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Book: Gender and Sacred Textures

Chapter: The Gender of Purple Manuscripts and the Makeup of Sacred Scriptures

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.46463


In his letters to Roman aristocratic women about the proper use of scripture, Jerome dismissed purple makeup and any adornment of books with luxurious materials as wasteful distraction from the content of the text. He contrasts makeup and precious clothing with the textual correctness of his scholarly emended manuscripts and with corporal mortification and ascetic practices. Jerome’s dismissal of the materiality and sensuality of books goes hand in hand with a binary gender model that associates the philological work upon the text and the renunciation of its adornment with male scholarship. In order for women to become equal to men through the study of scripture, Jerome extols the performance of a textual asceticism that suppresses the makeup of books and of female bodies alike. His makeup criticism is part of a larger discourse that expresses a persistent fear of a sensual engagement with the materiality of scripture in binary gender stereotypes. A close reading of the purple metaphors employed by Jerome reveals their roots in the rhetorical appraisal of eloquence and poetic language precisely through the materiality of the text.

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