harangue of Eve’s is familiar to us from misogynist literature that portrays women and hysterical, fickle, and verbally aggressive. In fact, this is a well known stereotype in the literature of 15th-century Valencia (see, for example, Jaume Roig’s Spill) that would resonate with popular audiences of the times (Archer). However, for me what most stands out about the dramatic version is how the resources of the genre are brought to bear in making the doctrinal point using the popular language and misogynistic tropes of the day.

In all three examples we see how the texts respond to the biblical narratives using the intellectual and cultural resources of the communities to which they are addressed, and depending on their purpose and the ideology, shape the retelling to reinforce different aspects of the same tale. The General estoria is concerned more with human history and civilization, and therefore places more emphasis on technology and its effects on the development of human society. The Compendi historial de la biblia, as a homiletic and didactic text, seeks to reinforce Christian readings of the Tanakh that connect the narratives to Christian doctrine. The Misteri d’Adam i Eva  does likewise, but is more popular in its disposition and so uses more colloquial language and broader comic tropes as one might expect from a popular drama. All draw on the learned and popular culture of their times in the novelization of the Biblical text, and as we see in many cases, this culture does not hesitate to share resources across religious groups, especially in the case of the General estoria, with its liberal use of Muslim and Jewish scholarship to present a textured retelling of the Biblical text. 

Works cited

  • Alfonso X. General estoria. Edited by Borja Sánchez-Prieto, Fundación José Antonio de Castro, 2009.
  • al-Tabari. The History of Al-Tabari: An Annotated Translation. Translated by Franz Rosenthal, vol. 1, SUNY Press, 1989.
  • al-Tha’labi, Ahmad ibn Muhammad. Qisas Al-Anbiya (Lives of the Prophets). Brill, 2002.
  • Archer, Robert. The Problem of Woman in Late-Medieval Hispanic Literature. Tamesis, 2004.
  • Huerta Viñas, Ferran. Teatre Bíblic: Antic Testament. Editorial Barcino, 1976.
  • Serra, Guillem, translator. Compendi historial de la Biblia: que ab lo títol de Genesi de Scriptura. A. Verdaguer, 1873,

Material from this post was adapted from talks planned for, but, thanks to COVID-19, not given at the Committee for Comparative Literature of the University of Denver and the Mediterranean Studies Group at the University of Colorado.

Hebrew Bible: Intertextuality in Spanish-Hebrew Literature

This post was originally given as a conference presentation at “Scriptures in Medieval Iberia: Language, literature, and sacred text in a multi-religious society” (Monday, 6 June, 2011, Iona Pacific Inter-religious Centre, Vancouver School of Theology). I’ve also posted a pdf of the handout, including full versions of the texts referenced, along with their translations.

The idea of intertextuality is very useful for understanding the importance of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh in Spain’s medieval Hebrew literature. Intertextuality is the site of a good deal of theorizing, and while time constraints do not allow a full accounting of this discussion, I would like to borrow from Michael Worton and Judith Still’s understanding of the term in its most basic sense as it has been used by various literary critics and theorists. They write that “the writer is a reader of texts…before s/he is a creator of texts, and therefore the work of art is inevitably shot through with references, quotations, and influences of every kind.” This means that each work of art is a sort of group discussion, a collaborative process in which various texts, authors, experiences, and readings participate. The text is a fabric, a weave of a number of threads which in turn are pulled from other texts. Today I would like to talk about the processes by which this pulling and weaving happen in medieval Spanish-Hebrew texts, paying specific attention to the role of Biblical language and source texts.

Reading in the medieval period, especially of literary and poetic texts, was a very different experience from what is generally understood as reading in the modern age.

In this image, a  miniature from a mansucript of the maqamat of al-Hariri of Basra, who wrote in the eleventh century, illustrates a literary gathering, where a popular preacher regales a crowd of listeners with his displays of rhetorical prowess.

There is not a book, page, or pen in sight. The experience is live, oral, aural, and judging from the hand gestures and gazes of both orator and audience, interactive. It is a social event.

