"How do we approach the study of masculinity in the past?" Ruth Mazo Karras asks. Medieval documents that have come down to us tell a great deal about the things that men did, but not enough about what they did specifically as men, or what these practices meant to them in terms of masculinity. Yet no less than in our own time, masculinity was a complicated construct in the Middle Ages.
In Thou Art the Man, Karras focuses on one figure, King David, who was important in both Christian and Jewish medieval cultures, to show how he epitomized many and sometimes contradictory aspects of masculine identity. For late medieval Christians, he was one of the Nine Worthies, held up as a model of valor and virtue; for medieval Jews, he was the paradigmatic king, not just a remnant of the past, but part of a living heritage. In both traditions he was warrior, lover, and friend, founder of a dynasty and a sacred poet. But how could an exemplar of virtue also be a murderer and adulterer? How could a physical weakling be a great warrior? How could someone whose claim to the throne was not dynastic be a key symbol of the importance of dynasty? And how could someone who dances with slaves be noble?
Exploring the different configurations of David in biblical and Talmudic commentaries, in Latin, Hebrew, and vernacular literatures across Europe, in liturgy, and in the visual arts, Thou Art the Man offers a rich case study of how ideas and ideals of masculinity could bend to support a variety of purposes within and across medieval cultures.
List of Abbreviations
Chapter 1. David His Tens of Thousands: Prowess and Piety
Chapter 2. Surpassing the Love of Women: Love, Friendship, Loyalty Between Men
Chapter 3. I Have Sinned Against the Lord: Sex and Penitence
Chapter 4. With Sacred Music upon the Harp: Creativity and Ecstasy
Chapter 5. O My Son Absalom: Establishing a Dynasty
Ruth Mazo Karras is Lecky Professor of History at Trinity College Dublin. She is author of, among other books, From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe and Unmarriages: Women, Men, and Sexual Unions in the Middle Ages, both available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
"Thou Art The Man is an immensely readable book, both for the novice and expert alike, that leads us to reevaluate and deepen all our assumptions of David’s literary, theological, and artistic representation in the Middle Ages. This is a foundational book that will serve as the groundwork for not only further studies on David but also in that it urges us to think further about the masculinity of Jesus and the paradigms used to articulate a binary gender identity in the Middle Ages. Further research should work to shatter many of the cis-gender expectations of medieval gender studies and use this work to build new horizons for the complex dynamics of gender variance in the religious communities of the European Middle Ages."
"[F]ew historians have so immeasurably deepened our understanding of medieval gender and sexuality as has Ruth Mazo Karras...Whereas her other works offered breathtakingly sweeping accounts of vast subject matters--masculinity, prostitution, sexual unions--Thou Art the Man proves her equally adept in delivering erudite insights about the sole and singular figure of David...[W]ith relentless attention to detail and inspired, illuminating interpretations across a range of medieval Jewish and Christian artifacts...[t]his is a masterwork."
~The Medieval Review
"Ruth Mazo Karras’s erudition and imagination undergird this book’s strengths; rarely have the Jewish and Christian materials been treated in one study...[T]his book offers us a bold exploration of cultural attitudes toward masculinity in the European Middle Ages"
"Karras presents a prodigious study of King David and medieval ideals of masculinity, with particular attention to how biblical exegetes developed, interpreted, and reinterpreted his stories...Her reflections on the meaning of King David in medieval society are compelling and extend our understanding of the intersections of religion and culture over time and their influences on the multidimensional social construction of masculinity"
~Journal of Religion