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Sibling Rivals to Mortal Enemies: The Evolution of Ecclasia and Synagoga From the Early to Late Middle Ages

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This thesis explores the evolution of Ecclesia and Synagoga from their philosophical origins in the fourth-century, up to their image as a wood-carving in the High Middle period. In doing so, its aim is to shed light on the reasons for the choice of women‘s bodies as symbols for Judaism and Christianity, to explore what this choice meant to Jews and Christians‘ views of each other, and to analyze the treatment of the pair in visual mediums. Up until now, scholars have overarchingly focused on the historical context surrounding the images, or their roles in increased hostility toward Jews on the part of Christians, from the eleventh-century onward. This has left a void in the study of the pair, as well as the study of Jewish-Christian relations. Scholarship has not been focused specifically on the usage of female forms, the characterization of the two as familial by Hildegard of Bingen in the twelfth-century, nor has it sufficiently illuminated why striking changes were made in the manner in which the two were portrayed, in a specific fifteenth-century example. Through an analysis of secondary literature and an examination of the images themselves, this thesis demonstrates that the choice of women‘s bodies directly reflected a Roman cultural influence on the Early Church; that ideals of motherhood, virginity, and sacred kinship held by Hildegard directly affected her vision of the pair; and transmutative gender seen in science and popular forms of entertainment in fifteenth-century Erfurt, had a direct effect on the manner in which the Ecclesia and Synagoga were understood, evolved, characterized, and depicted. This examination of the two symbols suggests that they occupied a complex, didactic, evolving space in Christian culture throughout the Middle Ages, and that the gendering of the two played a notable role in how Jews and Christians viewed each other. Therefore, the complexities of the choice of women as representative, and the evolving nature of the images themselves, ought to be more carefully studied and dissected.

Alexander, Melissa Call. Sibling Rivals to Mortal Enemies: The Evolution of Ecclasia and Synagoga From the Early to Late Middle Ages. (Under the direction of Dr. Julie Mell).

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