This setting is recorded in the maqamat as well as in other genres of literary texts, and many of the structures of medieval literary texts and textual practices derive from a literary culture that is chiefly oral-aural as opposed to written.

By ‘scriptural textuality’ I mean the ways in which scripture is practiced and experienced by the community. This includes the visual reading of the text but also extends to the physicality of the text, its support and packaging, the physical and social contexts of its practice, and the aural-visual memory of its practice.

All of these contribute to biblical intertextuality in medieval Spanish-Hebrew literary texts, as we shall see.

Michael Sells has written about the ways in which Muslim communities experience the Qur’an and describes what he calls the ‘sound vision,’ the relation of sound to meaning, or the combined experience of seeing, hearing, and understanding the Qur’anic text in recitation.

Such recitations form part of the soundscape of a Muslim community, just as public recitations of the Tanakh form part of the soundscape of the writers whose texts we are about to examine.

Here is a demonstration of the idea of a sound vision of a text. This is Surat al-Qariah , “the Day of Reckoning” from the Qur’an, in a traditional modern printed edition. Take a look at the text.

Now, when the recitation and text are experienced together, the impression is quite different. And if the listener comprehends the text, the experience is one of layered visual, auditory, and narrative apprehension. This is the ‘sound image’ that Michael Sells is talking about – the multisensory record of the experience of hearing the text recited.

This understanding of reading as a verbal experience or embodied sensory event is recorded even within the Hebrew Bible itself, where according to Daniel Boyarin, the act of reading is nearly always described as a speech event meant to elicit action. A king reads from a scroll and people act upon the words. Prophets recite to exhort proper behavior from errant fellow Hebrews. Reading is not merely scanning a text but participating in a community, whether political or religious.

By way of demonstration I would like to try to illustrate or at least suggest the various forms of intertextuality that might obtain in any given reading of a biblical text. I’ll take the example of the Hebrew Shir HaShirim or Song of Songs. This text is a frequent source of language and imagery for medieval Hebrew love poetry, and also forms part of the liturgy for the Passover holiday, or Pesah. Here is an image of the opening verses of chapter one as they are written in a modern Torah scroll. The person reciting the text would be using this type of document as a visual support and would supply the vowels, which are absent from this text, and cantillation marks, or trope, from memory.

Any reference to the words of the Song of Songs in a poetic context would evoke, certainly for the poet and most likely for much of his or her audience, this text and its traditional recitation, the sound image similar to the Quranic example we have just seen.

For the poet and his audience that understands the meaning of the Hebrew text, the allusion would also rely on the literal meaning of the text in addition to the sound image of its recitation. This would seem to be obvious but is worth pointing out when one considers that the majority of the audience of such a recitation would likely consist of worshippers who might recognize the sound of the Hebrew words but would not necessarily understand their meaning. There are some billion Muslims worldwide who learn to recite the first chapter of the Qur’an, but only a relatively small percentage of them understand the meaning of the classical Arabic text.

In addition to the sound image of the recitation and the accompanying sensory memories of the gathering in the synagogue where it takes place, the allusion would also carry with it associations with the traditional exegetical interpretations of the passage. In this case, I bring examples from the commentary of Abraham ibn Ezra, a Sephardic rabbi who lived from the end of the eleventh century to the beginning of the twelfth. The traditional rabbinic interpretation of the Song of Songs is that, far more than a mere love poem, the text is an allegory of the love between God and the community of Israel.

To the sound image, literal meaning, and exegetical meaning, we might also add the liturgical context of the texts recitation as part of the Passover liturgy, with all the affective cathexis that attends the celebration of a major religious holiday: the specialness of the occasion, the hope for a good growing season, the spring fever that inevitably strikes the youth any community at this time of year. In this particular photo we see Samaritans celebrating the Passover in the West Bank.

