Kiel, Yishai. 2016. Dynamics of Sexual Desire: Babylonian Rabbinic Culture at the Crossroads of Christian and Zoroastrian Ethics. Journal for the Study of Judaism 47. 1–47.
The article examines the inherently dialectical view of sexuality reflected in Babylonian rabbinic culture, which differentiates the sexual act, consisting of the indivisible elements of procreation and sexual gratification, from notions of sexual desire. On the one hand, the Babylonian Talmud accentuates the relative role of both male and female sexual gratification in the sexual act, but, on the other hand, it expresses a pessimistic view of the sexual urge, which is reified as part and parcel of the demonic realm. This dialectical perception is resolved in Babylonian rabbinic culture through a paradoxical mechanism that seeks to extinguish sexual desire via marital sex. The article situates different aspects of this distinctive construction of sexual desire in the context of contemporaneous Christian and Zoroastrian views. First, the Babylonian rabbinic mechanism is contextualized with the Pauline view of marital sex as a therapy for those “aflame with passion” (1 Cor 7:9) and its reception in patristic literature. Second, the Babylonian rabbinic dialectic of sex and desire is viewed in the light of a similar bifurcated perception evident in the Pahlavi tradition: while Zoroastrianism advocated full-fledged marital relationships from its very inception, an important strand in the Pahlavi tradition expresses an ambiguous view of sexual desire, which is linked in various ways to the demonic sphere.