Madonna and Child Metatron: A Clandestine Polemic from Thirteenth-Century Iberia to Seventeenth-Century Italy

Eugene D. Matanky, Jonatan M. Benarroch

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This article explores an anti-Christian polemic developed and transformed in various kabbalistic compositions—spanning from thirteenth-century Iberia to seventeenth-century Italy. At the center of the polemic are Madonna and Child reconfigured as the kabbalistic figures of Shekhinah and Metatron. This article explores Jewish constructions of space and gender by analyzing various kabbalistic interpretations and developments of a Talmudic statement concerning how to determine different divisions of the night. Beginning in thirteenth-century Iberia, different kabbalists introduced larger theosophical and eschatological issues into this legal statement. They interpreted it as reflecting the historical arch of the Jewish people, from its current exile to its redemption symbolized by the rightful child, Metatron, suckling at the breasts of Shekhinah. The article then discusses later kabbalists, who were themselves expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, who resorted to the same imagery to understand their current exilic state. However, they did not discuss the promised messianic age but rather the sovereignty of Jesus suckling at his mother’s breasts. Finally, the article explores the development of this polemic in the systematic kabbalah of Moses Cordovero and its broader consequences of forging an acute relationship between the holy and demonic. By analyzing kabbalistic polemical symbols in a diachronic and synchronic manner, this article demonstrates that they are not merely dependent on the spaces in which kabbalists created them but also produced the spaces in which the kabbalists lived. Furthermore, it shows how kabbalistic knowledge is culturally dependent and may have radical effects when transmitted into new milieus.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)171-197
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Religion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2024

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