In the same vein, the Song of Songs might well recall for poet and audience the social and familial context of the celebration: the foods, songs, and customs related to the celebration of Passover, the gathering of relatives and friends, the Seder or traditional ritual meal, the new clothes. In this photo we see a scene from a Passover Seder of the Jewish community of Manila in 1925.

All of these associations come bundled with poetic allusions to a biblical text: the textual image, the sound image, the literal and exegetical meanings, the lived experience of liturgical and social events related to the text. All of these may be indexed, consciously or otherwise, when a writer deploys biblical text in an original poetic composition, as well as by readers and listeners of that composition.

Let’s see how this intertextuality obtains in a specific example from a strophic poem, a muwashshah, by the same Abraham ibn Ezra who wrote the commentary on the Song of Songs that we have just seen. As you probably are aware, Ibn Ezra, like many of the  prominent Jewish intellectuals of al-Andalus, was a gifted polymath who is also a noted exegete. He was highly educated in rabbinics as well as in secular Arabic poetry, lore, and science. The worlds intermingle in this poem, in which a number of intertexts are juxtaposed with the language of the Song of Songs.

The complete poem is number one in your handout. In this particular stanza, ibn Ezra juxtaposes language drawn directly from Shir Hashirim with a closing couplet or ‘kharja’ in Andalusi vernacular Arabic. The poetic image of the apple as a perfume for, or alternately a substitution for, the mouth of the beloved resonates both with the biblical text as well as with Arabic poetic tradition.

In the literal sense of the Shir Hashirim, the poetic voice describes the body of the beloved in a series of agricultural metaphors that suggest fertility and echo the idyllic setting of the love encounter.

In Ibn Ezra’s own commentary, he explains the literal sense of the text: the lover wants to climb up the body of the woman as if she were a grapevine or a tree, so that he can enjoy the fruit (her breasts) and smell the sweet scent of her breath, which is like apples.

He goes on to explain the religious allegory of these images: that the scent of apples from the beloved’s mouth represents the burnt offerings and incense burned by the High Priest or Kohen Hagadol in the Temple in Jerusalem, both of these being sweet to God.

Abraham ibn Ezra drew not only on Biblical language but was also consciously participating in a well established Arabic poetic tradition of using the apple as a locus of amorous discourse. Arabic, and later Hebrew poets frequently employed descriptions of apples in their poetry. The eleventh-century poet and vizier of Granada, Samuel Hanagid, wrote a series of 15 descriptions of apples, and Solomon ibn Gabirol likewise tried his hand at the genre.

Click here to play the track in a new window

Like the Shir Hashirim itself, this poem is a text written to be performed, and not just to be recited, as would have been the Arabic poem by Abu Nuwas. The muwashshah in particular was a poetic genre written for musical performance, and even for dancing, and so ibn Ezra’s text would have also been set to music something like what you are hearing now. This deployment of biblical allusion in an original musical poetic setting amounted to a kind of unofficial exegesis. In this recording, the contemporary Spanish ensemble Altramar performs their interpretation of a muwashshah by Andalusi poet Ibn Zuhr (1091-1161). Most experiences of Ibn Ezra’s poem would have been live, accompanied by music and dancing as well. These corporeal readings of the text brought new intertexts to the biblical sources he employed.

Modern critics of medieval Hebrew literature have suggested that these poetic reworkings of biblical language amounted to a form of creative exegesis, not strictly rabbinical but nonetheless significant in that they expanded both the semantic fields attached to the words themselves and the hermeneutics of the biblical texts.

In a 1977 article in AJS Review, Neal Kozodoy suggests that this creative exegesis was an important part of medieval Hebrew poetry, relying as it did almost exclusively on biblical poetic language for its lexical building blocks.

Abraham ibn Ezra lived during the waning of Andalusi political hegemony on the Iberian Peninsula, and by his death Christian monarchs had conquered large sections of what had been al-Andalus.

The generations of Hebrew poets who were raised in Christian Iberia, despite being educated in Arabic, had a very different linguistic experience than their grandparents who were raised in a country where Arabic was the official language of the court, the mosque, and the majlis or literary salon.

