As they were entering Egypt, Abram glimpsed Sarai's reflection
in the Nile River. Though he had been married to her for years,
this moment is positioned in a rabbinic narrative as a revelation.
"Now I know you are a beautiful woman," he says; at that moment he
also knows himself as a desiring subject, and knows too to become
afraid for his own life due to the desiring gazes of others.
There are few scenes in rabbinic literature that so explicitly
stage a character's apprehension of his or her own or another's
literal reflection. Still, Dina Stein argues, the association of
knowledge and reflection operates as a central element in rabbinic
texts. Midrash explicitly refers to other texts; biblical texts are
both reconstructed and taken apart in exegesis, and midrashic
narrators are situated liminally with respect to the tales they
tell. This inherent structural quality underlies the propensity of
rabbinic literature to reflect or refer to itself, and the "self"
that is the object of reflection is not just the narrator of a tale
but a larger rabbinic identity, a coherent if polyphonous entity
that emerges from this body of texts.
Textual Mirrors draws on literary theory, folklore
studies, and semiotics to examine stories in which self-reflexivity
operates particularly strongly to constitute rabbinic identity
through the voices of Simon the Just and a handsome shepherd, the
daughter of Asher, the Queen of Sheba, and an unnamed maidservant.
In Stein's readings, these self-reflexive stories allow us to go
through the looking glass: where the text comments upon itself, it
both compromises the unity of its underlying principles-textual,
religious, and ideological-and confirms it.
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