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In the WildernessThe Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers$
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Mary Douglas

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780199245413

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199245413.001.0001

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Israel Defiled: Miriam and her Brothers

Israel Defiled: Miriam and her Brothers

Chapter:
(p.196) Chapter 11 Israel Defiled: Miriam and her Brothers
Source:
In the Wilderness
Author(s):

Mary Douglas

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199245413.003.0011

Miriam is a beloved heroine in Jewish traditions, but no cause for her high standing shows in the commentaries on the Book of Numbers. Her strange story makes more sense if she is representing the people of Israel. Thoroughgoing hierarchists believe that gender polarity means that women are only inferior in an inferior context, and that their role is to represent the whole against sectional interests. Public shame was heaped on Miriam, but the Book of Numbers says nothing directly to explain why she was picked for her role. The interpretation this chapter offers fastens on three aspects of her story. Two of these are political, the other, her double relationship to both Moses and Aaron. The third, theologically the most profound, is that her leprosy must be discussed in the light of leprosy as the ultimate defilement, the figure of idolatry and betrayal.

Keywords:   Miriam, Book of Numbers, Israel, gender polarity, Moses, Aaron, leprosy, defilement, idolatry, betrayal

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