They were native speakers of romance vernaculars such as Catalan, Galician, Aragonés, and Castilian. They sang ballads and songs, and told stories that were common to all of their countrymen regardless of religious tradition. In some cases they were familiar with vernacular versions of biblical texts, either from paraliturgical contexts such as the vernacular versions of the Book of Esther that were performed as part of the celebration of Purim, or from popular ballads and other vernacular reworkings of familiar biblical stories.

By way of example I would like us to examine some texts and intertexts from Vidal Benvenist’s text Melitsat `Efer ve-Dina, the tale of Efer and Dina. Benvenist wrote Efer ve-Dina in Zaragoza around 1400, and it was first published by Gershom Soncino in Rimini in 1521.

The story tells of the misadventures surrounding the marriage of the rich widower Efer to the young girl Dina. The eminent scholar of medieval Hebrew literature, Hayim Shirmann, has called Efer ve-Dina a “tragicomedy” (which should resonate with those of you who are familiar with the late fifteenth century work by Fernando de Rojas, Celestina).

In the story, Dina’s impoverished father seeks to better his position by marrying Dina off to the elderly, wealthy widow Efer. Despite Dina’s protests, the two are married, but Efer is unable to fulfill his conjugal obligations to his young wife. He sends one of his servants to procure for him an aphrodisiac, but misjudges the effective dose and dies of a fatal overdose.

Benvenist explains in a lengthy excursus that the tale is a moral allegory, in which one should read Efer as the weakness of the human soul and Dina as the temptations of the material world that ultimately bring one no lasting benefit and in fact may lead to one’s moral demise.

At the time when Benvenist wrote the Jewish communities of Aragon and Castile were under tremendous pressure to convert to Christianity and those who did often enjoyed far higher standards of living than those who chose to remain Jewish, so Benvenist’s message is timely.

Like the poem of Ibn Ezra, the biblical language and allusions in Efer ve-Dina coexist with and interact with a number of intertexts, including the Dina story in Genesis, the Spanish ballad version of that story, the traditional Spanish malmaridada songs in which a young girl laments her marriage to an older man who does not love her, and lastly a kind of situational affiliation with the biblical Esther story and celebration of Purim that I like to call the Esterismo of Dina. Let’s now have a look at these intertexts and how they might have impacted readings of Efer ve-Dina by Benvenist and his audiences.

The ballad of El robo de Dina or the Rape of Dina circulated in Spain in the fifteenth century and probably dates approximately to the time when Benvenist wrote. It is attested in both Peninsular and Sephardic oral traditions as well as in editions printed in Spain in Early modernity. The text follows the story as it is told in Genesis 34, but as is characteristic of the narrative style of Spanish ballads, leaves off in medias res, as Jacob sends messengers to King Hamor to legitimize the relations between their children. The common thread between the biblical Dina and that of Benvenist is the idea that the moral integrity of the community is threatened when a young woman is married off to a man for material reasons. Both are moralizing tales. That of Benvenist is explained at length in his allegorical epilogue, and that of the Genesis version most succinctly in the protest of Simeon and Levi to Jacob: “Should one deal with our sister as with a harlot?” (Gen 34:31)

The biblical Dina intertext is woven together with the popular songs of the malmaridadas, the mis-married young girl who laments her unhappy state. These songs are attested in many western Romance versions, including those in Galician, Catalan, French, Castilian, and Italian. Both ballads, El robo de Dina and La bella malmaridada, were so popular that they were dramatized by the indefatigable Lope de Vega (1562-1635), who wrote thousands of plays during his lifetime.

In this version, the full text of which is at number four in your handout, the malmaridada is depicted in conversation with a knight who promises to take her away from her abusive husband. The husband discovers the two lovers and threatens to kill his wife, who for her part would prefer to die for her newfound love than to continue to live with her husband.

Benvenist’s Dina similarly laments her situation à-la-malmaridada, but with a decidedly more pro-active agenda. She (correctly) fears that a man of Efer’s age will not be able to fulfill his conjugal obligations to her, and lobbies her father in vain to cancel the marriage before it is too late.

