Although I was unable to attend the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in person, I still presented a paper by video. You can watch it by going to the ‘Videos and Interviews‘ section of the webpage. Here’s the abstract of the paper:
The Sweet Hereafter: A Sensory Analysis of Perpetua’s Visions
Perpetua’s heavenly meal of cheese occurs in one of the several visions described in The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas. Her experience has frequently been viewed in terms of the eucharist; while this is far from inappropriate, a sensory analysis of the cheese and its taste better illuminates the function of Perpetua’s vision.
Sensory analysis has become an increasingly prominent methodological tool (e.g. Harvey 2006; Green 2011; Rudolph 2017; Howes 2003; Korsmeyer 2002). Using a sensory analysis of taste, I propose that Perpetua’s cheese experience represents a shared understanding of how the consumption of otherworldly food in narrative grants access to the divine realm and thereby transmits divine knowledge. The privacy of taste (as opposed to the shared senses of sight or hearing) implies that participants in this kind of eating experience God in the most intimate way.
Perpetua’s bodily and emotional changes after her meal require explanation, which a sensory analysis can provide. After Perpetua experiences the sweet taste the cheese, she knows that she no longer has a place in the earthly world and gives up her earthly cares. While before her meal she is anxious for the wellbeing of her child, after her vision she and her child have no anxiety for each other, and even her breasts no longer ache with milk. The taste Perpetua experiences imbues her with heavenly knowledge which is experienced by her in an embodied way. This reading is uncovered through examining parallel visionary taste experiences in other Jewish and Christian texts.