Helena of Adiabene: An Ancient Queen in the Modern Era

Event Date & Time
| -
Event Location
135 Nicholson Hall

216 Pillsbury Dr. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

The first century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius tells the story of an ancient Mesopotamian queen, Helena of Adiabene, who converted to Judaism and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Late antique and medieval Jewish and Christian traditions frequently evoked the figure of this Queen Helena and her patronage of the poor, benefaction of the temple, and devout religious practice as an example for contemporary women who wished to similarly contribute to their respective communities. How was this queen remembered in the modern period? In this presentation, we'll explore the writings of two 19th-century authors, Grace Aguilar and Heinrich Graetz, who each revisited Helena of Adiabene's story in their historical works on the Jews. While both wrote at a time of heightened Jewish-Christian tension in Europe and drew upon the figure of Helena to address this contemporary context, they did so in radically different ways. This works-in-progress talk will explore how the ancient past was reimagined in the modern period, and how two modern Jewish intellectuals grappled with the challenges of their day through writing about ancient history.

Sarit Kattan Gribetz is Associate Professor in the Theology Department at Fordham University. Her book Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism (2020) received a National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship.

Cosponsors: Center for Premodern Studies, Classical & Near Eastern Religions & Cultures, Department of English, Department of German, Nordic, Slavic & Dutch, Department of History, First Millennium: Religion in Late Antiquity and the Religious Studies Program

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