Her protestations also echo with the biblical Dina. In Efer ve-Dina, Dina’s father is creating a situation in which Dina will be easily tempted to seek fulfillment outside the context of her marriage. This constitutes a sin on her father’s part, one which resonates with the protests of Simeon and Levi that their father should not put their sister Dina in a situation where her honor might be compromised.

The text is number five on your handout. I will read only the beginning that you see on the current slide, and then I would like to call your attention to two examples of biblical allusions in Efer ve-Dina and their specific intertextualities.

The original of this text is found at number six on your handout. Here, the allusion is to Hoshea 4:12, where the prophet describes how Israel has alienated itself from God through its practice of harlotry, fornication, and other types of poor behavior. The idea is that they are so misguided they seek advice from a piece of wood, which in the context of Biblical Israel would be a reference to idolatry.

So the first resonance of this description of Efer is that of the morally irresponsible Israel described in Hoshea. In addition, there is a double entendre: Efer’s “staff” speaks to him, or rather, he is thinking with his penis, his actions are motivated by his lust, not by correct moral values.

This second example is from the description of the wedding party of Efer and Dina, found at number seven in your handout. The celebratory noises of the wedding party are juxtaposed with the Biblical context, the unnatural (and in the original text synesthetic) sound of thunder coming from Mount Sinai in Exodus 20:15 (kol ha`am ro’im et ha-kolot), In the biblical passage, the unnatural sounds strike fear into the hearts of the Israelites, but here, the sense is that the wedding party sees marriage between the old man and the young girl as unnatural, and views it with disgust (ed. Huss 172 n 254). Benvenist ironically characterizes what should be a happy, natural occasion by using language describing a scene of fear of the unnatural.

The final biblical intertext for Efer ve-Dina I would like to consider before concluding is the Book of Esther or Megillat Ester, which is traditionally recited in the liturgy for the holiday of Purim, which corresponds roughly to carnaval in the liturgical cycle, and like carnaval, is a time to enact inversions of the accepted social order, to drink to excess, and to perform vernacular versions and parodies of traditional liturgies.

Like the story of Dina, that of Esther is like a European novella or comedia in that a woman’s honor or romantic fate determine both the dramatic outcome and in a larger sense, the fate of the community. Dina’s marriage imperils the moral health of both her father and according to Benvenist’s allegory, the entire community. Esther’s marriage to King Ahashverosh, as we all know, turns out to be  the saving grace of the Jewish community of Shushan.

Despite Benvenist’s assurances that his text is meant as a serious moral allegory, in 1521 his publisher Gershom Soncino markets Efer ve-Dina as a Purim entertainment in the tradition of Purim literature that parodies the Talmud, the Prophets, and other traditional Jewish texts. He maintains in his introduction that he means for audiences to “delight in the tales of love and in words of silliness during the days of Purim.”  Whatever Benvenist’s intentions may have been, at least some of his readers saw the Esterismo in Efer ve-Dina and sought to capitalize on it.

In conclusion, I hope to have demonstrated from these examples the following:

Biblical intertextuality is more than a simple matter of the recycling of words from the Hebrew bible. I see it much more (secundum Kozodoy 1977) as the metaphor suggested by the Latin etymon textus, a cloth woven from a number of threads, each one a metaphor for a different allusion, reference, sensory experiences, or memory. Together, these intertexts form a new text that in turn acquires its own life, much as the life of a garment as it is worn and passed from one owner to the next comes to mean much more than a simple combination of threads woven together.

Finally, it is important to recognize that Spanish Hebrew authors, even when drawing on Biblical texts for inspiration or for raw materials, were also placing these texts into discussion with the secular vernacular texts and traditions of their particular time and place. The resulting poetic exegesis was one that was filtered through vernacular artistic sensibilities, much as the Rabbis drew on vernacular culture and reality in their formal exegesis and jurisprudence.