Representations of madmen and madness in Jewish sources from the pre-exilic to the Roman-Byzantine period

Authored by: Madalina Vartejanu-Joubert

The Routledge History of Madness and Mental Health

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  April  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138781603
eBook ISBN: 9781315202211
Adobe ISBN: 9781351784399


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Madness is one of the topics inextricably related to an etic approach since its meaning depends on the criteria used by its observers and the definition these latter give to it. Consequently a certain consensus is established as a point of departure about what the signs of madness are, so that it becomes possible to acknowledge and examine it in distant past temporal contexts. This consensus is not as relative as one might be tempted to believe, and it focuses either on lexical labels (the use of certain words for “mad person” or “madness”) or on textual descriptions (certain behaviors are considered to be characteristic of madness). The words and behaviors usually indicate the divorce of the individual from reality in a given context, one determined by one’s alteration of cognition. The symptoms of this transformation of the self as well as its social consequences can vary; this involves a permanent to-and-fro movement between the observer and the subject of study as expressed in a historical source, a circulation giving rise to a dialectics destined to adjust the starting-point presuppositions about the topic. The historical and cultural specificity of madness lies in the interstices of this process.

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