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Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the…

Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition

by Laura Hobgood-Oster

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Sloppy editing and bad image reproduction, but kudos to Hobgood-Oster for including so many of her own photos: it looks like the research for the book, involving as it did a lot of hanging out in Italy, was super fun. Thin, virtually English-only bibliography (she's missing Philippe Walter on Blaise, and Pastoureau on Les animaux celebres, and not only Menache on dogs and Salter on Francis, but even Joyce E. Salisbury's The Beast Within). But I have to praise it for its catalog of a great many interesting stories, artistic representations, and ritual in which animals play surprisingly important parts. I knew a lot of these already: Blaise, Guinefort, Brigit, Jerome, and any number of desert fathers are familiar names to any medievalist interested in animals, but I also learned a bit too. I had forgotten the episode in which sea creatures listen to Brendan's Mass, which suggests to me the presence of animals in the Last Judgment in the Saltair na Rann. I had never noted that "pagan" comes from the word meaning "rustic," which suggests to me the chaotic "silva." I had also never heard of the Coptic gospel in which Christ chastises a mule driver for beating his animal, and refuses to hear the driver's excuse that, since he owned the mule, he might do anything he liked with it. I had never heard of Paul (in the Acts of Paul) baptizing a lion and then encountering the lion later in the arena: the lion refuses to kill Paul, Paul asks how the lion ended up in the arena ("I was captured, just like you"), and then they escape together, Paul to a boat and the lion to the mountains. I didn't know about the hunters reduced to animality by eating a hind they had abjured in Simeon Stylites' name. I discovered I need to check out Paulinus's poem on Felix, which is full of odd animal stories. I didn't know about the ancient, gigantic pet cemetery in Ashkelon, where for about 50 years in the 5th century BCE, dogs were buried by the tens of thousands.

Suitable for those seeking to recuperate Christianity from its anthropocentrism, which Hobgood-Oster sees as central to maintaining Christianity as a patriarchy. However, if you think Christianity, like any theology, needs to be jettisoned altogether, then much of the book will be useless to you (and for "you" read "I" or "me"). I prefer my animal ethics done without theology (as does, say, Ralph Acampora, spelled "Campora" in the bibliography). ( )
  karl.steel | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0252032136, Hardcover)

Analysis of animals in the history of the Christian tradition has been exclusively symbolic, but Laura Hobgood-Oster utilizes the feminist perspective in her examination of the impact of animal presence. In challenging the metaphoric reading of animals that reinforces human superiority and dominance, Holy Dogs and Asses

underscores animal agency.


Creatures play various active roles, which Hobgood-Oster categorizes as exemplars of piety, sources of revelation, saintly martyrs, and the primary other in an intimate relationship. Drawing from rich oral histories, legends, artwork, and popular stories of saints, this study directs our attention to the animal body--also a central concern of Christian theology and feminist criticism. Hobgood-Oster invites the reader to venture beyond the exclusive symbolic nature of animals in the Christian tradition to an awareness that we can know ourselves more fully by reference to the animal.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:00 -0400)

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