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Provost's Imagine Fund for Arts and Humanities

Chasing Vashti: Traveling to find a Pagan Queen's Provencal Roots

My current research investigates an elaboration of the biblical Book of Esther from the south of France in the late Middle Ages. The manuscripts are in Judeo-Provençal, a language where Hebrew characters are phonetic symbols for the sounds of Provençal.

The Romance of Queen Esther by Crescas du Caylar is a sort of historical fiction version of the biblical Book of Esther and exists in multiple versions. These texts primarily show Queen Vashti, the pagan queen who preceded Esther during King Assuerus’s reign. Written by a Jewish physician, this text had an audience of women and children and displays comedic, medical, and societal information, including gender roles and intercultural commentary. I am seeking support specifically for travel to consult the otherwise unavailable manuscripts of this text, so that I can evaluate both the text itself and any codicological information about it.

My primary interest in this text is in the intercultural commentary. In Vashti, readers can see the Jewish community observing and critiquing their Christian peers. Other scholars approach the texts from within the Jewish community, and my work approaches the texts from the intersection of both the Christian and Jewish communities and their crossover in terms of audience, readership, authority, and emotional expression.

This research will produce at least one article ready to send out for publication, significant progress on another, and significant work toward editions of two manuscript fragments, which I plan to utilize in a book project in a few years.

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